LOTI’s view of London as a Smart City

Jay Saggar, London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) programme manager: data, smart cities & cyber security and Eddie Copeland, LOTI director explain some of the smart city innovation going on in London

What’s a smart city?
While interpretations vary, we use the term ‘smart city’ when talking about the use of advanced technologies, particularly internet-of-things (IoT), in public places. Common examples might include internet-connected lamp posts that measure air pollution or smart river sensors that monitor and help predict when flooding may occur.

The London context
Use cases for technologies like these are clearly of interest to London, yet when it comes to explaining what London is doing, the picture is a little complicated. In part, that’s because so many different organisations are involved. The 32 boroughs and City of London each have differing levels of involvement in smart city initiatives. This may range from projects within individual boroughs or a group of boroughs, to the GLA overseeing London’s connectivity picture or to Transport for London (TfL)’s world-renowned work on contactless payments enabling more seamless travel. Additionally, SHIFT, based out of the former Olympic Park, and DG Cities, based in Greenwich, act as test beds for new technologies.
While it is not for LOTI to dictate what all these players do, we have a firm interest in making sure that London’s initiatives collectively benefit Londoners, that we can scale good practice, and that we make the right decisions now to ensure London makes the most of the opportunities smart cities present. With that in mind, we advocate the five principles explored below.

1 - It’s all about outcomes
At LOTI, we’re interested in smart city tools and approaches to the extent that they can help deliver real-word improvements to the lives of Londoners. For example, as London adapts to more extreme weather, IoT technologies can check river levels to help predict flooding.
Given this outcomes-based focus, LOTI plays two roles. First, we work with London’s Environment, Housing and Social Care teams to ensure they’re aware of opportunities for smart city approaches to help deliver their goals. Second, we can help triage where a smart city approach is the right one using our Outcomes-Driven Methodology for Data Projects. This starts by identifying the real-world change we want to see, and then focuses on who could do something differently if they had better access to information.
To give a tangible example, in the South London Partnership (Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Richmond upon Thames and Sutton), boroughs aim to predict and prevent flooding. To do that they can get rainfall data from the Met Office data, but they need a new data source to know which gullies are blocked. Therefore they invested in sensors for those gully ways to provide the insights they need.

2 - Transparency and ethics are a must
Public engagement and transparency should be designed into the entire lifecycle of a smart city service. Publishing where, how and why smart technology is being used is a basic and easy to achieve first principle for transparency. Starting with clearly defined outcomes should make it easier to be transparent and clear when communicating ‘why’ the technology is being used.
A more holistic approach to ethics should take into account a broader engagement with residents to ensure that their views and expectations are taken into consideration. In Camden, residents have been engaged in the process of developing a data charter that covers all aspects of the council’s use of data. Similarly, Brent has set up a data ethics board comprised of experts from the public and private sector alongside residents and which provides scrutiny of council projects.

3 - We need to buildthe pan-London picture
The fact that London local government is so fragmented poses numerous challenges. The types of issues that smart city tools and approaches are apt to address, such as pollution, congestion and energy consumption, do not neatly confine themselves to borough boundaries. Without some coordination, there is a risk that each borough implements a completely different approach and creates new data silos. That doesn’t mean every borough has to use the same smart city tech. Rather, LOTI’s role is to encourage boroughs to ensure data they collect locally can be shared, preferably via API and according to some common data standards, so we can join up and create the pan-London picture.
Collaborating across boroughs is good for innovation. By coordinating and sharing lessons from their experiments, boroughs can reduce the time, cost and risk of trialling new smart city innovations. Additionally, by implementing some common standards and principles, such as aggregating non-personal data at a pan-London level, they can make London a more attractive place for innovative companies to trial their products, and enable a greater number of innovators to build useful products and services with their data. For example, consider TfL’s Unified API, which has more than 600 apps and services built on top of it due to the fact that it has a pan-London reach.

4 - Smart cities must be secure by design
When deploying smart city systems we create a new and complex infrastructure that adversaries may seek to attack. Not only are parts of the council’s network now situated in the street, but the systems behind the technology are often operated by a complex supply chain. Managing and mitigating these risks takes careful planning and good contract management.
Guidance is available to support project planning and service operation from various central government departments including the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Department for Science Innovation and Technology (DSIT) and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI), covering risk management, procurement and understanding internet-connected infrastructure in a national security context. In addition to this, local authorities should embed additional principles such as designing smart city services that avoid the collection of personal data.

5 - Let’s acknowledge that tech and data alone are rarely the whole solution
Finally, LOTI has a role to play in helping boroughs avoid the mistakes we’ve seen in other areas of the digital transformation of local government movement. Namely, that it is not all about the tech. Any new technology we deploy - and data we draw from it - will be impactful only to the extent they lead to action. We must ensure that smart cities initiatives aren’t just about installing sensors, but challenging ourselves to adapt our ways of working, our decision making and service models. In Sutton, the teams responsible for clearing gullies have changed their service model to clear drains now based on risk, not on a chronological inspection pattern. This is why LOTI doesn’t just work with technology teams, but ensures service managers, policy leads and frontline staff are all part of the conversation.

No city should feel pressured to implement new smart city tech for its own sake. It is another set of tools we can add into the mix when we aim to tackle urban challenges. Those tools need to be used with thought and care. If “smart city” is to mean anything at all, it’s about how smart we are in using all the tools and methods at our disposal to achieve outcomes that matter to Londoners.

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