Keith Watts is the IWA’s Smart Region Project Coordinator.

The IWA’s Our Smart Region report – launched today – explores how the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal could use smart technology to drive improvements in the lives of the people who live and work in the region – and at the same time strengthen the region’s economy.

We were able to bring together a diverse group of supporters and advisors to support this work, they were; Arup, BT, Cardiff University, Centrica, Microsoft, Next Generation Data, the Open University, the Valleys Task Force, the Wales Co-operative Centre and Y Lab.

This diverse group of partners has brought a rich variety of experience and perspectives to the pursuit of digital innovation and improving citizens’ well-being.  It also shows the willing enthusiasm of partners in the region to contribute and get involved.

What is smart?

Smart has its origins in computing, as an acronym for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology.

Smart is now commonly used to describe a wide range of networked and data-driven technologies which detect conditions and respond to them. Based on automated analysis of data these systems will automatically adjust their function – or the function of other systems – to improve performance.

Smart cities or regions are communities that deploy smart technologies in ways that automate aspects of key systems or operations, improving their performance quality and efficiency. A central element of smart systems at a city or region level is the automated use of data to optimise services and make better decisions.

Why smart?

The power of smart technology is not what it is, but how it is deployed and adds social value. Leaders in both the public and private sectors in the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal have the capacity to make critical choices about how smart technology will transform day-to-day lives.

Smart technology is already beginning to change how we live. When we use a watch to tell us how active we have been, an app to see when the next bus is coming, or a smart meter to manage our energy use, we are using smart, data-driven technology to understand ourselves and our environments better – and to make decisions.

If smart technology is already making our lives easier in small ways by providing us with new information to make better choices, imagine the difference smart could make if delivered at scale to improve our public services, our infrastructure, and our economy.

It is clear already that smart technology will become a central pillar of infrastructure design, spatial planning and the transformation of public services. Communities around the world are beginning to use smart technologies to create new solutions in essential areas such as:

  • healthcare
  • essential public services
  • resource management
  • democratic engagement

But the question remains, what should the Cardiff Capital Region prioritise?

Why smart now?

The Cardiff Capital Region City Deal provides a time-limited opportunity to drive action on smart technology in south east Wales. We have used the region as an exemplar to consider the type of approach and actions needed to create smart regions across Wales and beyond.

The Cardiff Capital Region City Deal should not be seen as a panacea, capable of resolving all of the region’s problem. A substantial package of initiatives will be required to address inequalities. However, we believe that if the right steps are taken, the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal could play an important part in improving the region’s infrastructure, services and economic performance. In this way, Cardiff Capital Region City Deal has the potential to improve outcomes for people across the region.

Our report argues that taking action to move toward becoming a smart region should be a priority for the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal.

We have worked with partners to explore smart region thinking and how it could be applied within the Cardiff Capital Region. To that end this project has worked to:

  1. Inform – We have engaged across the region to uncover the great work that is already happening across the region. Some of the work in the region is world leading, such as Cardiff’s SmartPark App which is the largest deployment of parking sensors in Europe. Other schemes are helping people to share and develop digital skills, like the Wales Co-operative Centre’s Digital Heroes.
  2. Inspire – Smart is a global movement, so we looked around the world to find inspirational best practice to learn lessons and inspire the City Deal. We’ve highlighted the work of Toronto, Australia and the app Waze to give an appreciation of the varied ambition smart cities are showing, and the effect community support can have.
  3. Catalyse – To drive action we have proposed six recommendations designed to catalyse action and accelerate movement toward the emergence of a smart region.

We believe by taking a smart approach to developing the region, the potential benefits of the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal could be far more significant and lasting than its stated economic aim of a minimum 5% rise in GVA (Gross Value Added).

In discussions we have had with stakeholders, it is clear that many do not know how to engage with the City Deal. This includes businesses, academic bodies, healthcare providers and community groups. With no clear routes for communication and engagement, we are concerned that the number and variety of ideas brought to the table will not reflect the diversity, talent and expertise within the Cardiff Capital Region.

To make progress we recommend six specific steps the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal should take without delay:

  1. Appoint a Digital Futures Champion to lead the region’s digital strategy
  2. Create a clear, meaningful and motivating Vision Statement
  3. Deliver a regional digital strategy that makes open, transparent communication a priority
  4. Build an Innovation Hub to co-create digital solutions that tackle regional challenges
  5. Launch a Challenge Fund to encourage innovation and ideas from communities, businesses and organisations across the region, stimulating cross-sector collaboration.
  6. Build a Digital Skills and Employment Platform to up-skill the regional workforce.

On Thursday this week we are hosting an event at University of South Wales Conference Centre, Treforest Campus, to discuss the report’s findings and the areas for action.

In order to catalyse the kind of collective vision required to drive a Smart Region, we need to provide spaces for the region’s stakeholders in which they develop shared priorities and collective momentum. It’s clear that if the Cardiff Capital Region is to achieve its smart potential, the conversation is only just starting.

You can read the Our Smart Region report here.

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