Smart regions, which seek to unite neighboring cities and towns around joint smart city projects, have begun taking shape across the U.S.
A pioneering force behind the emerging smart region trend is the Institute for Digital Progress (iDP), a nonprofit based in Phoenix. IDP developed its focus on smart region initiatives after working one on one with 22 cities and towns in the Greater Phoenix region.
“While we were doing a lot of great work, working with these cities individually, we realized that in order to be competitive, we were going to need to get the [cities and towns] to think together, act together, innovate together and procure technology together. … We realized that our competitive advantage was scale,” said Dominic Papa, executive director and co-founder of iDP.
IDP launched the Greater Phoenix Smart Region Initiative in 2018, resulting in a consortium of the 22 cities and towns iDP was working with in addition to Arizona State University.
Smart region benefits
One of the goals of iDP’s smart region initiative is to “disrupt government” and change the traditional procurement processes that often bog down government technology projects, Papa said.
The consortium, he said, has complete buy-in from state and local government stakeholders, who aim to develop cooperative purchasing contracts that will open up regional collaboration, innovation and procurement. By procuring technologies as one regional entity, consortium members can gain greater economies of scale and purchasing power than attainable otherwise.
“While procurement has been the messy part of this, we are actively working to solve it, and that is kind of the most exciting part,” he noted.
As for smart city projects, the consortium has set out to identify four to five urban challenges that it can collectively tackle. He added that part of the consortium’s efforts will include adopting interoperable technology platforms and systems. “It doesn’t make sense for the City of Phoenix to buy a transportation solution to speed up traffic through Phoenix for [traffic] to come to a dead halt in the City of Tempe,” he said.
Roles for channel partners
The Arizona smart region consortium will eventually seek partnerships with channel firms, Papa said. “We are just getting [the consortium] up and off the ground. We built the operational framework and the structure for how the consortium will run, but the channel partners are going to play a critical role in this.”
Partners, for example, can offer the technical expertise the consortium needs to deploy smart city projects. “We understand the problems … but then we need the channel partners to bring the deep understanding of the technologies and how those technologies can adapt and fit and address those challenges and issues,” he said.
He noted that North Texas, North Florida, Cincinnati, and Central Coast California all have smart region initiatives underway. He hopes to see various smart regions eventually forming a country-wide network that will share best practices and knowledge.
“The more of these smart regions that there are, the better we will be,” he said.