On Dijon, Smart Metropole lessons for City Deals

Sat, 2019-11-30 08:31 -- Adam Beck

This past week saw two milestone gatherings for Australia’s two largest City Deals.

The first was the Digital Western Parkland City pitchfest, heralded as a smart cities co-creation approach associated with the Western Sydney City Deal. The other was the SEQ Smart Region Industry Leaders Workshop, facilitated as part of the Southeast Queensland (SEQ) City Deal planning process.

These milestone convenings represent what is a strong commitment to shaping our communities and economy in a way that is forward thinking, and digitally enabled.

But in reality, workshops and pitchfests, whilst important, are a long way from delivering real impact for citizens from the investment decisions government makes.

So, what might a real investment look like in digitally enabling SEQ, or Western Sydney, for the purposes of making better decisions and effecting positive change for our communities?

Just a week prior, off the back of the Smart Cities Expo World Congress in Barcelona, the Smart Cities Council and an Australian delegation was invited to the French city of Dijon, to go behind the scenes of a real metropolitan wide smart cities project that is gaining much global interest.

The visit to Dijon, hosted by our member company Suez (also one of the four private sector partners in the project), focused around an integrated command and control centre and the enabling technology and data solutions forming the backbone of its functionality. The visit also allowed us to meet the operational team and the projects sponsor, Dennis Hameau, an elected Council member for Dijon Metropole.

Now, it’s easy to dismiss the genius of On Dijon amidst the urban legends and horror stories of languished command centres world-wide. But the opportunity presented by Suez on this project, to integrate circular economy solutions, is too profound not to consider for the future – potentially for Australia’s City Deals.

Whilst referred to as a command and control centre, I consider a more accurate description to be “circular economy platform”.

On Dijon is a 12-year public-private partnership (PPP) agreement between the Dijon Metropole and a consortium of four private sector industry leaders (Bouygues, Capgemini, EDF and Suez).

But this is not just any PPP. The agreement is underpinned with performance metrics, consolidates six integrated pillars of data, and is deploying multiple technology enablers (eg. 45,000 smart streetlights, 140km of fibre, data integration platform among others). See our article earlier this year for some of the key infrastructure statistics.

So where is this project at after just six months of operation?

“The vision for On Dijon is one driven by economics, the environment and social inclusion”, says Councilor Hameau. As he opens the meeting, it is clear from the start that this smart city project is about the use of technology and data to drive outcomes toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Vision and collaboration are clearly a core tenant of the project.

We ask ourselves many questions, sitting in the room hearing from the political and technical leaders driving the project.

What was the driver to do it across a regional metropolitan area comprising 23 individual city councils? How could such a siloed set of existing city services, functions and supporting infrastructure be so well integrated in such a short period of time? Is it actually working? And what are the lessons for the rest of the world?

It should be noted that this project is only six months into the 12-year long journey, and not all smart infrastructure investments have been deployed yet.

But following our visit and meetings with the team, five key insights emerge already on vision, collaboration, technology, efficiency and the necessary pre-conditions. We share these insights below.

Vision: Economic and social resilience

On Dijon’s vision to provide a better visitor experience and protect natural biodiversity assets (critical to their local economy) is a driving force behind making it easy to do business in the city and attract visitors, all while protecting the liberty of the citizens.

Dijon outlines the cities value proposition at the centre of Europe’s commercial powerhouses - Zurich, Geneva and Paris. Its closest competition, France’s second biggest city and renowned “smart tourism” destination, Lyon, is also among the major competitors driving Dijon’s digital transformation.

But of course, this is only possible with a ‘long view’.

The partnership agreement between the private sector consortium and the Dijon Metropole is for 12 years, a period of time the Councilmember believes is necessary to fully absorb and realise the opportunity of their smart infrastructure investments.

Admittedly the city has decades of political stability, but it’s clear that with a six year local election cycle this type of vision for a smart city can be made tangible in one term and that “technology helps extract greater opportunity” for the Dijon Metropole .

Collaboration: A challenging and innovative procurement process

Early in the planning phase, the City knew they could not do it alone and that their private sector partners would have to be entrusted with the lives of the citizens of Dijon. To ensure this, the four short listed consortiums in the competitive tender process were presented with the challenge of a major incident in the city and asked to respond and outline how their solutions and operational experience would help a city system in crisis.

Six months into the project, Councilor Hameau and the operational team alike reflect on the two year competitive bid phase with pride. Getting it right then seems to have paid off now.

Collaboration: Building the economic model

Multiple large format screens in the centre display relevant data instantly for the metropole’s operational teams. Live CCTV vision, smart streetlight performance, the tracking of light rail, among others. Everything, in one place and in real-time.

One of the backbone deployments – the installation (and retrofit) of 45,000 smart streetlights over multiple years – will provide the key operational cost savings, allowing the city to immediately re-invest funds into other smart infrastructure, providing the proof of concept for the integrated financial model.

The economic savings and value generated from the technology and data investments allows the city to reinvest and provide the community and businesses the opportunity to generate new value.

With the maintenance bill for the city being $60 million euro’s over 10 years, you can see that the economic model starts to stack up. Councilor Hameau did not mince his words

capex is the enemy of sustainable systems and cities”.

Entering into a contract for such a length of time allows for carefully designed outcomes and a long term agreement to fully capture the ROI, also allowing the private sector consortium to capture a percentage of new revenue generated from the deployment of new solutions and services. A big win for the consortium, while the city benefits from reinvesting cost savings.

The city was clear in its mindset – “we do not want to raise taxes, but rather get more for less by using technology. We are responsible for investing our citizen money wisely”. Not only is the metropolitan region using technology and data solutions to sweat existing assets, it is the underpinning of new economic development opportunities, and dare I say it – a circular economy?

Efficiency: human centred design

The integrated command and control centre is at the heart of this project, which is a facility that has consolidated multiple existing control centres and platforms across tram, bus, bike, parking infringement, security, CCTV, fire and crisis response services. And these have all co-located under one roof. In addition, those services now sit alongside the City’s 311 customer call centre.

As we walk thought the centre on our tour, we witness an incident in action – a fire in the city breaks out.

In the secure space operated by the police the phone rings to report the incident, and the police immediately dispatch support. The police officer literally leans across to the Suez team controlling the traffic lighting who instantly activate emergency vehicle prioritisation.

The Suez team then turn to the Keolis team two meters away who seamlessly re-rout public transport and prioritise the shared laneways to prevent any interruptions or delays.

As we walked down the length of the room in front of an impressive wall of monitors pumping through real time data, citizens could be seen calmly going about their day unaware of the crises unfolding. But unaware because of the insights-driven decisions being made behind the scenes.

Preconditions for Metropolitan success

With the vision, collaboration, technology and efficiencies in place, Dijon only has success to look forward to.

The city takes the EU privacy laws very seriously, liberty must not be impeded, and with three years of data from the six previous separate control centres stored in a data lake, they are positioned now with the trust of their citizens to generate insights and to evolve evidence-based policy making like never seen before.

Dijon is now embarking on the next phase, to integrate additional data sets into the control centre. Waste, water, population, public building data, information on childcare services, point of sale transaction data and more.

And this is all possible with a data integration platform built by the private sector consortium, allowing interoperability of existing and future technologies and data streams.

With transport, buildings, citizen and utility data in one place and in real time, measuring and achieving the SDG’s becomes more tangible than ever before, without costing any more for the citizens dollar.

And back to my earlier comment regarding the circular economy, could Dijon be the benchmark, now having some of the key foundational pieces in play, such as the real time data and dedicated metropolitan-wide operational capacity needed to monitor and measure this new, circular economy?

But one obvious question comes to mind - could this be done in Australia?

Well, it’s really multiple questions - The co-location of multiple levels of government and citizen services? An economic model spanning multiple election cycles? Covering almost two dozen jurisdictions? With the backbone infrastructure up and running in six months? Driven by the SDG’s?

Importantly, where might Australia have the leadership, the metropolitan level collaboration, operational experience, hunger for data insights and desperate need for efficiency?