Huge savings potential for councils embracing smart city technologies

Local councils in the UK could save millions by implementing smart city systems, but many are unaware of the technologies available, according to a new report from Vodafone UK.

Research conducted by ComRes for the telecoms company revealed that two-thirds (67%) of urban councillors are not familiar with Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technologies and how they can be used to deliver better, more cost-efficient public services.

Vodafone said this gap in understanding helps explain why M2M is yet to be widely used to improve public services such as street lighting, refuse collection and transport management.

There are many ways that smart systems incorporating M2M can improve local services and reduce running costs. For example, energy consumption could be reduced through the use of smart monitoring systems in council buildings and smart street lighting which brightens when it senses people or vehicles nearby.

Meanwhile, councils could improve traffic flow by installing smart traffic light systems which automatically respond to the flow of people and vehicles, and investing in applications to help drivers find parking spaces.

Matt Key, director of M2M sales and commercial at Vodafone, pointed out that among councillors who are familiar with M2M, almost all of them (83%) feel that the technology will be important in delivering better services and improved value to the community.

If we can help more councillors understand the possible savings and the benefits, then we have a real opportunity to help local councils improve the services for their communities, as well as free up more budget to be reinvested in frontline services, he added.

A separate report released last month by GE Lighting and the Carbon Trust found that most public sector organisations in the UK have started to embrace intelligent technologies.

Research showed that 87% of sustainability professionals in councils, NHS bodies, universities, emergency services, central government departments and housing associations have adopted smart technologies to improve the performance of their buildings. But the authors of the report warned that progress could be hampered by budget constraints and an inability to plan effectively.

The most common areas where smart technology has been implemented within the public sector are building efficiency (77%), LED lighting (57%) and water and waste technologies (24%).

Availability of funds was cited as the biggest barrier to the implementation of smart technologies, followed by lack of an agreed long-term strategic plan/model for technology adoption, and procurement know-how.

GE Lighting and the Carbon Trust, like Vodafone, concluded that education is key.

The authors of the report noted that the barriers to adoption can be addressed via enhanced communication and training, skills and internal support to help public sector employees understand how to build and procure investable projects.

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