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From Vendor to Citizen via the Public Sector – Paul Copping Interview

Updated: Mar 1, 2019

Since social bonds have a well-defined target, Smart City project managers either have to find other forms of finance for their projects or have, within their projects, solutions that comply with public funding regulations. If the project itself is already a challenge, finding investors adds to the hard work required throughout the process of adapting the city to the needs of the environment and citizens.

Digital Greenwich is a Smart City project in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, one of the 33 boroughs of London, that aims to bring new technological solutions to fast moving urban growth and climate change with the help of private investors, creating a test bed for innovation on which innovative technological knowledge can be tested, piloted, improved and implemented.

An interesting approach that benefits all parties, starting with companies that want to sell their products and ending with citizens benefiting from an increase in living standards, this way of getting things done is an innovative example of Smart City project management.

Ahead of Nordic Smart Cities – The City 2.0 we conducted an exclusive speaker interview with Paul Copping, Smart City Adviser, Royal Borough of Greenwich about Smart City Strategy and Implementation.

Paul Copping is Chief Innovation Officer at DG Cities Ltd, a wholly owned commercial subsidiary of the council. His role is to engage with industrial partners to deploy integrated technology solutions that will result in agiler, cheaper services for Greenwich citizens, while also generating revenue to support further research and development.Paul is currently working on several smart city projects, including digital currency initiatives;  future 5G mobile services; and several related to connected and autonomous vehicles  –  including Dubai RTA driverless cars, MAVEN, MOVE-UK and GATEway. He is also leading the development of a multi-city collaborative procurement framework which will be launched in 2017 to accelerate the deployment of smart city services and infrastructure.

What are the opportunities your project creates both for innovators and citizens? Our role, working for a local authority which is the Royal Borough of Greenwich,  is to create a joined-up Smart City infrastructure, this will enable everything to be efficient and competitive for citizen services and to deal with population growth without any growth in the budget. We are basically trying to provide more empowered and personalised services at the same cost, even lower cost per capita over the next several years. At the same time, we are trying to sort out all the utilities, all the fibre and wireless infrastructure, capabilities that would be the communications part of the project – the aim is that citizens get better services at stable prices. When speaking about vendors we are well aware that vendors have trouble selling to local authorities because they are usually too small to be a market on their own and they are difficult to deal with. We are setting up a collaborative procurement framework which will enable local authorities to buy from vendors on a scale which means that they can get a more achievable volume to the level of integration that they need to deal with on Smart City platforms.

What were the limitations you faced when implementing your project and what solutions have you come up with in order to overcome them? From a strategy point of view, we are not really facing any significant limitations because the political alignment is very strong. We published a strategy nearly a year ago which was very warmly supported by our politicians, especially the Leader of the Council – and by our senior management and CEO, so in terms of what we can set out to do we have very few limitations indeed. There are some regulatory limitations as to what we can use public money for and that is a bit of an issue. We cannot use public funds or create any other sort of state aid that would destabilise the market and for that reason we need to make sure that the industry does things, particularly in the telecom market, without us investing directly.  Unless we can establish the need for us to get in, in order to get everything to a gigabyte level of communication we need to encourage the industry to make the investment. There are good reasons for that, but it imposes a limitation on how we incentivise our operators to give us the communication platforms that we are going to need in the future, but to give them to us now.

How do you engage citizens in the development of your Smart City project? As a local authority, we do all our engagement through our political process and our Councillors deal with people day-to-day. This means we are very much driven by people who are paying their community charges, who are voting for their Councillors and the ongoing sponsorship of the Council is very much a democratic process. In addition to that, we have inside the borough an incubator or accelerator, more accurately, with about 30 SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) – one of them is a company called Sticky World (www.stickyworld.com) which specialises in citizen engagement. We use them for consultations and in particular for transport infrastructure consultation in an area of the borough called Eltham, in practice, we found that it worked really well. We created virtual chat rooms where people can come in and discuss proposals, it allows them to get into group discussions with each other and council officers. This seems to be a good model for citizen engagement and we’d like to use that again in the future, but it’s only an addition to the normal democratic style.

What mix of technologies have you used and/or do you intend to use? / Why have you made these choices? We are looking at gigabit pervasive networks as what we are trying to get to regarding the telecom side. Our data partners NEC  have integrated a data platform with open APIs and have the ability to scale and provide services to us and to other authorities, it’s setup as a cloud based solution. What we did so far in this regard was to complete an open market review on our fiber  and duct capacity which gave us an indication of how much more fiber we will need. We have been auditing that and I expect we will put in quite a bit more fiber capacity, mainly to be ready for the backhaul  of future fast wireless solutions. On the wireless side we partnered with the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey which is the national UK development centre for 5G telecoms and they are going to be using us as an urban test bed for applications. We will work with operators such as Telefonica and Vodafone and vendors such Huawei and Ericsson to develop fast, urban systems. On the IoT side we haven’t  chosen vendors yet, but we are very interested in pulling an overlay network using mobile infrastructure so that we can address our IoT monitoring of properties, streets and all other assets. We expect to go for a mobile virtual network operator, an MVNO,  and then structure using a solution, probably in a regulated spectrum. We are exploring the option to use narrow band IoT (NB-IoT) which is the new standard being developed in labs that both Vodafone and Huawei are collaborating on.

How do you attract investment in your projects and which sector is of greater interest to you, the public or the private sector? Currently, the way we do it since we work with private sector partners, we want to develop solutions at risk with their own financing and then have them collaborate with us to re-sell those solutions to other cities. We are essentially a marketing channel for our vendors to address other cities and we started off as an individual vendor solution.  We have now created a procurement framework so that other cities can buy joined-up solutions rather than doing it one vendor at the time. For the work we have done so far we hardly used any public money as the investments come through goods and services at the risk of private sector vendors. In the future we have reasonable funds ourselves internally in Royal Borough of Greenwich and on the wider scale I think Smart City technologies might well attract bond financing from social impact bonds but that is something we are only now beginning to talk to financial institutions about, whether there will be benefit in organising city packages of work to be financed through a bond structure.

As far as short term plans are concerned, what is to be expected from Greenwich Digital in 2017? One of our earliest projects is on autonomous vehicles, driverless vehicles on which we are running trials at the moment that will complete in September 2017. We want to use them to move people and goods, maybe not by the end of 2017, but very close to that, and make them a part of our public service. We aim to be the first deployment of fully autonomous public transport services, that will be a bit of a race with some other cities, but we are in that race. On the telecom side, I hope that by the end of 2017 we will be able to connect up a good portion of our assets. We have 25.000 units of social housing which currently don’t have any Internet of Things monitoring and I can’t say now how many will get done by 2017, but we expect those that are connected to be fully operational. This way we will save money by knowing more about what is going on at the properties without having to send people to the buildings and also to be able to monitor any known problems or incidents like floods for example – this should help us to respond faster than we have before to such incidents. There are a couple of other areas where we have big projects running which will be delivered and demonstrated in 2017. We are part of a large European project called Horizon 2020 Sharing City and that has a number of derivables which deal with various pilot projects, including some mobility, communications and also some energy solutions, such as a district heating system which we will deliver a little bit later. It is a five year project, but it’s beginning to get serious by the end of 2017.

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