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The importance of public-private partnerships to make smart cities a reality

City leaders are trying to find creative ways to finance tech upgrades

5 min read




Hubert Riley

By Hubert Riley, Vice President, External Affairs, Verizon

As cities look to make technology investments, many leaders are left trying to determine how to finance needed upgrades to bring their cities into the future. Innovative smart city technology such as kiosks, smart lighting and integrated traffic controls can save money by creating more efficient municipal agencies in the long run. But too often, governments struggle with budgeting for technology projects, which is complicated by the need to keep taxes low and a reduction in state and federal grants.

Public-private partnerships can be an effective solution to this challenge by easing up-front costs and creating lasting partnerships that provide benefits for citizens, cities and companies. These types of arrangements are helping city leaders make their smart cities of the future a reality today.


How to implement smart city technology

Critical to the success of any technology purchase is implementing it effectively for the benefit of everyone involved. That means putting citizens at the center of the technology integration and any investment in a smart city.

If citizens can’t use or benefit from the technology, it’s going to be difficult to make the case to use public resources. That’s why before embarking on the opportunity, cities should carefully consider the problems they’re looking to solve and how technology can tackle those problems so they’re focused and intentional around creating solutions.

Another critical part of the process is for agencies to understand different types of data and how it should be managed and protected. Who owns the data is one of the more complicated questions when setting up a public-private partnership, and what many agencies don’t realize is that there are many types of data. One of the keys to success is separating ownership and monetization at the beginning and ensuring that data security and privacy are put first.

It’s also important to be creative and open-minded in thinking about how you can incorporate technology. Look to make a robust commitment in the beginning instead of adding pieces at a time and having to play catch up later in the implementation process. In addition to cost savings, agencies will have better technology integration across departments and can more easily share information and best practices when implementation is done all at once.

Tackling projects on a larger scale is preferable since incremental changes mean you lose value and savings in each step. A lot of times cities try to break smart initiatives into smaller pieces – this tactic doesn’t allow them to share data and doesn’t allow individual companies to be involved in the city for the long term.


The case for the public-private partnership model

Last year, Sacramento, Calif., announced a deal with Verizon designed to make the city one of the most technologically advanced in the nation. As part of the deal, Verizon agreed to install intelligent traffic technology at 15 intersections to monitor problem areas identified by the city, gather data and overlay that data with public information to improve traffic flow. Verizon is also setting up Wi-Fi in 27 city parks and deploying 15 smart kiosks across the city to increase communication, particularly in underserved areas.

At the beginning of the process, Verizon sat down with city officials to determine some of the challenges citizens are facing and how they could work together to solve them. Together they determined that traffic, security and access were critical issues and formed a collaborative plan to tackle them.

The real ability for cities to make a change for the long term in a sustainable fashion comes down to leadership and having the vision to do something bold and different.

Successful public-private partnerships combine the technology and innovation of governments, cities and companies to benefit citizens. By working together for the greater good, public-private partnerships can help accelerate the pace of change and implementation of smart cities infrastructure.



Hubert Riley is responsible for the Verizon Smart Communities external affairs strategy and execution, connecting the company with top-level federal, state and local governments and public-sector commercial representatives. Prior to joining Verizon via the Sensity acquisition in 2016, Hubert ran a successful consulting practice in Sacramento, California, where he provided expert strategic advice and consultation to clients across the country in public affairs, public sector marketing and business development. 


At Verizon, our goal is to improve the quality of life for people living in cities around the world and increase the ways and efficiency in which cities operate. It’s not just about smart technology, connectivity or applications; it starts with a focus on the people and their basic wants and needs. We partner with each city to design infrastructure, systems and processes that elevate the way they provide services in new and cost-effective ways.