With smart cities, policy comes first

In business there is an adage: every company is now a tech company. It acknowledges that technology has shifted from being a capital expenditure to being a core element of most companies’ strategies. Those companies that don’t think about the implications of emerging technology on their business risk being left behind.

A similar thing is happening as cities adopt data-generating smart infrastructure. Buying a conventional traffic signal technology, for example, is a pretty well-understood procurement activity with little policy implications beyond cost. But, buying a smart signal opens up whole new opportunities to make cities safer, cleaner and more efficient – and demands a policy-led understanding of the possibilities to truly realize all the potential of the technology.

In other words, smart city-making requires policy-makers with a deep understanding of the potential of these technologies – people who can see how new technologies can enable broader policy goals or even expand what’s possible.

In the absence of this understanding of both technology and policy, the risk is that cities will treat smart technologies like any other procurement activity – something that isn’t core to policy development and implementation. As a citizen, that concerns me as it means that future policy choices will be shaped by what acquired technologies can do – and can’t do. Policy should shape technology procurement, not the other way around.

That’s why I’m proud that Miovision is one of several organizations that have joined together to establish the Open City Network (OCN). It’s a not-for-profit organization that aims to bring together tech companies, policy makers, and other city stakeholders to explore the intersection between technology and policy.

The OCN is led by Executive Director Andy Best, a municipal innovation strategist who previously managed the Open Government program for the City of Guelph. He is someone who truly understands policy and technology and is a great choice to kickstart a much needed dialogue on how cities can best use technology to deliver policy goals.

I’ll serve on the inaugural board of OCN with representatives from Esri Canada, Geotab, and MappedIn as well as representatives from three leading-edge public sector organizations.

As a technologist, I want to see cities succeed with the smart city technologies they buy – especially from Miovision! And, as a citizen, I want to make sure that city policy is shaped by citizen need, not by the limitations of technology. Technology should serve cities. The OCN is a great step towards developing the understanding, insights, and recommendations to help guide cities as they navigate their evolution into smart cities. Find out more at theopencity.org

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