Chinese equipment vendor ZTE is working on more than 100 smart city projects in 40 countries and has learned some painful, but valuable, lessons along the way that have enabled it to engage with cities more effectively.

Topping the list is the ineffective use of big data and insufficient budgeting for long-term operations and maintenance, said Jane Chen (pictured), EVP and chairperson for ZTEsoft, at the Smart City conference in Yinchuan, China, on Saturday.

“We found that big data is often not used well and opex is not fully considered,” she said. In addition, she noted that on many occasions external capital was not attracted due to uncertain returns. “Without sufficient budget no smart city project can be successful in the long term.”

Other important factors putting smart projects at risk are a lack of shared data due to siloed departments, no insight from partners, unclear business models and no unified framework tying everything together.

She suggested cities introduce public-private-partnership models to attract capital, since government budgets are always limited. They also need to build training centres since there is insufficient expertise in the sector.

China’s model smart city
The Shenzhen-based company signed a contract with the mayor of Yinchuan in February 2014 and is well on its way to deploying infrastructure and systems to improve governance and transportation, among others, in the city. It has about 800 employees working on the greenfield project.

Chen said that Yinchuan has been successful because it has avoided many of the above pitfalls and had an integrated master plan and attracted private sector partners from the beginning.

The Chinese government is promoting the city of two million, in an autonomous region in northwest China, as a model smart city and partnered with the TM Forum to host the event. The city has grown rapidly over the past five years and is witnessing a residential housing boom in anticipation of future population growth.
Citizen_hallThe showcase of its smart governance initiative is the newly-opened Citizen Hall (pictured left), a massive and imposing structure housing 26 bureaus that have been centralised under one roof. It has a single data centre running on a cloud platform.

A one-stop approval process has streamlined the city’s administration, reducing the number involved in approvals from 600 staff to just 60. The next phase is to cut processing times on things like marriage and business licences from one week to one hour, deputy major Guo Baichum said. “We will improve efficiency 76 per cent,” she promised.

The third phase is to move to online approvals for people who are already registered in the system.

ZTE is also working to link its traffic lights, install sensors to track vehicles via RFID stickers on windshields, and integrate everything for the city in a real-time dashboard. An app that shows road conditions is being debugged and will be launched soon, according to ZTE.

Yinchuan has joined the TM Forum as its first government level member. The forum also announced at the event it will set up its first smart city innovation centre in Yinchuan, with plans to create additional centres in other cities.