In conversation with Kevin O’Malley: delivering smart cities

In your opinion, how can different approaches to procurement positively impact the rate of innovation and growth seen in cities?

Any significant procurement takes time. It takes time to research, to evaluate the options, to establish the process, run the competition, evaluate the submissions and establish the contract with the winner. In a fast moving technology environment like advanced urban services this lengthy exercise can cause Cities to miss opportunities or to end up buying an out-dated solution. More nimble forms of procurement could see high impact, tailored, transformational services delivered into Cities more rapidly.

What do you consider the greatest barrier to the funding of urban transformation?

More collaboration across and between public services in Cities would be a huge benefit. By sharing intelligence on solutions cities can deliver the best services at the best price. By joining together within or between cities to identify a shared need and procure shared advanced urban services authorities will realise significant savings and businesses will be able to address larger more attractive markets.

What mechanism would you like to see in place that would enable public and private sector organisations to collaborate more effectively when delivering future city projects?

The Small Business Research Initiative is a relatively little used instrument but has the potential to deliver some very significant benefits. The mechanism is lightweight and quick to deploy, it brings public authorities and innovative businesses in to close quarters, helping them understand each other’s challenges and the opportunities the technology can realise. The phased delivery also reduces the risk inherent in innovation projects by creating a break point for initiatives that haven’t developed as originally envisaged. I would be happy to see more use of SBRI, and particularly to see he resulting solutions bought and rolled out at scale.

What will your priorities at Innovate UK be moving into 2019?

My personal priorities will be to encourage local public organisations to work more collaboratively on Smart Cities projects. This may require something of a cultural transformation ahead of a digital one but the benefits re undeniable. Shared standards create interoperability, shared design patterns ensure a consistent user experience across different services, agencies and cities, and collaborative procurement creates the size of market which can draw attractive discounts from suppliers.

Kevin O’Malley is the the Innovation Lead for Clean Growth & Infrastructure at Innovate UK, and will be speaking on supporting the development of smart cities at the Public Sector Solutions Expo on 20 November. To register or find out more, please click here.