Sarah WrayWednesday 22 November 2017

City leaders ‘need to understand impact of new tech’

London smart city lead highlights need for public and private sectors to work together to build better understanding of emerging technologies

The public sector has to work more closely with the private sector and academia, and to do this with urgency, to understand emerging technologies, according to one of the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) leading officials.

Andrew CollingeAndrew Collinge (pictured), smart city lead and assistant director, intelligence and analysis for the GLA, declared the need during a panel discussion on ‘city as a platform’ at the Smart City World Congress in Barcelona last week.

He said it is particularly important, and difficult, in a “tremendously fractured” city like London, with its 33 separate boroughs.

The panel chair, Carl Piva, head of the Smart City Forum at industry association TM Forum, described the city as a platform concept as using data platforms to drive local data economies and creating digital ecosystems.

Collinge agreed that in the case of London: “There’s still lots more that we can do with regards to creating the city as a platform and getting the maximum value out of a very rich ecosystem that could be better organised.”

He added: “It's about making sure that whatever we do is linked to political priorities like air quality, but that goes hand in hand with driving a stronger understanding, a stronger appreciation of technology and the impact that it can have on communities and also the businesses that we run.”

As well as driving open standards to improve data sharing, a key focus is creating a collaborative framework for public sector, private sector and academia to work better together. The London Office of Technology and Innovation is a mechanism for this.

Blockchain comprehension

Collinge said this collaboration is essential for understanding emerging areas, such as blockchain, where city leaders may have a high level understanding about the technology but typically “zero comprehension” of the impact it could have for government and the communities it serves.

“That absolutely has to change in 2017,” Collinge commented. “It's a matter of urgency that public services, and the leadership of those public services, is able to anticipate technology and the disrupted business models it creates; and that it can respond to that by setting out the key demands.

“We cannot find ourselves in situations again where we have to regulate after the event. That is government not doing its job properly.”

Data understanding

This better understanding will also be important when it comes to data. Collinge highlighted examples such as Toronto’s Waterfront development, commenting: “The private sector is coming forward with new plans for how areas should be developed, how sensor networks should be deployed, how data should be extracted from objects and buildings and individuals as they move around in that space.

“New business models will emerge from that and it's up to government to make sure that data is available, and more importantly that the data is treated in exactly the right way.”