Partnerships will drive smart city initiatives, not ROI

LAS VEGAS -- Partnerships with vendors are key to making smart city initiatives a reality because they allow cities to make investments in infrastructure without taking unnecessary risk -- such as investing in platforms that may become outdated. But partnerships alone won't make a smart city a success-- it also depends upon the leadership in the city government and the community.

This was one of the key messages at the FierceWireless "Inside the Building of a Smart City" event held in conjunction with CTIA's Super Mobility conference today."You can't have smart cities without them being driven by the leadership at city hall and by the leadership in the communities," said Aidoo Osei, director of business development of smart cities and industrial IOT at Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM).

But Ingenu (formerly On-Ramp Wireless) CEO John Horn noted that many of the smart city projects such as smart grid applications that his company is involved in have resulted in 30 percent or even 40 percent savings.

However, Jeff Stovall, CIO of the City of Charlotte, countered that while return on investment is important, the overall mission of the project is even more critical because municipalities often have bigger goals than cost savings, such as making their citizens safer or lowering the carbon footprint of a city. "Saving money is always a great idea for city government, but saving money as a government business case has limitations," Stovall said. "Yes we can save money, but is that enough?"

Most vendors do need a business case in order to justify an investment in a project. According to Mark Bartolomeo, vice president of IoT Connected Solutions at Verizon (NYSE: VZ), once there was a validated business case around the smart grid, many energy companies became very aggressive with their deployments. "The business case around smart grid has been validated," he said. "That's a requirement for organizations and partners to set up test beds within municipalities."  

Verizon is currently partnered with the City of Charlotte in the Envision Charlotte project, a public/private partnership that has been in place for about two years and is devoted to reducing Charlotte's carbon footprint by gathering real-time energy consumption data from smart meters and sensors. That data is then delivered to businesses and individuals through interactive kiosks and social media alerts.

According to Stovall, the partnership with Verizon was key because the city was able to use Verizon's wireless network to share information across various media and challenge city officials to figure out how to streamline their energy usage. The partnership is now looking at similar projects to reduce water consumption. "We had to bring in partners to create the technology that we could use with large geography. We figured out consumption, learned how to monitor it and report it and then provided that information so people could take action on it," he said.

According to Bartolomeo, what made Charlotte's project a success was that city officials and civic leaders met with big enterprises in Charlotte, such as Duke Energy, and asked those companies to help them get support from other business leaders. Verizon also helped by drawing from its partner ecosystem to help them get the services and reporting that the city needed to fulfill its goals.

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