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Smart City, Smarter management

Smart City, Smarter management

Following the policy of representing good practices and the knowledge-based approaches in regards to the smart city concept here, we present a resume of a doctoral study of Tara Alshahadeh, who holds an MBA from Aydin University. As a Knowledge cluster, we see in this work very useful ideas and a platform for a system approach in the smart cities' project management. 

What is a smart city project?

A project is considered smarter when it’s associated with a higher number of smart city main dimensions which are economy, people, governance, environment, mobility, and living. Each dimension represents a particular aspect of the city where a smart project aims to achieve smart goals in efficiency, sustainability, and high quality of life.[1] 


Another definition for smart city projects is those projects which use modern technology to generate economic, social, and ecological value, run by multiple organizations as a partnership and include innovation or experimentation. Also, the smart city projects can be defined as the ones that are driven by institutions that develop the project objectives according to the challenges and key performance indicators (KPIs) of the smart city vision with the involvement of citizens.

Two approaches can be identified; the top-down approach (the project is initiated by government or institutions) or the bottom-up approach (the project is initiated by citizens).  ASCIMER (assessing smart city initiatives for the Mediterranean region) has recognized three characteristics for smart city projects that impact and contribute to the smart city.

  • First, innovation where technology should be promoted in smart city projects to solve the old urban issues in a new innovative way.
  • Second, integration where smart city projects should help creating interconnected systems and managing knowledge and information efficiently among them, increase communication between institutions and citizens, and increase cooperation between public and private institutions and civil entities.
  • Third, inclusion where some smart city projects engage people in their projects, if not, smart city projects should communicate the benefits of the project to citizens.

What is the Smart City Projects Challenges?

Smart city project challenges include the classical project challenges and other specific challenges emerging from the complexity and innovative nature of smart city projects. These challenges inspire partners, managers, and city leaders to come up with innovative solutions. The challenges that might come across managers include:

  • Technological challenges - Smart city projects depend extremely on technology. However, implementing digital infrastructure is challenging because of the lack of knowledge about ICT systems and compatible software, the security and privacy problems where systems may get hacked or infected by viruses, etc., the high cost of installing, operating, and maintaining IT systems and the cost of training and hiring IT specialists.
  • Financial constraints - Smart city projects require significant financial resources to adapt technology to the city's existed infrastructure which is more expensive than building a new smart city. The main challenges are finding who can fund the project, choosing the right investment that will create long-term efficiencies, benefits, and return, the tendency to avoid huge investments that generate long-term benefits and focusing on short-term, and the need for innovative business, operating and financial models in order to transition from pilot projects into full-scale projects.
  • Lack of collaboration among different stakeholders and governmental restraints - Smart city projects require collaboration among private organizations, public institutions, NGOs, citizens, etc. which increases the complexity of these projects. The main challenges are poor communication and coordination among these participants, the leadership style, lack of policies for open data that enables sharing across departments and organizations, lack of support from both local government and city administration, the time is taken by organizations involved in the project to make decisions and breaking down silos that hinder the success of the project.
  • Managerial and organizational challenges - One of the challenges of smart city projects is their size and scope where two types of projects can be defined; Greenfield projects which are huge, long-term, and usually starts from zero, and Brownfield projects which are smaller sized projects, short-term and fast implemented are usually built on existed infrastructure and are preferred by investors for generating fast revenues. Another challenge is leadership style and the manager’s technical and social skills. Similarly, the lack of understanding solutions leads to poor decisions. Also, the absence of educated and qualified teams who can work in these complex and high-tech projects, resistance to change, and inadequate training are also one of the smart city projects challenges. Moreover, the diversity of the project’s relevant stakeholders creates conflicts about who will govern and finance or who will capture the created value. Finally, having multiple goals that do not align with the project vision can be challenging, also, miscommunication of the project’s objectives to the local community.
  • Social challenges - Smart city projects need to engage citizens and create a common understanding of the key objectives, opportunities, and challenges among all smart city project participants. The main challenges lie in how to motivate and involve citizens in smart city projects, measure and express the value created by the smart city project for citizens, the digital divide in the city, and change the behavior and thinking of citizens to what’s called “smart thinking”.

What are the Smart City Projects’ Management Success Factors?

Many general factors are identified such as IT which enables the transformation to the smart city, yet other key factors should be considered such as policy and organizational elements to guarantee the successful implementation of the project. Successful initiatives (projects) are defined as the following “observable indicators through the life cycle of the initiative: attracting wide support, having clear objectives aligned to policy goals and current problems, producing concrete outcomes and impacts and being imitated or scaled”. 

The smart city initiative needs people, an enabler environment, and effective management and organization to the project processes. Factors that contribute to the successful project implementation include:

  • Having a clear vision embedded in a comprehensive city vision, objectives, goals, and baseline measurement systems from the beginning of the initiatives.
  • Having strong leadership and define the project structure and management method.
  • Having a sound business case taking into account the local context.
  • Having a benefits realization framework that is developed by project management institutions (PMI) for organizations to identify benefits and align them with a formal strategy in order to ensure that the project benefits are realized, delivered during project execution, and sustained after the project ends. Also, future-proofing (developing methods of minimizing the effects of shocks of future events in order to retain value).
  • Having a strong local government partner as a key strategic partner and co-founder and forming a public-private partnership (PPP) where private partners help with expertise, technology, and finance, the involvement of citizens and end-users.
  • Successful knowledge management where relevant data are necessary to develop business models.
  • Concerning managerial and operational aspects, the speed of work, labor market flexibility, the availability of workforce, productivity, developed construction management, disaster management, and building information modeling (BIM).
  • Since innovation and learning are important aspects of smart city projects, it’s important to have an innovative spirit, research, and development, open-mindedness, ability to develop content and application.
  • To focus on humans instead of technology since humans are what make a smart city smart.
  • To focus on a specific topic where identifying the city’s strengths and weaknesses help in creating a stronger city strategy and similarly to the project’s strategy.
  • Having a city-wide smart strategy will make small projects contribute to the general smart city strategy.
  • Organize the work and structure the project strategy by using the smart city strategy framework for the city and adapt it to its projects.
  • Bring all stakeholders together from local governments, businesses, and knowledge institutions to citizens in the smart city project.
  • Engage citizens in smart city projects from the beginning of the development of the strategy and get the stakeholders' buy-in because that will affect the project budget and acceptance during implementation. A “citizen-centric smart city initiatives are suggested where citizens can participate, develop solutions, and get involved in the decision-making process.
  • Select smart city projects based on higher-level smart city programs and according to an effective strategic vision and effectively coordinate smart city projects in order to avoid conflicts between projects with continuous assessments for project portfolios.
  • Team skills and expertise are important to solve project size issues and technological challenges such as the lack of understanding of new interconnected systems.
  • Apply appropriate training.
  • Having a strong legal department to deal with any legal or political challenges.
  • Effective communication and mutual trust can solve conflicts and resistance to change.
  • Analyzing the project and forecasting its budget to get budgetary approval before the project starts. Managers should control the project’s resources and budget to ensure the sustainable development of the project.
  • Since smart city projects are different from other traditional projects, it’s important to use public messaging and branding for smart city strategy to support and remind stakeholders of the outcomes and benefits of the smart city project. Another important sub-dimension for promoting smart city projects is forming a specialized and skilled team that is acknowledged by all institutions in the city and oversees the planning, development, and management processes and performance measurements in smart city projects.
  • Exchange knowledge and learn from other project experiences besides research and development.
  • Develop key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure performance in a meaningful and understandable way for citizens and businesses in a city.
  • Integrate the implementation of ICT within the organization with the smart city strategy and involve all relevant stakeholders in the development of the strategy.
  • Practices review and business process improvement.
  • It’s important to formulate smart city planning and development principles to be used by the city’s organizations. However, the local organizational culture of each city and how this culture endorses or refuses innovative services should be considered by managers and policymakers.

Therefore, various strategies are available for smart city innovation.

  • First, Enterprise Architecture helps organizations to design systems and develop ways to achieve their future objectives effectively and changes the traditional bureaucracy by an IT infrastructure that supports business processes.
  • Second, appropriate cross-organizational management to enable information and knowledge sharing within or across different organizations and governments which is essential for smart city innovation.
  • Third, the leadership role that in this context extends to leading not only a team or a single enterprise but a network of organizations. This leadership role is crucial in the success of innovation and implementation of smart city initiatives where centralized governance is recommended at an early stage of smart city development and decentralized one during the growth stage. Develop leadership models, risk management mechanisms, and innovation management. Also, formulate clear organization policies that support cross-department/organization working and open-data policies to ensure the success of smart city projects.

The Smart City Projects Management Framework (SCPMF)

Based on a combination of the theoretical and empirical study, the Smart City Projects Management Framework (SCPMF) is developed, where it interconnects the smart city concept and project management perspective.

This framework consists of two parts.

  • The first one includes the management functions which are planning, organizing, leading, and controlling. Each function includes smart practices that affect project success.
  • The second part of the framework includes the smart success criteria for projects. In other words, indicators for the smart city project success.

The project success criteria for smart city projects are identified by applying the classical project success factors and adding special (smart) factors for smart city projects. Thus, project success is estimated according to cost, quality, time, sustainability (the project is sustainable in terms of people, profit, and planet or what’s called TBL), and the created value (benefits to all stakeholders and generated new knowledge).

The framework shows a strong positive correlation between smart management practices and aspects of project management effectiveness, efficiency, and project success.

Thus, some parties/managers who are involved in the smart city projects may wish to adopt these smart project management practices into their daily management of projects in an attempt to increase project efficiency and effectiveness. It’s important to mention that the project size and context (city, industry, partnership) can affect smart management practices, thus, project success. In conclusion, smart city projects sound really attractive for a city, yet they can bring a lot of challenges to their development and management.

The proposed framework in this article integrates the available knowledge on smart city projects and these research new findings setting out a holistic view of smart city project management which can provide guidance to organizations and professionals who work in smart city projects. 

It’s important that smart cities around the world develop new operating models that drive innovation and collaboration across the vertical silos.

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