- Who: City of Atlanta
- What: Needs the ability to map, measure and monitor its smart city strategy
- How: Using TM Forum’s Smart City Maturity & Benchmark Model as one of its tools
- Results: The city now has a clearer understanding of its current situation and a process for measuring progress going forward
Like many cities, Atlanta’s population is growing at an incredible rate. The city’s low-cost urban lifestyle combined with the convenience of the world’s busiest airport has people “taking up residency in droves”. Although new development is occurring all around the city, much of Atlanta’s infrastructure is ageing – some over 100 years old.
These issues create new challenges for the city and its citizens. The City of Atlanta recently established a centralized smart city initiative, SMARTATL, to tackle these concerns through an integrated technology approach.
Torri Martin, Director of SMARTATL, leads this initiative. “We’re at the beginning [of our smart city transformation], said Martin. “We’re new to it, but we’re looking to make great strides.”
The City began this process by surveying its residents asking them about their pain points. Interestingly, patterns emerged but issues ranked differently across various locations in the city. Through this exercise, Atlanta was able to map its primary smart city objectives:
One of the major challenges then was making sure the strategy is understood, implemented and tracked consistently across all city departments, given the size, complexity and organization of local government.
Atlanta is using TM Forum’s Smart City Maturity & Benchmark Model to help with this.
A key part of Martin’s role is to break down the silos that often exist in local government.
The City created a collaborative group, which meets regularly and is attended by department heads and deputies from throughout the council. This group was tasked with working through TM Forum’s Smart City Maturity & Benchmark Model, mapping it against the existing strategy and setting goals and targets to achieve.
This model has been designed to capture the key aspects of a city’s transformation journey to become a smarter city.
It works from the following assumption, “A smart city is characterized by a high level of community and citizen engagement, by its attractiveness for businesses and by efficient and sustainable city operations.” It allows a city to quickly assess its strengths and weaknesses in five key dimension areas. It also helps the city set clear goals as to how it wishes to transform over the next two to five years.
Martin shared that the process has allowed the team to thoroughly understand the details of the smart city strategy, each individual and team role in the smart city transformation and how that fits within the project.
Focusing on outcomes
“Atlanta is very outcome-driven,” Martin commented. “This mindset is embedded in the process, so the benchmarking initiative has helped sharpen the target goals and milestones the city is working towards.”
“The Maturity Model asked questions that put things in perspective, so we all can get on the same page and make sure that we are all moving towards the same goal. It is a great foundational tool for the city,” Martin continued.
“These questions are not simple to answer or get consensus on, but that isn’t a bad thing. It provoked discussions on what we really mean when we talk about something and what we should be doing in certain areas. It took longer than we expected,” he admitted. “Some of the questions we just hadn’t thought about in that way before.”
- Proven lack of smart city maturity. However, Martin looks on that as a positive. “It showed us we have a lot of growth potential and that our strategy does have the potential to catapult us and make us a leader in the smart city realm,” he said.
- Flagged functional gaps. Martin says it “opened the city’s eyes” to some of the things they should have been doing but weren’t. “We sometimes took for granted that someone is doing something, but when you hold up the mirror, say what are we actually doing here and look for the evidence, it isn’t there,” he said. “Now we can take a step back, take a measurable look at what we are doing and ensure we are setting a good foundation for the future.”
- Confirmed importance of documentation. Martin stated the city needs to get better at creating and maintaining documentation, making it consistently available internally and externally and communicating those documented policies.
- Benefits of collaboration. Working with other cities is a key part of the city’s smart city strategy. The Maturity Model will help to pinpoint new cities they can work and partner with to supplement the work they have already done.
From here, Atlanta plans to run the benchmarking exercise periodically to check progress.
On advice for other cities getting the best out of the Maturity Model, Martin says, “Get the right people at the table to answer the questions and for that you need the department heads. Once executives make it a priority, the work will go a lot faster.”
Leading a smart city: A day in the life
- Who: Torri Martin, Director, SMARTATL, City of Atlanta
- Role: Coordinating Atlanta’s smart city initiatives – “breaking the silos”
- Typical day: Assessing smart city project requests and requirements, liaising with stakeholders and making recommendations
- #1 priority: Using technology to achieve equity in the city
- Best part of the job: Engaging with citizens and seeing change come about in their communities
- Keeps you awake at night: Funding challenges
- If you weren’t doing this?: “I’d go back to my work in technology and digital inclusion for education.”
Watch the full interview: