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Why make a smart city, and the importance of partnerships

DALLAS–City of Memphis CIO Brent Nair, gave a talk titled, Why make a city smarter? at TMForum earlier this week. He spoke of the human element within the smart city, and the importance of keeping focused on initiatives that will benefit citizens.

“Our vision of a smart city today is an ecosystem that can help us interact,” Nair said. “In each one of these cities are people. We need to make sure we are enabling what will enhance our citizen’s lives. We know today we have the technology infrastructure to connect all of the pieces and parts together, but when we look at what is going to happen – we need to keep our citizens in mind.”

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In Memphis, approximately 48% of school children do not have access to the internet at home, and poverty rates are as high as 28%.

“The internet of things, internet connectivity allows us to do things today,” Nair said. The internet of things will keep a mother from not knowing where her next meal will come, by providing a reliable transportation network that brings people to their jobs. If he or she cannot get to their job because their car broke down, the bus they need to take may be late or not on time – so we want to do things to be able to have individuals pull up and look and see when that bus is going to be there.”

But there is a financial challenge to getting smart city initiatives signed off. According to Nair, the primary portion of the city’s revenue is gained through local property taxes, and 70% are used for public safety costs (police or fire). Only the remaining 30% is used for all other services, from human resources to financing.

“We know we want to deliver smart cities to those people that we serve and we work with,” Nair said. “We also know pitching a multi-million dollar network is not going to go well when someone needs a new squad car and can’t afford it.”

Nair stressed the importance of partnerships, and approaching a city like Memphis in the correct way.

“When we think about partnerships it is someone coming in and making a sales call,” the Memphis CIO said. “They all ask the same questions, ‘What keeps you up at night? What date/time can we talk to see how you can help you meet your initiatives?’ That is not what we need and want as a city. A partnership is a person who takes part in an undertaking with another in business or a company with shared risks and profits. We aren’t asking to share profits, but we want to share risks and have an equitable goal.

“What we can do is limitless, we just want to do it in a partnership.”

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