Urgent policy measures including adequate funding, the creation of smart city task forces and the availability of high-quality connectivity will be required to overcome barriers and ensure the European Commission achieves its ambitious mission of 100 carbon-neutral and smart cities by 2030, a new Vodafone report issued recently reveals.
A comprehensive study across 10 European countries commissioned by Vodafone and conducted by Opinion Matters – ‘Fit for the Future Cities: How technology can accelerate sustainable change’ – surveyed 550 city experts with responsibility for technology and innovation to identify smart city adoption rates, opportunities and roadblocks.
‘Fit for the Future Cities’ found high levels of support for smart city adoption in Europe:
- 75% of the Romanians surveyed said their country has begun its smart city digital transformation journey,
- 60% considered that smart city solutions are something valued in their local authorities.
- 7 in 10 European cities surveyed plan to invest in smart solutions in the future, with more than half (52%) planning to spend €2-€10 million during the next three years.
Although the 10 countries are at different phases of implementing their smart city plans, the experts highlighted an underlying “fragmentation of responsibilities” that meant overcoming obstacles often requires intervention at different geographic levels and the challenge of complex multi-organisation coordination between city councils, national governments, and intergovernmental bodies such as the European Union.
Experts considered the main barriers to implementing smart cities included:
- lack of funding
- adequate infrastructure
- privacy and safety concerns
- complexity of procurement procedures
- lack of strategy and
- digital skills
Joakim Reiter, Chief External Affairs Officer, Vodafone Group, said: “Smart cities play an essential role in Europe adapting to the biggest challenges of our time like the ongoing energy crisis. With three-quarters of EU citizens living in cities, and cities accounting for 78% of the world’s energy consumption, we must invest in digital solutions capable of cutting overall energy use and reducing dependence on carbon energy sources. If all stakeholders across public and private sectors can pull together to prioritise the development of innovative technologies, adequate infrastructure and digital skills, we can address Europe’s mobility, digitisation and energy efficiency challenges.”
Vinod Kumar, Chief Executive Officer, Vodafone Business, said: “Vodafone partners with municipal governments across the EU where its solutions are already in use, including smart metering to monitor energy consumption and SIMs to help public transport drivers lower fuel costs and cut emissions by modifying how they drive. Now more than ever with the current energy and cost of living crises, governing bodies and policy makers shouldn’t wait for the ‘ideal time’ or for the ‘perfect solution’. They should start their digitalisation journey today, even if it means starting with small steps. The time is now, and Vodafone stands ready to help governments and society address these challenges in the immediate, mid and long term.”
The report identifies five stages of adoption of smart cities. In Romania they fall in the same proportion (35%) in the “New Explorer” and “Pathfinder” categories. “New Explorer” refers to cities that are beginning to align their political priorities with digital advances. Therefore, they are eager to start their journey and adopt smart solutions. “Pathfinders” have started to adopt solutions but require further funding and a clear strategy to pursue their future ambitions, as well as an investment in adequate digital infrastructure.
Among the Romanian cities taken into account for the analysis, none were considered “Front-Runner”, a category that includes technologically mature cities, willing to invest in innovative solutions. According to DESI scores, Romania ranks last on the indicators related with digital public services and digital skills. These are both important components to support the adoption and promotion of smart city solutions.
Policy measures can play a key role in accelerating smart city adoption
The report identifies key policy areas where action could accelerate smart city adoption across Europe, and recommends four specific actions:
- Ensure adequate funding is made available, through both public and private investment, and that cities are made aware of the support available to them, alongside clear guidance on how to access it.
- Develop smart city blueprints, by encouraging the creation of smart city task forces. These task forces should share best practice, for example on how to share data, and develop frameworks for measuring the effectiveness and impact of smart city solutions. The task forces can also provide recommendations on how to develop and comply with the legal frameworks that impact smart city deployment, such as cybersecurity.
- Improve digital literacy and skills for both the workforces that are selecting and deploying smart city solutions, and for the citizens that will make use of the services these solutions support.
- Make high quality connectivity available and affordable for all, as this is the catalyst for successful smart city development.
The online survey was conducted by Opinion Matters, an independent market research consultancy, which collected responses with the following geographical distribution: Spain, UK, Italy, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Czech Republic, Turkey, Greece and Finland. Experts were selected based on them holding positions within a local authority or government department in a municipality, metropolitan area, district or state and having a high degree of responsibility over technology and innovation decision-making. The research took place between 15.03.2022 – 19.04.2022. Opinion Matters applies the ESOMAR principles in its work and employees are members of the Market Research Society.