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In what area of smart city development will the pandemic change investment most?

In what area of smart city development will the pandemic change investment most?

Investment in energy management, piecemeal solutions and partnership prevalence could grow post-pandemic, according to Protocol's Braintrust.

Good afternoon! This week, we looked into the pandemic's effects on smart city development, asking the experts to consider how investment might shift over time and what might gain or lose importance in the coming years. Questions or comments? Send us a note at

Seyed Madaeni

Chief Digital Officer at Fluence

As we enter a recovery period of increased digitization following the pandemic, it would be an understatement to say that leaders strategizing how to create a more sustainable, durable future has moved to the forefront on the list of global objectives. The next area of focus will be on how society can build resilient infrastructure and operate more efficiently in the face of future crises. We saw this need come to light last month in Texas as they experienced a mass power outage. Cities have an opportunity to take a more active role in digitizing and investing in energy storage to support the increasing needs of the grid.

With the development of smart cities comes the need to invest in smart, reliable energy management, such as with battery storage, to meet rising energy demands. As governments incentivize consumer adoption of electric vehicles and set sustainability goals, for example, we can envision the new normal including a smart city dominated by prosumers of energy. The pandemic has shone a light on the need to design market systems and IoT infrastructures that effectively leverage the capability of distributed energy resources (DER) to provide grid services. This requires changes in retail markets, investments in electric distribution control systems and wholesale market reforms that are coupled with grid edge technologies and smart grids. We will ultimately need to prioritize transforming the management of our electric system and help cities determine how to manage such systems while realizing the benefits of renewable sources.

Vikas Butaney

VP/GM at Cisco IoT

The heightened uncertainty brought on by the pandemic has citizens counting on their city and government leaders more than ever to serve their best interests. Rather than starting with a fully connected city as the market anticipated, cities are investing in solutions for specific use cases/needs that solve a particular problem in order to improve citizen services. They are investing in the digital infrastructure that allows them to continually grow and solve new needs and add use cases as they develop.

While pandemic-related budget challenges slowed the rollout of some deployments, the market has seen a surge in interest for specific use cases, including safe transportation (everything from roadways/intersections to mass transit), cyber security of critical infrastructure like water, electricity, internet access for students and families in need, remote facility and asset monitoring to ensure a safe return to work, among others. For example, upgrading the infrastructure and citizen experience is a huge opportunity for rail operators and city leaders to attract new public transit riders, who expect all transport systems to offer digital connectivity for an enhanced travel experience. Cities will invest in these specific use cases and upgrading their network infrastructure, as the success of these deployments will depend upon reliable network connectivity, security and management.

Archana Vidyasekar

Research Director at Frost & Sullivan

Overall, we expect funds to pivot from high profile projects such autonomous cars to initiatives focused on economic recovery and digitalization. For the latter, projects with a focus on sensorization, data collection, smarter buildings and SME revitalization through smart logistics and ecommerce infrastructure will take precedence.

Sameer Sharma

Global GM, Smart Cities & Transportation, IOT Solutions at Intel

We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with COVID-19. However, we need to internalize and take advantage of all that cutting-edge technologies can offer in reopening the economy as we get past COVID-19, as well as implement continued defense mechanisms against possible future outbreaks.

We can expect to see the biggest shift in smart city development centering around helping our cities become more resilient and futureproofing against the next crisis. This will result in investment focused on digitization efforts and flexible infrastructure concepts like digital twins, which can provide greater flexibility and help city leaders model various scenarios. Our journey towards breaking down silos and leveraging synergistic technologies like Edge AI/Vision, 5G and Cloud has already accelerated. The next phase in technology adoption will focus on capabilities that support the rapid reopening of economy, while keeping people safe and picking up on excursions swiftly.

I see this progress as a silver lining set against the storm cloud of COVID-19. Even as cities and transportation infrastructure reopen, the growth of innovative strategies and solutions we've seen during the pandemic, such as public safety, mobility and public health use cases like social distancing, PPE compliance and contactless transactions, will continue to be top priorities for city leaders, and helpful tools in managing and mitigating the risk of future outbreaks. For more information about what post-pandemic cities might look like, visit the Intel smart cities e-book.

Learn more.

Julie Lein

Managing Partner at the Urban Innovation Fund

At the Urban Innovation Fund, we strongly believe that the pandemic will be an inflection point in the reshaping of cities — creating more resilient urban communities. Coming out of COVID, cities have a lot of challenges to overcome. In particular, we are looking at tools that help municipalities with efficient service delivery, especially around payments and administration.

This could take the form of payments out (rent relief, PPP loans, FML payments, etc.) or payments in (touchless transportation fares, tax payments, etc). We are also spending time in the edtech space — the need for tools that facilitate hybrid learning (distance and in person) is immediate, but we are also hearing a lot of tools that can facilitate remediation (i.e., getting kids back to grade level). 2021 is going to be a big year for cities embracing new and better tech.

Dr. Tariq Bin Hendi

Director General at the Abu Dhabi Investment Office

A smart city uses innovative, interconnected technologies with the aim of improving quality of life and urban operations. In Abu Dhabi, where encouraging innovation and ensuring resident welfare are top priorities for the government, the twin motivations have cemented the emirate as the smartest city in the region. The ranking, according to the Smart City Index 2020, not only reflects how technology has been used to augment daily lives but gives insight into Abu Dhabi's "smart" response to COVID-19.

The pandemic shone a light on how undeniably crucial technology innovations have become in our day-to-day — from powering health and safety initiatives like thermal screening and tracing apps, to helping people stay connected in the form of remote learning and telecommuting. Our technological dependence has increased interest in smart cities and we expect to see investments increasingly directed towards developing technological solutions to advance digital transformation on an enterprise and city level. Abu Dhabi will continue to provide ecosystem support in the form of mentorship, networks and access to capital to help innovation thrive.

The pandemic has and will accelerate the level of integration between technology, people and the government, a key driver in the delivery of smart cities. The fight against COVID-19 demanded cooperation between the public and private sector, across industries and among cities on a scale never seen before. It demonstrated the indisputable value of collaboration. Going forward, we will continue bringing together strategic partnerships that can create far-reaching benefits in smart city development enabling smart to get smarter.

Paul Hoekstra

Mobility BU Director USA at TNL Mobility USA

When the pandemic hit a year ago, I was visiting my mom in The Netherlands. We are working on an integrated advanced safety and traffic flow optimization in San Francisco with the Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and when I rushed back home before the flights got canceled, I found a different agency.

Pretty much overnight, the public transit schedules were brought to a minimum service while assuring critical workers could still get to and from work. Bus operators didn't protest while they kept driving only separated by some plexiglass from potential infected people. Office workers volunteered to clean vehicles or be ambassadors to inform the public and started working from home overnight. The whole agency focused on keeping people safe, serving the communities, while revenue streams dried up rapidly.

SFMTA is responsible for all public transit, signage, parking, para transit, etc. in San Francisco. It is in a fortunate position to be able to bring various key elements of a smart city together but is also partnering with sister agencies and organizations like water, garbage, electricity, regional transport, FHWA, etc. to leverage new technology becoming available which potentially makes a positive impact on the citizens and business in terms of safety, traffic flow, budgets required, experience, and general livability in the city.

A key lesson learned from the pandemic I see is the realization that when called to action to make significant changes benefiting a sudden change, the agencies are able to do just that. A second lesson to be learned is how to apply that ability to respond and enable people returning to the city. Are we going to fall back in our old behaviors or are we taking the opportunity to leverage the newly found ability to act and focus on how best encourage business to have their employees (and investments, and tax revenues) come back to a vibrant, safe, and well planned and implemented infrastructure?

Cities which will be able to seize the momentum and make a big step forward by leveraging new technologies, new processes, new paradigms, and focus on the benefits for citizens and business, will win the race towards return to "normalcy," but it will be a new normal.

See who's who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated March 18, 2021).

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