I am recently back from the Smart Cities Expo World Congress - the industry’s annual gathering of everything and anyone smart cities, hosted in the city of Barcelona.
It was my third my trip to the global gathering, and again it didn’t disappoint. The number of meetings you can achieve in three days with 20,000 people under the same roof is where the real value has always been for me. Oh, and its also my annual ‘nerd-out’ on technology solutions for cities.
Physically, it felt different. It was larger, by a lot! Topping out at 844 exhibitors this year, it was one of their biggest.
But my question after Day 1 was a controversial one – “is there anything new?”
My first sweep of the show floor certainly spotted some new additions, such as more mobility solutions, and a significant reduction in smart parking solutions, which seemed to dominate in 2018. The other noticeable trend was the increase in city and country pavilions, which are a strategic display of the local solution providers in those countries, and what they are working on.
But even with those new additions, it seems we may have stalled. Did I just say that out loud!
Of course, this is a very crude indicator of success, but could it be possible? Or is it just me? Why hasn’t the change of previous years played out in 2018?
I tried to answer some of these questions and contemplated them with my fellow Australian colleagues who were present. “We just need to get on with it and invest and deploy”, was the common response to my question.
But more questions mounted – are the barriers to investment getting higher, and harder? Is the shine wearing off? Has government had enough of the relentless sales pitches from vendors trying to sell them the world’s best platform?
I don’t know, but it is important to reflect, and consider where we are at. These are strategic questions we need to continually ask ourselves.
The simple fact is we cannot afford to nap, or wind back our energy on this pursuit for better cities and towns, and the services they provide their citizens.
This agenda is so critical to ‘get right’, and this requires a laser focus on outcomes, and building confidence and capability so that beyond the technology distractions (at times), there are scalable and meaningful solutions to some of our deepest social and environmental challenges.
We need to continue to build our narrative and the mindset that with a clear strategy, and collaborative mindsets, smart cities is a sustainability and liveability accelerator.
It is an opportunity to improve our daily lives, support people in need and lift up opportunity for our most vulnerable communities.
Our cities, towns and regions need this agenda now more than ever. Time is short, and urgency is mandatory. We must invest, replicate and scale. We need to network and share. We will go further together.
We are building a smart cities movement. We invite you to join us.