‘… they would have said “faster horses”…’

What is the reason behind a city’s sound claim to be “smart”? Henry Ford once said “If I had asked people what they want they would have said, faster horses.”. The proverb can be transferred to cities. Smart cities are not about the improvement of already existing offerings and maybe adapt them to more people, faster service, improved cost efficiency. It is about the satisfaction of needs that are often beyond peoples imagination. To take up Ford’s proverb again: Smart City is about “cars” not “faster horses”. Most people think in products and services they are familiar with – solutions offered in subsystems. Therefore “smart” solutions – like cars – are a system of subsystems. The underlining assumption is that the requirement is not a product or service, per se, but the resulting benefit the agglomeration of products and services enable the citizen to do. Assuming we have such a cute “smart” idea for the city, how is it put into action? Well, most of the times by tendering silo offerings and try to put the puzzle together. However business focus should be on innovating, creating and implementing “satisfaction”, selling a system of products and services that are jointly able to – referring to Ford’s proverb – “drive”. This requires a new way of innovation based on new interpretation of concept of offering. However the approach- and tender process is about “car parts”. But who puts them together? Who is the visionary? And who takes the risk, if the assembly doesn’t work?

Let’s take a look at the potential stakeholders: Governmental bodies – often face the conflictive share of responsibilities among supra-national, national and regional structures. In addition city authorities often struggle with their strictly separated old-fashioned internal structure and also fear that e.g. open data could be misused. Industry – companies are not used to collaborative work, yet. They are often afraid to give up competitive advantage when collaborating. Last but not least academia. Universities have a huge knowledge but no access to bring it in operation.

However complex problems need to be addressed in a collaborative way.


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