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Netherlands needs ‘bottom up’ approach to create smart cities

Dutch municipalities see the need to make their cities smarter, but often lack the necessary knowledge and do not know where to begin

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Creating a smart city is not just about technological innovations – it also means connecting existing networks and resources in a smart way. The Dutch city of Breda is a pioneer in this area.

Commercial organisations, including telecoms providers and utilities, often explain their needs to local councillors, who then want to implement a top-down approach to create a smart city.

“But that does not work,” says Corné Kriesels, co-ordinator, cables and pipes, for the city of Breda. “To create a successful smart city, only a bottom-up approach will succeed. That means a municipality must first pay attention to what is happening in the city and then look critically at the processes and workflow in its own organisation.”

That is exactly what Kriesels did when he came to work for the city authority six years ago. He saw lots of paper flows, rigid rules and inefficient processes. He held many conversations with fellow municipalities and other stakeholders, such as fibre-optic provider Eurofiber, and built up a picture of the city’s supply chain and processes.

“Ultimately, we all need each other, so we need to optimise processes for everyone involved,” he says. “That takes time and money at the start, but will ultimately yield substantial savings.”

Early in the process of creating a smart city, roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined, so fewer queries crop up along the way, everyone knows what is expected of them and there are fewer problems with bills and agreements. “Relationship management is one of the main pillars in the process,” says Kriesels.

Supply chain integration

For the supply chain, everything starts with a report to notify everyone about the start of the process, says Kriesels. Next, the various supply chain partners, including the community, citizens, county, contractors, network administrator and possibly intermediaries are informed. Clear agreements are reached on roles and responsibilities.

“That is very important,” says Kriesels. “Everyone knows what is expected of them and where they stand. Transparency is also very important – not only towards the external supply chain partners and citizens, but also internally.”

This transparency generates direct cost savings in the supply chain. Sicco Santema, professor of B2B marketing and supply chain management at the Delft University of Technology, says supply chain costs will be cut by 15% to 20% as parties work together. “Think about the total savings that can be generated if this happens more in the supply chain,” he says.

By creating an open supply chain where only one party collects source information and shares it with the rest of the chain, throughput can be reduced significantly and the cost savings will be substantial, says Santema.

Working efficiently together

To work effectively in an open supply chain, Breda invested in a new system, iCass, which records all work permit applications and other messages. The system is accessible to all employees, but also to all stakeholders.

“A network administrator can see via an app when certain activities are planned in the city, as well as where, for example, eco zones are located or where there are roadworks,” says Kriesels.

“All supply chain parties are included in the workflow and the app makes it easy for them to report the start of work, do completions and add photos, comments or other attachments. For example, a city official who is deciding on a licence for an optical fibre route can see immediately whether that location has already been dug up by a utility company, for example. This way, works can be combined, reducing inconvenience for civilians and cutting costs.”

In the future, citizens should also be able to access the app, says Kriesels.

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A lot of knowledge and information is held by different municipalities, but little is shared, which is a shame, says Kriesels. “Why would you reinvent the wheel?” he adds. “In our organisation, we just adapted our process in accordance with current standards and we have helped to develop automation systems so that other cities can easily copy both the process and the system.”

Santema agrees that there are too few examples of supply chain information-sharing in the Netherlands. “There are often too many interests,” he says. “The current aim of many organisations is to gather as much information as possible, and then to guard that information like a lion.”

The danger of keeping information to yourself is that Google will eventually be your biggest competitor, he says. “Information and the availability of information is critical in supply chain optimisation. That is what Google and Amazon do best.

“The self-driving car is not an innovation that came from a car manufacturer, but from Google, because driving is on a grid of dealing with information.”

Smartest town

The city of Breda was recently named the Netherlands’ Smartest City Centre, but that doesn’t stop it from making new tech plans. “We have Wi-Fi in our city centre, but I would like to see that extended to the entire city,” says Kriesels. “There may be charging stations for phones in street lights or at the bus stop, and even bins that can indicate whether or not they are full, so the sanitation department does not have to drive somewhere unnecessarily.”

By giving local citizens access to the system containing information about works and other reports, the number of reports is reduced, says Kriesels. “The nature of the reports has changed,” he adds. “Where previously people mentioned, for example, a pile of sand that was lying somewhere, the reports we get now are more serious in nature.”

Knowledge is power

A city that wants to achieve something real in this area must be willing to co-operate, says Kriesels. “Dare to sit down with your supply chain partners and share information. Right now, every organisation is running its own shop, but I recommend looking to co-operate.

“That doesn’t mean you have to abandon your own policies as a city, but through clear agreements and expectations, there won’t be white rabbits coming out of hats [a Dutch saying]. If you do not share information, you do not know how someone else wants to work.

“But it is important that someone takes control. I do not mean a co-ordinating role, but taking an overview of the supply chain.”

It is clear municipalities that want to make their city smarter can’t do without knowledge-sharing and supply chain management. Everything stands or falls on the optimal organisation of the process, transparency, clear responsibilities and communication.

That might seem a big ask, but there are already many cities, including Breda, that have gone through this process and are willing to share their knowledge, processes and systems. In this way, cities can concentrate on improving the home and working lives of their citizens.

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