Ideas to Action: Page 10 of 16

Wed, 2015-10-28 22:58 -- Jon DeKeles
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8 Areas that can produce wins quickly

Although every city is different, here are seven areas that have proved to be excellent places to look for quick payback. By the way, payback isn’t always financial. Sometimes it comes in other forms, such as popularity rankings, business startups or civic enthusiasm.

Smart transportation. This sector is the number one source of smart city projects. Most cities suffer from congestion and most citizens put traffic at the top of the list of things they want solved. According to some studies, congestion reduces a city’s gross domestic product by somewhere between 1% to 3%. Smart transportation may not result in fare decreases. But it often reduces costs for the operators. And it almost always rewards citizens with lower congestion and shorter travel times.

Energy efficiency. Energy efficiency programs can often get underway without large expenditures. Many gains are possible through simple behavior changes – for instance, learning ways to save water, substituting more efficient light bulbs or learning to postpone non-essential electric use to non-peak times. What’s more, many energy services contractors will undertake work for no upfront costs. Instead, they take a portion of the savings.

Smart grids. The payback from a smart grid is not necessarily in lower electric rates. Rather, it may come in the form of reduced outages and greater reliability against storms and sabotage. In areas subject to hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes or floods, resilience is highly valued. City governments can gain great approval if they improve reliability and resiliency – and face great wrath if they do not.


Smart water networks. Council member Itron estimates that 30% of all the water pumped worldwide does not reach its destination. A smart water network can pinpoint leaks and theft, gaining a quick payback in regions where water is scarce and costly.

Smart street lights. A confluence of several factors make smart street lighting an excellent prospect for a first project. First, the latest generation of LED lighting makes possible big savings in energy costs. Second, the same LEDs that save energy also save on “truck rolls.” They last much longer, so maintenance crews don’t have to spend as much time replacing lamps. Third, by networking the street lights – adding communications to each one – you make possible numerous smart applications, including remote diagnostics and control. Fourth, once you have a “canopy network” in place for street lights (and paid for by the savings in energy and maintenance), you can use that network for other smart city applications. After all, street lights already have power, already exist throughout the city and already sit up high – the perfect places to play host to a citywide network. The cities of Paris and Bristol in the UK are working with Council member Silver Spring Networks to install canopy networks for intelligent street lighting and other city services.

Public safety. Smart policing can have a dramatic impact on crime rates and public confidence. By feeding current and past crime statistics into analytical programs, cities can predict where crime is most likely to occur. And by equipping officers with cameras, laptops, tablets or smartphones, they can reduce the time spent on bureaucratic paperwork and increase the time on patrol.

Digital government services. You can often get a quick win by converting a government service from “manual” operation to a more convenient online or smartphone version. Done well, such projects can save money for the city while simultaneously improving citizen satisfaction (no more standing in line). There are dozens if not hundreds of possibilities, including licenses, permits, registration for social services, purchase of fare cards, reporting potholes and many, many more.

Setting up simple e-government apps can be a matter of months or even weeks. For example, Council member Civic Resource Group International offers a next-generation digital platform called CivicConnect. CivicConnect provides a tightly integrated suite of information-rich smart city applications, including portal management, transportation demand management, 311 citizen requests, open data and more.

Smart payments: Payback from smarter payments can be quick – and significant. Cash and other physical means of payments are generating huge costs for city administrations, as well as being very risky and needing secured transfers. By digitalizing all disbursements and collections, a city can generate significant savings and increase its operational efficiency. One example: By switching city service benefits from direct deposits and check cashing services to a prepaid card, the city of Toronto generated huge savings for both social assistance recipients and the city. Public estimates claim that more than $250 a year can be saved for a single client receiving $600 a month, and the city itself expects net savings of at least $2.5 million annually by eliminating the cost of issuing checks. This program was rolled out in less than a year.