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Mapping smart city projects, an approach for upskilling

Mapping smart city projects, an approach for upskilling

Dimitar Hristov

This article is based on a study done so far on the Project Smart Skills for Smarter Cities (Skills4Cities), launched by the Cluster Sofia Knowledge City at the end of 2020 with the support of the Program Erasmus +. It reflects the work of the partnership till now and is a first attempt to draw some important conclusions the partners came to regarding the so-called skills gaps in the field of smart cities projects.

Smart City is a term denoting the effective integration of physical, digital, and human systems in the built environment to deliver a sustainable, prosperous, and inclusive future for its citizens. The smartness of a city describes its ability to bring together all its resources, to effectively and seamlessly achieve the goals and fulfill the tasks it has set itself. Undoubtedly, the administration and other professionals that work for smart cities require new competencies that currently the education systems provide quite fragmented.

Few universities provide to the learners a well-balanced curriculum for smart city governance. The new types of jobs require the experts to be well trained to meet the needs of smart cities. Such learners, being the future drivers of these industries and smart city agents, are the main human resource to fulfill the vacancies of these workforces. Constant improvements in and re-evaluation of the curriculum taught to the learners have to be done regularly to keep the learners up-to-date in fulfilling the requirements of the industries and corporations. So, our understanding is that the new era cities need well addressed vocational training of experts who should upgrade their competencies and skills after their classic (normal & formal) education.

In regards to the smart cities' competencies’ needs, we can divide the professionals, who are most involved in the process of transforming cities into smart and realizing activities to implement smart city plans and activities, into three main groups:

1. Internal staff (employees of the cities) of the urban and regional administrations, that is directly committed to the realization of the local government policies, strategies, and plans. From one side these are city officers who are members of the specialized administrations and departments engaged with the smart city matters and from another side, in case of lack of specialized departments, these are regular city officers who are engaged with the realization of such activities on a project base.

2. A large group of hired external representatives of the urban economic environment, architects, engineers, as well as technicians who work in the field of technical solutions for smart cities, economists, geologists, cartographers, lawyers, among others, all working as service and equipment suppliers (individuals or companies).

3. Free-lance professionals, hired on a project base, that have competencies to develop, manage and implement smart city projects - milestones of the cities' transformation process. Skills4Cities project defines these professionals as smart city project developers, managers, and consultants. To our understanding, these professionals are the most important agents of change that can motorize the process of transformation. They are design thinkers and very often leaders of the realization of smart city projects.

Skills4Cities Project findings

The following three findings at this stage of the project are important for this article:

1. Among many different drivers for the smart cities’ development, it was found that the “smart city project” is a key instrument for making cities smart. For that reason, the smart city project was put on the stage as the main standpoint for competencies mapping and modeling.

2. The third, from the above-mentioned target groups, i.e., the freelancer professionals like projects developers, managers, and consultants, was crucial for smart city projects' success. That is why the Skills4Cities team focused on upskilling these practitioners with a set of competencies, which can make them real agents of cities' change.

3. It was also found that the set of competencies of the above-mentioned freelancer professionals includes:

  • Transversal skills;
  • Smart city technologies competency areas;
  • Competencies for dealing with the city challenges;
  • Knowledge of the smart cities projects areas.

Smart City Projects

One project is considered a smart city project when it’s associated with a higher number of smart city main dimensions which are economy, people, governance, environment, mobility, and living. Each dimension represents a particular aspect of the city where a smart project aims to achieve smart city goals in efficiency, sustainability, and high quality of life. One of the challenges of smart city projects is their size and scope where two types of projects can be defined. Greenfield projects, which are huge, long-term, usually start from zero, and brownfield projects - smaller sized projects, short-term and fast implemented, which are usually built on existing infrastructure and are preferred by investors for generating fast revenues. Undoubtedly, smart city projects are very complex, multidimensional, multi-stakeholder, citizen-centric, and citizen opinion sensitive, requiring serious leadership, managing change approach, and building on the normal managerial and project management knowledge and skills.

Mapping smart city projects

In this article, our interest is focused on the fourth set of competencies - those for smart cities projects areas of action. Such competencies are related strongly to the diversity of the smart city projects, which on the other hand are generated mainly by the areas for implementing smart city solutions. Following the main findings in the research “Smart City Solutions for a Riskier World” (based on a survey, done and reported by ESI ThoughtLabhas) that explored how 167 world cities use smart innovation to drive results, we tried here to simplify and systematize the answer to the question “where, in what domains the smart city projects are usually created, developed, and implemented and what are they”. The answer to this question gives us useful information and rich knowledge about already implemented projects in hundreds of cities. This knowledge could be embedded in the set of competencies, which the target group of smart city project developers, managers, and consultants could include in their professional profiles and upskilling curricula.

So, the answer to this question is important for “mapping the smart city projects” despite the quite big diversity of real cases and good practices. Therefore, we suggest considering this answer in the eight urban domains, which were used in the aforementioned study. These eight urban domains create needs for investment projects as levers for change and transformation of cities into the cities of the future.

Let's start, in a systematic way, to map the smart city projects, showing where the cities usually invest, domain by domain. As it was already stated, this is based on the study of the results of the mentioned survey.

1. Economy, trade, and industry.

This domain includes projects and initiatives for attracting business, generating growth, and industrial development. The most effective projects that one city implements to improve economic, trade, and industry development are these that make it possible to track economic & industrial trends to make decisions; working with business & academic community; aligning higher education with local industry needs; attracting companies through incentives & work with trade groups and attracting/developing talent & skills.

2. Government and education.

In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:

  • Remote work for city employees;
  • Command-and-control centers;
  • Digital twins for decision-making;
  • Data-based systems for policymaking;
  • New digitized education models;
  • Digitized services & experiences;
  • Automated processes & workflows;
  • Digital payments.

3. Living and health.

This domain includes projects for ensuring the well-being and equity of citizens. In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:

  • Remote medicine & telehealth services;
  • Online government benefits portal;
  • Real-time air-quality information;
  • Use of track & trace technology to ensure health & well-being;
  • Use of data to redesign public welfare programs;
  • Real-time air-quality data & apps for those with chronic diseases;
  • Collect & analyze data on diseases;
  • Use of data to redesign welfare programs;
  • Online government benefits portal.

4. Public safety

This domain includes projects for disaster early warning systems, computer-aided dispatch, drones, and in-car and body cameras for police. In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:

  • Data-driven policing;
  • Command & control centers to integrate data;
  • Communication systems enabling collaboration;
  • Smart ground surveillance;
  • Computer-aided dispatch;
  • Crowdsourced crime reporting, emergency apps;
  • Drones & aerial surveillance;
  • In-car & body cameras for police;
  • Disaster early warning systems.

5. Mobility and transportation

This domain includes projects for partnerships, innovative funding, technology, data, and governance and policy to help people and goods move faster, more safely, and efficiently, and without leaving a carbon footprint. In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:

  • Data & analytics for predictive maintenance;
  • Smart parking apps;
  • Digital transit payments/open-loop systems;
  • Smart traffic signals/real-time traffic management;
  • Mobility as a service (MaaS) apps;
  • Demand-based micro-transit;
  • Real-time public transportation apps;
  • Public EV charging infrastructure.

6. Environment and sustainability

This domain includes projects for promoting the circular economy and using gamification to boost recycling, reduce food waste, adopt zero waste programs, and digital track waste disposal. In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:

  • Predictive analytics for advanced flood warning;
  • Use of data to optimize waste collection routes;
  • Real-time water quality monitoring systems;
  • Real-time air quality monitoring systems.

7. Energy, water, utilities

This domain includes projects to enhance services, encouraging the use of renewable energy, and promoting efficient water usage. In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:

  • Data for predictive maintenance of electric infrastructure;
  • Microgrids/distributed generation;
  • Data for predictive maintenance of water infrastructure;
  • Real-time water network monitoring;
  • Smart grids/smart meters;
  • Apps to track water usage;
  • Apps to track energy usage;
  • Smart water meters.

8. Digital infrastructure and networks

This domain includes projects to become better at using data and analytics to understand where the divide exists, providing free Wi-Fi, working with partners to provide free devices, and leveraging PPPs to foster digital equity, partnerships with telecom providers to provide smart services, to use data analytics to understand the digital divide and to use PPPs. In this smart city domain, the cities usually look for investors for the following city projects:

  • V2X connectivity;
  • Mesh networks;
  • Smart beacons;
  • 5G;
  • Public fiber-optic network;
  • Municipal broadband utility;
  • Low-powered wide area networks;
  • Edge-computing;
  • Data centers;
  • Smart streetlights;
  • Smart stations;
  • Cloud technology;
  • IoT;
  • Public Wi-Fi network.

Conclusions

Smart City project competencies in our understanding apart of transversal skills, knowledge about key technologies and skills for dealing with the challenges, include also knowledge about the areas of application and the way such technologies аре use. Undoubtedly, people working on smart city projects need access to accumulated knowledge and information for good practices of how smart city projects are generated, initiated, developed, and implemented in the listed smart city areas.

The collected above diverse types of investment projects taken from hundreds of cities generated within the eight smart city domains report a very high return on investment of over 90%. Thus, these projects can facilitate the identification of good practices in studying each city and be a basis for measuring and benchmarking results. They also provide an opportunity to be used in the training process of this target group and can contribute to filling in the missing elements of the competence framework for these new professions directly related to smart cities. So that the mapping of smart city projects provides a good although an insufficient basis for the accumulation of knowledge that the target freelancers (smart city developers, managers, and consultants) should be familiar with before committing to develop, manage, and consult smart cities projects.


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