Through our clients and our work, we continue to meet more amazing people working for innovative companies in the smart city space – each of them striving to help shape the future of our cities. There are so many technology vendors and next-generation solutions out there, it can be debilitating to the decision makers and city leaders trying to decipher what’s real from what’s not, and what’s best for the citizens.
We are starting a series of blogs to highlight some of the companies and partners we’ve come across in our smart city work to hopefully help aid in the decision making for smart city initiatives.
We recently sat down with Adam Tank, Director of Smart Cities – North America, to ask him a few questions about how SUEZ is shaping the future of smart cities. Adam is not only a genuinely nice person, he’s incredibly smart, knows a lot about water (and beyond!) and is easy to work with. Here is our exchange.
Q: What is the history of SUEZ?
A: SUEZ’s roots start in 1859 with the formation of the Universal Maritime SUEZ Canal Company – the company who constructed the SUEZ canal.
For over 160 years SUEZ has been a significant player during the major revolutions of our societies – hygiene, public health, industrial technology, urban comfort, and now resources – often building and operating complex systems for cities and industry to encourage global prosperity and meet challenges of population growth.
Initially specialized in waste and water services and their treatment, SUEZ now offers a broader range of services and solutions to save and recover resources in addition to helping cities adopt and implement technologies that help them solve many of the challenges they face.
Q: How did Suez get into the Smart City space?
A: SUEZ has had to manage complex urban systems like water and waste networks since its formation. We know what solving daily, ‘boots on the ground’ issues for a city means: fostering dialogue and stakeholder engagement with city departments and citizens, developing an environment of trust, and responding quickly and effectively to feedback.
We know this not because of a handbook, but because our employees live, work, and play in the cities where we operate – and we are a single company that cities rely on to deliver many of their most critical public services… in some cases for decades!
As we continued to expand our offerings into cities, we found many other challenges our customers wanted help with – namely, creating an integrated vision for their city: environment, transportation, energy, lighting, security… and we wanted to deliver on that vision.
We believe that a better integration and coordination of urban services drive increased efficiencies and resource savings – both financial and environmental. SUEZ brings its recognized know-how in partnering with cities to conceive and build integrated operations for all stakeholders in a city to create the smart and resourceful cities of the future.
Q: What are some notable projects SUEZ has done in this space?
A: As previously mentioned, SUEZ has developed and operated some of the most ‘smart’ and complex urban systems in the world – cities as iconic as Barcelona, Spain all the way to Boise, Idaho continue to rely on SUEZ expertise to manage urban systems and utilize cutting edge technology and data analytics to increase efficiencies, decrease costs, and break down silos of communication.
In regards to smart city related projects, specifically, there are two we are very proud of – both in France – in the cities of Dijon and Saint-Etienne.
SUEZ has recently taken its next major step in the creation of resourceful cities winning a contract in August 2017 for the optimization of urban management within the city of Dijon.
It is the most ambitious Smart City project in all of Europe to date.
With the help of close partners (Bouygues, Citelum and Cap Gemini), this project centralizes various public services networks such as public lighting, traffic regulation, and video-surveillance in a single control center dedicated to the city (see video). The central command center is also built for future integration of additional smart city technologies as they are adopted.
Not only will this tool facilitate and expand public decision making, it will give the community a glimpse of the future and strengthen its attractiveness as a city for people to call home. Furthermore, the urban control center will help the city by creating an open innovation environment – becoming more cost-efficient through better organization, with special attention to the data collected on energy consumption and resource management.
Ultimately, the project encourages interactions between all operators of the city and notably the citizens, where the center allows for a comprehensive and collaborative vision of the ‘new’ Dijon.
SUEZ has also developed a next generation digital platform for the city of Saint-Etienne. The interoperable, open, and scalable “Digital Saint-Etienne” system enables the collection, consolidation, and analysis of all data generated by the city and the provision of higher quality services to residents of the metropolitan area.
In 2016, the project was awarded the “Sustainable and United City” award by the National Agency for Urban Renovation within the framework of the Future Investments Program. That same year, it also received the Sustainable City Industrial Demonstrator certification by the Ministry for an Ecological Transition.
Q. How does SUEZ help cities?
A: We recognize that Cities have to deal with a number of new & existing challenges:
1. Growing urbanization – In 2007, 50% of the world’s population lived in cities. In 2050, two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities.SUEZ helps cities sustainably manage this growth. We have deep expertise in materials recycling facilities, waste-to-energy systems, asset management programs, artificial intelligence applied to optimizing large, capital intensive infrastructure projects, revenue management processes, air quality monitoring programs… and many, many, more.
2. Increasing competition between cities– In order to increase attractiveness, cities are competing on regional, national, and international levels. According to McKinsey, half of global GDP in 2007 came from 380 cities in developed-regions, with more than 20 percent of global GDP coming from 190 North American cities alone.But by 2025, one-third of these developed-market cities will no longer make the top 600; and one out of every 20 cities in emerging-markets is likely to see its rank drop out of the top 600.SUEZ builds urban systems and help cities manage them in ways that scale – utilizing data and fostering communication among various stakeholders – ensuring cities remain nimble, cutting edge, and competitive with their global counterparts.
3. Increasing financial pressure – As a lasting consequence of the 2008 economic crisis, cities often face steep budget deficits. Some of them struggle to pay off debts accumulated over a number of years. In the US, 51 local authorities have filed bankruptcy since 2010. The most well-known example is Detroit. A global example is Rome, whose accumulated debt reaches 13.5 billion euros.SUEZ finds ways to collaborate with cities to unlock financing through unique business models – be it financial partnership, procurement, operations, or creating additional revenue models. We work well as part of P3 models, and as independent entities. We do not believe a successful smart city project has to be a financial burden on cities – in fact, a smart city often finds itself in a position of greater financial strength than ever before.
4. Growing expectations from citizens – Citizens now expect more from cities: better budget management, better governance, more transparency. Tackling these new expectations may be the single biggest challenge faced by local decision-makers. Public spaces become places for personal development and entertainment. Buildings become sustainable and well-designed places for work – meeting business and ergonomic needs.
Citizens expect a real improvement in their quality of life.SUEZ utilizes and integrates various data sets to help cities engage with citizens, understand their needs, and develop better programs to address their concerns. Open Data Portals are one example of this – a central repository where citizens can view city data that is important to them and address their concerns in real time based on what they see. We also develop green and eco-friendly urban spaces where cities can generate operational efficiency and citizens can utilize them for work or play at the same time.
Ultimately, Suez’s mission is to support elected officials and policymakers to design and implement programs based on their specific needs and public requests; to uncover and leverage all of the resources that contribute to building a resourceful city. To make a city resourceful is to make it more efficient, more attractive, and more eco-friendly – all while keeping the citizen and their expectations at the heart of the programs the city chooses to implement.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you see in the smart city sector?
1. The breadth of smart city companies and technologies. Cities (understandably!) have a difficult time comprehending and procuring smart technologies. Many vendors have similar pitches, all the technologies sound like they have great benefits, and many of them come with great references. How does a city determine what vendor to choose? What are the downsides to each vendor or product? What is the total cost of implementation? The time it takes to find answers to these questions often impedes adoption and increases difficulty in executing smart city projects.
2. The difficulty in communicating with all stakeholders of a city. Before, during, and after a smart city project has been executed there is often tremendous difficultly to align stakeholder expectations. In many cases there are competing interests between various departments within a city, there are political constraints, and incorporating the voice of the citizen is a real challenge. Getting everyone to the table at the onset of the smart city journey is incredibly difficult but one of the most important parts of the project.
3. Data privacy and data management. Understanding how data is collected and used in the smart city is of utmost importance and often quite challenging. Cities have a difficult time figuring out how to manage all of the data generated from new technology, and how to unlock the real value of the data.
Q: What advice do you have for cities that are considering smart city projects?
A: Technology selection should be one of the last considerations in your smart city journey. Instead, focus first on stakeholder engagement, addressing public and political concerns, creating a system for communication among various departments, digging into the real needs of the city… these are things that should be figured out first.
Additionally, setting up very clear success metrics from Day 1 are extremely important. If you haven’t yet outlined your city vision and mission, in addition to specific challenges that need to be addressed, it will be very difficult to determine the success of your smart city projects.
Sometimes bringing in a neutral third party really helps in clarifying city needs and expectations, and also encourages more open and direct dialogue among all stakeholders.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job? What do you like doing the most?
A: I really enjoy fostering dialogue between citizens and city officials – helping each party understand exactly what’s desired and needed from a ‘ground level’ perspective, and watching ‘lightbulbs’ go off for people around the table. Then, of course, executing these projects and watching these desires come to fruition is a lot of fun.
I also enjoy working for a company who has to live with the decisions made in the planning phase of a smart city. In a very real way, SUEZ is impacted – positively or negatively – by the smart city projects since we’re often the ones working hand in hand with city employees for years and years after these projects are completed. Because we have ‘skin in the game’, we take real pride in our work and want to be a trusted resource for the city as it grows and works to handle the challenges of tomorrow.
If you would like to contact Adam Tank from SUEZ, please email him at email@example.com.
Sarah & Team ThinkBig – thank you for the write-up and for being a great partner to SUEZ. We look forward to working more closely with you in the future.