Ready, set, go.  Earlier this week IBM announced their Smart City Challenge – a competition for cities to help investigate and launch smart city initiatives.  IBM will award $50 million worth of technology and services to help 100 municipalities across the globe.  The city has to articulate a plan with several strategic issues it would like to address and demonstrate a track record of successful problem solving, a commitment to the use of technology and willingness to provide access to city leaders.  Hmmm…this sounds exactly like IBM’s existing target market.

The challenge for IBM is to demonstrate that this program is incremental to IBM’s existing activities with cities and local governments.  This program really is an opportunity to extend smart city activities – both from a philanthropy perspective and from a business development perspective.  (I’m acknowledging that there can be business development in philanthropy.) Will cities that have not yet embarked on a smart city initiative or program now consider applying for funding and assistance in starting down that path? 

One way to ensure a broader, and incremental, audience is to get the word out – and, actually evangelize to cities that have not already understood the benefits of technology as a means of addressing their critical pain points.  Many of these are perhaps smaller cities, which leads me to another recommendation.

Another way to extend the program is to launch a team challenge. Cities and other public agencies already team up to invest in and deploy new technology initiatives.  Pooling resources and/or sharing infrastructure and services enable smaller cities with limited budgets and IT personnel to adopt new technology-based initiatives.  Here are two examples:

  • Logicalis worked with 22 unitary authorities (district councils), health services, and the education organization in Wales to create a common broadband network. The implementation surpassed the projected number of connections in the first year, with the cost per connection falling with each subsequent organization brought onto the network.
  • Southwest One, a joint venture set up between Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Avon and Somerset Constabulary, and IBM, created efficiencies in IT procurement and delivery for both back-office applications and customer-facing services with an expected savings of £150 million over a 10-year period through economies of scale, strategic procurement practices, and operational efficiencies.

Let’s encourage smaller cities to work together, by explicitly launching a team challenge.  

Let’s really get smart.  Adopt technology together.  I’ll launch that challenge