Today I went to a collaborative workshop held by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills on funding smart cities. The event was to...

Today I went to a collaborative workshop held by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills on funding smart cities.

The event was to capture the ideas of people who work in the smart cities industry to attempt to lay down some standards. The British Standards Institution was there to record the data and pull some kind of framework around it.

I was there only for the first session, but it was brilliant. In contrast to three or four years ago when hardly anyone was working on smart cities, there were many people from public and private sector working together. And we all agreed on one thing — we do not yet have a good enough definition or vision of “smart city” to work to.

This is true.  We have so much work to do around this. With “sustainable” or “smart” cities, you are in effect looking at many possible technology- and resource-managed outcomes for the future of cities. It’s not an easy thing to define.

But when it comes to investment opportunities, that’s not so important. The broad-brush definition may die out one day. And we will be left with “cities” and “technology”. What investors will always be interested in are problems. It doesn’t matter what term you use to describe them — if people have a problem, there is always an opportunity to fix something and make it better.

It is Greenbang’s view that smart cities will occur whether there is a framework around the definition or not. People will find ways to develop apps and technology layers that fix problems for society — because developers always find a way to solve problems. We should therefore get more specific about the problems cities face.

It certainly would help to have a framework. The question really is in how much the public sector wishes to collaborate with the private sector on that path — and what they can do to speed things up. But if there is no business case, there will be no business.

One of the best quotes of this morning came from Allan Mayo of BIS, who said, “Cities have seen massive cuts. They need to keep front-line services running. There is no alternative — they have to innovate.”

Smart cities — their definition, infrastructure, resourcing problems and regulatory issues — are still in their infancy. But for every problem I saw listed today, there was an equally good opportunity to fix each one. In other words, the business opportunities are plentiful. The real problem is time, investment and focus to cut waste and control resource use.

And to do that, you really need some good policies in place … It will be exciting to see what these guys produce.

Dan Ilett