Eight crucial success factors for a place looking to work smarter

What is the most important factor for a smart city  project or organisation to be successful in the long-run?

It’s hard to say what the future for cities and nations will look like. Certainly, it seems unavoidable that technology is going to play a critical role in shaping our places, particularly in our urban centres. With 5G entering our lives as well, even more opportunities are opening up to us.

What can you do then as place brand and marketing organisations to ensure that you have the right pieces in place to take advantage of smart city technologies and to work smarter within your own organisation?


Change is about nudging people to co-operate.

In the early 90s I led an award winning, EU funded, three year project called the Road Management System Europe Initiative (ROMANSE) which sought to improve urban life by promoting modal transport shift from cars into public transport and other modes. My experience was that it requires major organisational and coordination capabilities to make diverse actors work together harmoniously to achieve the objectives in what are inevitably complex infra structure projects.

But the purpose of such smart city initiatives is to change behaviour and involve stakeholders. Today this is called Behavioural Economics. Which means that stakeholder communication and motivation to change behaviour is absolutely critical. This was one of the major findings of the ROMANSE programme. Change is about nudging people to cooperate not just about smart technical systems. Which means Marketers and Communicators have at least as important a role as the Engineers and Economists in making Smart Cities work.

David Haigh, CEO, Brand Finance


Build collaborative partnership with other key organisations.

The most important factor is collaboration among city partners - tourism, economic development and local business groups need to be at the same table to collectively determine priority investments, recovery strategies and to execute "quick wins" to demonstrate to local residents and business owners that the city is actively working on solutions. Investment partnerships are not only financial - human resources can be shared among organizations to collaborate on projects and move the needle together.

Cathy Kirkpatrick, Partner and Senior Tourism Strategist, Alphabet Creative


Get the most from your data by having the right skills on your team.

By definition, smart organisations should all have access to a continuous flow of information enabling them to make data-driven decisions. What will make the difference, in the long run, is not only the quality of the information they can tap into but also the speed at which they will be able to translate data into tangible actions. Being the first to identify a window of opportunity and act on it has obvious benefits. To reach that speed, humans and processes are critical. Indeed, more than ever, smart city projects need to hire people with the right set of analytical, technical and communicational skills to make the data speak. They will also need to be organised in a way that allows for a high degree of reactivity. Most importantly, they will need to stay open to change and be truly data-minded.

Olivier Ponti, VP of Insights, Forward Keys


Stay on brand. Always.

For us, it's all about running everything through a brand filter and a local filter to ensure that it's on brand and is providing value to your local community. If a project is off-brand or only provides value to visitors or outside investors, it's not building toward the long-term success of your community.

Ryan Short, CEO, CivicBrand


It’s all about your community.

People. As was recently described by Caio Esteves, Bloom Consulting's Global Managing Partner of Placemaking, people should be at the heart of all projects whether country, region or city. In designing smart cities, we must remember for whom we are doing it. From differing perspectives, we must consider sustainable development in terms of people, planet, and profit, but if human wellbeing is not being achieved we're systematically failing to achieve its foundational purpose.

Jose Torres, CEO, Bloom Consulting


Make sure you're using technology to create positive change - not for its own sake.

The  most important factor for a successful smart city project is local. It is a project for the city and its people, it’s not about the technology which is merely the enabler. Collaborating between the city and its citizens is at the  core, but also collaborating with universities, the private sector and other  key stakeholders will drive success. The city’s residents and  businesses are best placed to help identify the key problems that a smart city project can solve. The more problems identified and solved,  the better the city will run. I’d like to see more cities taking ownership of  their project rather than the technology companies claiming all the credit.

Gary Bryant, Executive Director – Strategy, LANDOR &  FITCH


Agility and flexibility are key.

Destinations that have had the smartest response to the pandemic have successfully balanced the need to ‘sell’ the destination against the need for visitors to observe the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. I felt that we achieved this with our Secret Garden of England campaign for Kent which gently and sensitively encouraged visitors to come to the county after the first lockdown and our ‘Respect, Protect and Enjoy’ messaging which we developed and shared with other destinations all over the UK.

Tourism organisations going forward will need to be extremely agile and flexible in order to quickly adapt and respond to the latest information and data on what customers need and want (especially when designing experiences) and most importantly, they will need to be flexible in terms of payment terms and cancellation policies.

Deirdre Wells, CEO, Go To Places


Plan for the long-term.

Perhaps ironically, the most important factor for a smart city or any other civic project, is some form of progressive, long-haul governance, ideally a public/private partnership. Often, great initiatives get kick-started by a small cadre of influencers who can mobilize support and resources. However, we’ve watched a number of successful initiatives wither on the vine when administrations change and the original brigade of movers-and-shakers move on. By their very nature, major civic projects need to co-evolve with their places.

Places are never static. So, the organizations that fuel their success need to be built for renewal. From the outset, it’s important to establish an effective, self-renewing governance structure with a diverse team of stewards – a Board or advisory group – charged with ensuring that the initiative remains relevant, accountable, and continuously co-evolving with emerging technological, social and economic realities.

Jeanette Hanna, Chief Strategist, Trajectory Brands

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