Proving the economic benefit of investing in smart city technologies is one of the main challenges councils must consider when embarking on such projects.
Geoff Snelson, director of strategy at Milton Keynes Council, one of the most advanced areas for smart city deployments in the UK, raised this point during an event hosted by TechUK and attended by V3.
The council is undertaking several smart city initiatives such as putting sensors in bins to know when they are almost full, or placing sensors in car parking spaces so that people can see whether there are free spaces via their smartphones.
However, Snelson said that, while such deployments have clear potential benefits to people in terms of making their lives easier, proving their actual economic value - and so justifying the investments they require - is less clear.
“Most of these are difficult to invest in as we can’t prove we are saving money so it’s hard to show value,” he said.
He cited the example of bin collections, which V3 wrote about recently, of this problem in action.
“When you work through the numbers you know there is a model there but quantifying the efficiencies becomes really tough. There has to be a way of assessing the value,” he said.
Milton Keynes Council has managed to secure funding towards these trials, helping them push forward without having to worry too much about the budgets being used, but this will obviously not be the case for all councils.
Despite these challenges, Snelson said it is clear that technology holds the key for councils looking to do more with less as budget cuts continue to bite.
“Technology can enable people to find solutions by developing new communities of interest. So people can find solutions if we provide the facilities, but there is a quite a way to go before that is a proven business case.”
Author's View: Snelson's comments are interesting, as they address an issue that is not always considered when discussing the benefits that the next-generation of amazing technology can bring: will it actually save money?
Sure, internet-connected bins may offer benefits in terms of ensuring that they don't overflow, but does hooking those bins up and running a network transmitting the data cost more than the current system?
Being able to justify spending money on new technologies, many of which are very new, is not always easy for those in the public sector facing dwindling budgets, so vendors must make sure they consider this when touting their wares.
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