A while ago I posted about a new area of research that I have started around the concept of smart government. Its definition is as follows:
Smart government is an administration that applies and integrates information, communication and operational technologies to planning, management and operations across multiple domains, process areas and jurisdictions to generate sustainable public value
The definition is intentionally broad, as “smartness” can be an attribute of a particular jurisdiction (a city, a state, a federal agency) or of a domain (e.g. justice, taxation) or of a process (e.g. procurement, human capital management).
Vendors do associate almost exclusively “smartness” to the interoperability of information and operational technologies, emphasizing how the integration between information systems and infrastructures – be they water pipes or electric grids, roads or tramways – is pivotal to achieving sustainability in modern cities.
The problem with smart cities though is that they are either only partially smart (e.g. smart traffic or smart waste management) or simply too expensive and complex to realize, unless they are being built from the ground up (like some of the examples from Asia).
A good way to look at this is to think about who would be the buyer. A mayor? Well, he or she can buy into the idea, but is unlikely to sign a check: the city council and the heads of different departments need to buy into this and then decide that they need to make smarter the city operations and services they are responsible for.
How realistic is this? And even if it were achievable, who would have the ability to find and synchronize the financial and human resources necessary to implement it all, as a single program?
Reality is that in most cases smart cities cannot be but piecemeal implementations. A smart light management program could then be followed by a smart grid program, in turn followed by a smart transportation program. They would be individually smart, but are we sure that the entire city would become smarter?
Actually one could segment the degree of smartness in different ways. For instance, thinking of public transportation and public safety, a city’s smartness does not only depend on how well infrastructure operations are connected to the city’s information systems across both domains, but also on better communication across government tiers in each domain (e.g. collaboration between local and federal police, or between county or state transportation departments and the local bus company). Is being successful at winning a state or federal grant for one of these domains and to report more accurately about its progress necessarily less important than integrating two “smart” domains?
If one takes a broader view of smart government, all the dimensions that I mentioned in my previous post (why, who, what, where and when) offer alternative options to segment and prioritize the journey toward a smart jurisdiction. Determining the most reasonable order and making sure that investments in each phase can be leveraged to develop the next one are the key issues for both vendors and government executives to succeed.
Gartner clients can read (login required) the first two research notes of our series on smart government:
Four more notes are in the making, each covering one of the other dimensions.