The Smart City as a Service: The Role of Citizen, Government and Customer Centricity.

Young man silhouetted against cityscape
Rapid urbanisation and population growth are straining our cities. To see the effects of this overextension of city resources you only need to travel during peak hour in any of Australia’s capital cities.

In today’s world of accelerating and intensifying flows of information and people, the rigidity of the city shoves citizens to the edges. Symptoms of a burgeoning city go far beyond congestion.  The CSIRO National Outlook (2019) shows that trust in institutions is falling – trust in government fell from 42% in 1993 to just 26% in 2016 – social cohesion indexes are decreasing, financial stress and vulnerability are increasing, as is inequality and housing unaffordability.

Successful cities of the future – smart cities – will put the citizen at the centre and adjust to best serve them.  Citizens will be both -co-designers, and users.  Social networks, online engagement, data mining and collaborative enterprise will feed into policy creation and strategy design from Local Government to National Governments.

Governments informed by a deeper, richer democracy will be looking for business and service providers that understand the city as a service.  Businesses that win contracts and partnerships will be the ones that help make a more flexible, connected and social city.  They will have to draw information from big data, interconnected devices and environmental sensors to adapt with the city.

What makes a smart city?

The distinct ‘centricity’ of citizens is the main pillar of the smart city concept.  The complex swirl of technology, social trends, and evolving political and commercial ecosystems can sometimes obscure this.  Citizen centricity captures the socially constructed nature of technology in the city.  The Smart City concept looks beyond technology benefits and investigates why technology is needed, what generates the problems it is supposed to solve, how it is alleged to fix them and what power dynamics are influencing implementation.  Through these questions, technology is reframed as a service: how it can help, why is help needed, is this the best way to resolve this issue, and is it this solution going to entrench the underlying problems.

The modern home is a microcosm of what services are possible in a smart city.  Rooftop solar panels charge batteries that power air conditioners connected to thermostatic systems that work overnight to ensure a comfortable sleep.  In the background, automatic irrigation using soil sensors and weather forecasts keep gardens green all year round.  Home security systems can be checked from work and will alert the police if set off.  Information communication technology and fibre optics can empower home offices, remote health care, and flexible education.  A smart city can mirror these and many other services as well as amplifying them through interconnections and scale.

To survive and thrive, the cities of the future and the government, business, and individuals that inhabit them will have to transform the hassle of the city experience to a service for citizens and consumers.  This will involve the disruption of old services and emergent new services models: mobility as a service, data as a service, tourism as a service, and democracy as a service, are just a small indication of the possible opportunities in smart, hyper-connected cities.

Building ambidextrous Cities and Citizens:

Smart Cities will materialise from both continuous and discontinuous innovation. Continuous innovations focus on the micro-trends of today, they help cities operate more efficiently and provide greater values for citizens.  An automaker will not only fine-tune its engines, but they will try an improve aerodynamics and integrate hybrid and electric engine technology into new designs.  A smart city will not only climate control buildings but will retrofit inner-city green spaces and redesigned public spaces with whole-of-city cooling in mind.

Discontinuous innovations are the result of exploration, leading to revolutions that emulate the industry-altering transformation from Blockbuster to Netflix.  Suburbs can now be their own virtual power plant (VPP).  A conglomeration of residential solar panels and home batteries capable of charging and discharging in a coordinated fashion.  Producing free electricity and extra income sources for the residents, and creating a clean, sustainable replacement for coal power plants to combat climate change for the world.

Smart Cities materialise from continuous and discontinuous innovation.
That is, they do both – they are ambidextrous and positioned for long term success.

Singapore smart city diagram

Singapore is partnering with universities and businesses to develop its first VPP; promising flexibility, scalability, and improved grid resilience, as well as tackling climate change.  The VPP will be equipped with demand forecasting and, using real-time information from distributed energy sources, it will balance intermittent production automatically. (ref1)

Melbourne smart city graphic

Melbourne is transforming its inner city, combating heat island effects, flash flooding, poor air quality, and both mental and physical health issues with greater greenspaces.  It utilised digital aerial photography monitoring system to map and analyse vegetation, heat, and land use to inform guidelines for streetscape planning and design, as well as promoting vertical and rooftop green spaces. (ref 2)

Smart Cities and the successful businesses that will inhabit them will apply connectivity and new technology to fundamentally change core elements of how the city functions.  They will be flexible, not rigid.  They will foster collaboration and codesign not disillusionment and dislocation.  Rather than inequality, division, and desolation smart cities will produce opportunity, dynamism, and connection.

Antony Peloso
, PhD
Graduate School of Business
QUT, Brisbane Australia.

Brook Dixon, Managing Director
Delos Delta, Canberra Australia.

UPDATE 27 October 2020: Tony and Brook interviewed by The Informer

In this joint interview, Delos Delta’s Brook Dixon and Dr Tony Peloso discuss what the world could look like with smarter technology.

See previous Smart Cities blog: Building smart cities: from digital islands to the innovation matrix
or go to the Podcast: QUT ExecInsights – Brook Dixon on the business of creating smart cities

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1: Singapore:
Energy Market Authority, (Singapore Government) 2019, Singapore’s First Virtual Power Plant to Optimise Energy Distribution, Singapore, 08 October, viewed 04 August

2: Melbourne:
Hurley, J., Saunders, A., Amati, M., Boruff, B., Both, A., Sun, C., Caccetta, P., and Duncan, J. (2019) Melbourne Vegetation Cover 2018,  Inner Region, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Melbourne, Australia.


Tony is a Corporate Educator for QUT, teaching strategic thinking, strategy implementation, innovation and marketing. He has strong expertise in strategic thinking and business planning, innovation and creative processes, and leadership development. Tony’s research interests include employee loyalty, organisational climates, and corporate reputation.

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