What role should City Hall play in security innovation?

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From real-time traffic monitoring to e-services for citizens, smart cities are taking shape across Europe with governments at all levels making use of technology to tackle urban challenges for the benefit of us all.

However, while the integration of the cyber and physical worlds is creating enormous growth opportunities, it is also creating a wider set of security vulnerabilities at a local level.

Business confidence

As part of the recent Connecting Commerce report commissioned by Telstra, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) released the first ever Digital Cities Barometer, a ranking of 45 cities around the world based on the confidence of business executives in their city’s environment and its conduciveness to supporting their digital ambitions.

The research revealed the significance of the city environment to businesses, with 75 per cent of executives believing external factors to be just as important as their internal capabilities in determining their transformation success.

Each city occupying the Barometer’s top 10 – including London and Madrid – believed city governments to be more influential than national governments in determining the digital success of a business. After all, even if large businesses with national or global operations can look further afield for help, their local offices still rely on a city for access to talent, infrastructure and financial resources to help them achieve their digital initiatives.

But as cities become ‘smarter,’ how can local governments keep pace with the aspirations of their citizens, and what role should they play in security innovation?

City-led innovation

With the right approach to digitisation, local governments can enhance the quality of life in their cities by delivering services more efficiently. European municipalities have been recognised as leading the charge toward city digitisation. For example, the Amsterdam Economic Board recently created an innovation platform for a future proof city called the Amsterdam Smart City.

By challenging businesses and residents to test innovative ideas and solutions, the system is designed to advance municipal digitisation and promote sustainable economic growth.

Similarly, Denmark’s city chiefs recently founded Copenhagen Capacity to test smart technologies through a “living laboratory” in a bid to tackle challenges such as urbanisation and climate change.

Cyber threats

With more than 200 billion connected things – from cars and planes to homes and cities – set to come into play by 2020, cities must be prepared to respond to a rapidly evolving set of cyber threats. By design, smart cities require collaboration between engaged citizens, governments and a range of private organisations.

In England, the Mayor of London and London City Hall recently paired up to run the London Digital Security Centre (LDSC). The LDSC provides a suite of core subsidised digital services by working with the private sector in tandem with digital forensic students at UK Universities who provide ethical hacking.

In doing so, they equipped local small-to-medium sized businesses with access to cyber defence and training.

Open data regulation

Open data is another way that city governments are directly influencing digital transformation at a local level. Firms leverage open data made available by governments to provide new or improved services to their customers and the majority of executives (69 per cent) surveyed for Connecting Commerce consider it important to their business, with 30 per cent deeming it “very important".

The research found that more than eight in 10 businesses make at least occasional use of open data, including 35 per cent that do so periodically and 20 per cent frequently.

With open data clearly of substantial economic value, its proper use and regulation is paramount. Since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was introduced last month, local authorities and companies now face more prescriptive compliance obligations when processing personal data. Those in breach of GDPR could face fines of up to €20 million or equal to 4 per cent of global turnover, along with a loss of consumer trust.

However, when used responsibly, open government data can create opportunities that ultimately benefit the public.

Smart cities must be safe cities

As city authorities focus on heightening security provisions, there is also a greater need for the people with the skills to tackle cyber threats. In England, 10 local authorities have recently joined together to co-fund and co-design a series of cyber threat training modules for council employees. The collaboration helps to upskill IT teams so cities like Manchester and Portsmouth can take control of their own cyber risks.

There are also cases of UK councils working with the national government. For example, last year’s global ransomware attack dubbed WannaCry infected over 200,000 computers in 150 countries.

Although the UK National Crime Agency worked closely with partners to investigate, it was actually the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau that issued an alert urging both individuals and businesses to follow protection advice in the wake of the incident.


Digital security and advanced data analytics are the two most critical skills needed for transformation, according to the Connecting Commerce research. However, the research also revealed skills gaps to be among the toughest challenges that companies face when pursuing digital transformation.

Over 40 per cent of those surveyed believed their city’s schools and universities were ineffective at turning out the talent that firms need to drive digitisation.

In Stockholm for example, executives rated their local institutions as ineffective on this count. For this reason, there needs to be a growing emphasis on identifying, nurturing and managing digital talent capable of contributing to our city environments.

Collaboration for the future

When our cities are built on a bedrock of technology, cyber vulnerabilities are no longer an ‘IT’ matter, but must be treated as a business threat. The findings in Connecting Commerce support this idea, with business leaders increasingly counting on their city governments to influence the digitisation outcomes in their municipalities.

Cybersecurity requires the investment of businesses, the community – including City Hall – and the government to come together and find solutions that build cyber-resilience.

This article first appeared in SmartCitiesWorld.