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"Broadening the scope of smart city promotion"

Michael Pfefferle, Head of Smart City & Mobility at Bitkom on the SCCON stage.

Michael Pfefferle is head of Smart City & Mobility at the digital association Bitkom. Image: Messe Berlin

Even though many pioneering projects are already being supported, there is often a lack of widespread implementation of experiences and lasting benefits from innovative applications, says Michael Pfefferle, head of the Smart City and Mobility division at Bitkom, now in an article by #stadtvonmorgen. With regard to smart cities, Pfefferle emphasizes the importance of a new financing structure for municipalities. At present, he says, it is mainly new innovations that are being promoted instead of supporting cities and regions in building on existing developments and using development resources for truly innovative things.

Digital twins and smart city apps

One example of this is the development of a digital twin of a city that enables certain scenarios to be mapped in real time. Although there are already various pilot projects for digital twins, they often run side by side instead of being coordinated and serving as a basic solution for most German municipalities. It's a similar story with smart city apps. Here, many cities are putting resources into developing their own apps, even though there are existing models that could be tailored to their own needs. However, since funding is geared toward innovation, it seems to make more sense for many cities to develop a new app and receive funding for it, rather than adapt an existing model at their own expense.

Running projects simultaneously without drawing on synergies is becoming an efficiency problem for smart city funding in Germany, Pfefferle says. Although funding agencies generally want solutions to be scalable, there is often a lack of a binding structure. In practice, funding often ends with innovation, and the operation of new tools or their transfer to other municipalities is often not reflected in the funding framework. As a result, the desired nationwide deployment fails to materialize.

Smart city gap widens

The results of the Smart City Index 2023 underscore Pfefferle's finding: "Digitalization has nothing to do with the size of a city." Even small cities can become pioneers with pioneering projects and receive smart city funding. If anything, a gap is emerging between cities that are already very advanced in smart city terms and those that are not yet so far along. Those lagging behind often find it difficult to muster resources for the smart city: "The pace is extremely uneven and the gap is widening," says Pfefferle, emphasizing, "Digitalization is often thought of too strongly from an urban perspective." Rural regions are falling behind.

Digitalization for all

To ensure that Germany does not lose out, however, nationwide digitalization is a key factor for the country as a business location. It is not just about supporting smart city strongholds, but also about creating solutions for multiple users with similar subject areas. For administrative digitalization in Germany, the issue of digital participation by municipalities is crucial. All municipalities, regardless of their size or resources, should be able to keep up with digital progress, Pfefferle concludes.

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