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Partnering in America’s Finest and Smartest City

  |   Smart Cities San Diego

I found myself looking out over the panoramic landscape of downtown San Diego from the 34th floor. Jason Anderson, the enthusiastic President and CEO of Cleantech San Diego, had gathered a prestigious group of regional leaders and industry experts at the University Club for an open and candid dinnertime discussion about San Diego smart city initiatives and industry-wide wins.


Settling in around the white linen table, I felt somewhat humbled by my esteemed colleagues. Immediately next to me was David Graham, Deputy COO, Neighborhood Services, of the City of San Diego, and the face of the city at innovation conferences around the US. Unfolding her dinner napkin across the table was Sandy Brown, Vice Chancellor for Research at UC San Diego, who is responsible for a greater than $1B research budget. Near her sat Dave Roberts, Fellow and Principal for Smart Cities with OSIsoft, who will soon take on new and exciting challenges within this evolving world. Representatives from the Port of San Diego and the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, along with vendors including General Electric, Coronal (a Panasonic Eco Solutions Partner), Qualcomm Technologies Inc., and my own company, Black & Veatch, rounded out the thought leaders.


Jason asked each of us to do an introduction. While the majority of us knew each other from joint smart city projects underway in the region, I was happy to see several new members of Cleantech San Diego. As those gathered introduced themselves and described their smart city projects, it became apparent that two words would become the central theme of this evening’s dinner: “partners” and “partnerships.” These words might seem a little cliché to those in engineering whose office hallways are decorated by motivational “teamwork” posters. To this group, however, those words represent one of the most important and central themes to success with any new smart city initiative.


From appetizers to dessert, we discussed partners, partnerships, and their transformative power in the smart city context. These innovative partnerships strengthen a city’s capacity to select, plan, fund, and integrate cutting-edge technologies. Partnerships include:


  • City and university collaboration through organizations like MetroLab Network
  • City, universities, and private industry collaboration through organizations like Cleantech San Diego, Envision Charlotte, and Envision America
  • Unprecedented formation of ecosystems composed of solution providers, domain experts, financing companies, and public agencies, and utilities
  • Multiple city departments, bridging information siloes
  • Public-private partnerships
  • Universities and industry collaboration


New partnerships create “think-tank” environments that drive innovative collaboration, enabling:


  • Holistic solutions that meet specific city needs and further smart city progress
  • Financial and business model innovation that allows cities to advance projects
  • Discussion about updates to technology standards and changing procurement processes to better facilitate smart city initiatives
  • Data from multiple, disparate sources/departments to be aggregated, revealing unparalleled insight into city operations
  • Piggyback agreements, which allow the innovation and hard work of thought-leading cities and their partners to be leveraged by others
  • University student internships in the smart city industry to engage bright, young minds


Smart city challenges are sizable, and no single entity can meet the needs of cities, utilities, and other stakeholders alone. The realization that progress requires partnership has led Black & Veatch to develop new business models sculpted to support smart city project planning and deployment. To illustrate, we recently responded to a smart streetlight RFP in which we assembled an extensive team of partners in lighting, small cell, kiosk, and financing. Our holistic package offers the city a collaborative solution to meet their ambitious smart street lighting goals using external funding. At the same time, we will help them establish the essential elements of a smart city platform—communications, infrastructure, and analytics. From this platform, the city can integrate an array of smart projects, some of which can produce ongoing revenue streams that offset project costs. Through collaboration, we are able to emancipate cities from the high-cost of smart city progress, while driving their smart evolution.


Collaborating starts with elbows on the table. For this reason, objective industry groups, like Cleantech San Diego, Envision America, MetroLab Network, and Smart Cities Council, are critical to smart city growth. These groups provide a roundtable for industry players, where innovation, technologies, and unconventional ideas can be discussed and perhaps evolve into the next big thing in smart city approaches. These organizations promote cooperation, partnering, discussions, conference, workshops and other smart city initiatives that facilitate progress and drive smart city innovation.


So, the next time you think of “partners” or “partnerships” do not dismiss the idea as a cliché; instead, embrace it as an opportunity to succeed in even bigger and better ways in your own “finest and smartest city.”


Dr. Gary J. Hawkins is a Solution Lead within the Smart Integrated Infrastructure Group at Black & Veatch. His work typically involves technology assessment and evaluations, business base development, smart solution architecture development, requirements definition and technical project oversight. Gary has worked in the telecommunications arena for over 20 years for carriers, equipment providers, and engineering design services companies.


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