Why Settle for Just Being Smart When You Could Be Intelligent?


According to an outfit called Grand View Research, the global market for Smart City solutions will grow by 18.4% per year through 2025, reaching US$2.57 trillion in annual sales. 

If you lead a city or county, those words should make you uneasy – because they mean that the beating heart of your community is somebody’s else’s low-hanging fruit. 

Don’t get me wrong: I am not insulting the marvelous technologies of the Internet of Things that can be applied to making cities work cheaper, faster and better.  For almost any community, they will be worthwhile investments in the next generation of infrastructure, and they will deliver a fine return on those investments. 

The alarming part is the underlying attitude.  Cities of whatever size are not collections of infrastructure.  They are stories, living and breathing.   They have their roots in the first decisions of people to settle in that place, to group together by a riverbank or lake or ocean, or at a sheltered place where roads crossed and both water and fuel could be found.  The visible parts of the city – and today, the invisible elements of the digital web being weaved within it – are the outward signs of an inward spirit.  The life of a city, the spirit of the place, begins with its people. 

That’s why, at ICF, we don’t think that being Smart is nearly good enough.  We think the real journey of the place called home should be from Smart to Intelligent. 

Getting Intelligent About Traffic

Let’s take one example.  Traffic studies show that 30% of the cars in congested central business districts are looking for parking.  So, if we can reduce the time they spend in that search, we should also be reducing congestion and air pollution.  How does a Smart City approach the challenge?  It does an RFP, conducts a financial analysis, selects vendors and has them install sensors and cameras that deliver data to software, which feeds an app on phones that direct drivers to available parking.  Smart, right? 

An Intelligent Community adds more.  It engages local universities and technical schools, local entrepreneurs and established businesses as partners in planning and carrying out this innovation project.  What can be sourced in the municipality or the region?  Where is there expertise that can help?  It also engages the public in helping determine how and where the innovation should happen – or even if downtown congestion is really that big an issue. 

Being Intelligent takes longer.  It is more complicated to pull off, because it requires so many different players to work together.  But it improves the odds that the solution will actually solve a problem that matters, and that the solution delivers benefits far beyond its scope.  Benefits like building the capacity of local companies in the fast-growing technologies of the Internet of Things.  Like giving birth to a new college or university department that turns out graduates skilled in those technologies.  Like making the innovation project something that citizens think and talk about, take pride in or worry about, increasing their commitment to their community. 

In the end, the time spent saves money by avoiding investment in the wrong things and tapping local expertise to solve local problems.  It also generates a return on that investment that is vastly greater than any technology project.

So, by all means be as Smart as your ambition and budget allow.   But why settle for Smart when your community has what it takes to become Intelligent? 

Photo credit: Faungg's Photos, Flickr Creative Commons
Robert Bell
Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research, analysis and content development activities.

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