Data Analytics & AI

Building the right culture for successful smart cities

Changing organizational culture is recognized as an essential element of a successful smart city, but it is much easier said than done. A panel of experts at Smart City InFocus in Yinchuan, China recently shared their insights.

Bala Mahendran, former CEO of Basildon in the UK, and local government consultant, said, “Empowering staff and communities is how can we make a difference. Good leadership is inclusive and brings people together. You need a roadmap – we can’t do it on our own – and we need a platform.”

Jamie Cudden, Smart City Programme Manager, Dublin, agreed. He said that much of a city’s administration and operations are broken into many silos, which has been exacerbated by the big economic crisis of last ten years. He said, “We need strong leadership from the CEO and Mayor to cut across departmental divides.  The people inside them don’t know what’s going on regarding the bigger picture, but they get very excited when you talk to them about the possibilities, and you get champions.”

Power to the people

Kaine Thompson is from the Office of the Chief Executive, Wellington, New Zealand. For him, although both leadership and governance are key factors, he argued, “to quote a traditional New Zealand saying, ‘What is the most important thing in life?’. The answer is, ‘People, people, people’. Any change, if driven by people first, has a much greater chance of success.”

He added, “For leaders that means being ecosystem-literate, understanding the things that matter; understanding the fundamental issues that people face every day.”

Creating America’s top digital city

The moderator, TM Forum’s Head of the Smart City Forum, Carl Piva, asked, “How do we get these things into people’s heads?”

Ted Ross, General Manager and CIO, City of Los Angeles, commented, “I was previously in the private sector. Management in government is very hard, it’s not the same toolkit as you need in the private sector. When I came into the City of Los Angeles Technology Agency, my department had 40 percent lower resources than it had had in 2008. It was about keeping the lights on while everyone else innovating.

“We needed to shift the culture, but with not enough people or money to compete…We needed to define our mission and we had to reset and get motivation going too. We asked, ‘What are our goals?’ and ‘Why are we here?’. In the past, the answer was to deliver technology. Now it’s to deliver services to people, visitors and businesses in Los Angeles.”

Ross continued, “Everyone is motivated by something, but the average person in my organization went into technology because they wanted to do cool things and we’ve been very effective at tapping into that, with people really rolling up their sleeves and doing hard work. We are impressed with the results. in 2014 and 2016, Los Angeles was named as America’s top digital city [of cities with a population of over half a million].”

Making civil servants dream

Hans Schnitzer, Smart Cities Director, Graz Council in Austria, said that the work to create a vision for smart cities started in Austria seven years ago and “I was happy to lead this in city of Graz, but it is relatively difficult to get people to dream about the future – maybe not for scientists who deal in facts, but it can be harder for civil servants who deal with problems. And also when it involves a years’ long process and 300,000 people.”

He said, “We started with large cities and now we have a new call for small cities, but the
culture is different in small cities.”

Making big changes

Piva asked what big shifts are we still missing in smart cities?

Dublin’s Cudden suggested that, “Procurement is biggest opportunity and challenge. People think they know what they’re looking for, but they are not engaged with the market. That is the biggest issue.”

“People come to the public sector because they want to make a difference,” stated Mahendran, echoing Ross’ experience. “To go from surviving to thriving, you need to believe. The last six years have been very tough in the public sector in the UK. So, you can do salami slices [incremental changes]or take your destiny into your own hands through transformational change, and then you begin to look at issues differently. It’s about improving life chances of citizens and motivation – you have the knowledge and experience.”

Shifting ourselves

Piva pondered, “How do we, as city leaders, make the shift within ourselves?”.

Ross of Los Angeles commented, “The tragedy of management is you’re very busy managing but the number one priority is to spend time with staff, where they are, and with citizens wherever they are. We refurb old computers and give them away to low income families and I try to attend every one being handed over. We need to keep our feet on the ground.”

Kaine concluded, “The things that are missing…I agree on procurement, but also encouraging investors, funders and decision-makers to have faith towards outcomes rather than challenges, and accept sometimes we might be wrong. The flip side is engagement – I do not mean radical stakeholder groups, but a mandate from the people of the city. Success comes back to understanding their fundamental problems.”


    About The Author

    Snr Director, Research & Media

    Annie Turner has been researching and writing about the communications industry since the 1980s, editing magazines dedicated to the subject including titles published by Thomson International and The Economist Group. She has contributed articles to many publications, including national and international newspapers such as the Financial Times and International Herald Tribune, and a multitude of business-to-business titles. She joined the TM Forum in 2010 and is responsible for overseeing the content of the Research and Publications portfolio.

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