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SAP: Austerity is stifling smart city innovation in the UK

Derek du Preez | Feb. 25, 2013
SAP’s global VP of Urban Matters, Sean O’Brien, has said that the UK’s cities are falling behind their global peers as austerity stifles innovation in the development of smart city applications, which could be of benefit to millions citizens across the country.

"I travel a lot outside of Europe and they get it. I think the innovation mentality is being restrained by austerity in the UK. It's really frustrating, I go out there and I wonder where all the innovation in Europe has gone."

Ovum's Dignan agreed that more could be done by government to create demand from the cities for smart urban applications, such as those offered by SAP. He warned that if cities don't start purchasing these products, the vendors will stop offering them, and opportunities will be lost.

"If the private sector is not making any money, then they are going to walk away, it's as simple as that. Because of this, the national governments have to build the demand side of the equation. You've got organisations such as SAP going through the door with offerings and nobody who sits on the other side of the table that has got the responsibility, budget and ability to sign things off," said Dignan.

Dignan said that the Technology Strategy Board's (TSB) recent demonstrator project, which gave 30 cities in the UK £50,000 each to come up with a 'smart city' plan, was a recent example of this attempt to create demand. The 30 cities were then shortlisted to four cities, and Glasgow recently won the £25 million fund to develop a large scale demonstration of its plan.

"This was really TSBs attempt to try and create the demand side - the right people on the other side of the table who can have a useful conversation. You now have 30 cities that have started that process. Even better than that, they have actually put all of the feasibility studies into the public domain, so that any other city can pick up and see if they can adopt some of the thinking," he said.

However, Dignan argued that even more demand needs to be created, and this needs to be done from within central government, where it needs thought leaders to drive the agenda - something he believes is currently missing.

"No one is punting this, no one is pushing it. Do you know who the minister for cities in the UK is? Greg Clark. I couldn't imagine a more anonymous person if I tried. They need to put a hell of a lot more power behind who they have got leading on the cities. As I said, has anyone heard of Greg Clark?" said Dignan.

"We sort of need a tsar for cities in the UK so that we can start developing some of this stuff. You need to create a group that can sit there and say we can do this, we have the resources, and we have the authority."


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