At the Smart Cities Expo and Congress and World Expo (SCEWC) in Barcelona, it’s obvious that the competition for investment and creative, entrepreneurial residents is fiercer than ever. Cities and their home regions and countries  jockey to attract  entrepreneurial, civically engaged, creative and taxpaying residents who raise the standard of living for everyone in a community. In a flat world, perhaps counterintuitively, geography matters more than ever for economic development. There’s just “something in the air” in certain cities – Berlin, Seoul, Singapore, Austin, Buenos Aires. These hubs emerge, as they always have, around technical skill (Bengaluru), culture (Paris),  industrial specialization (Jena) social innovation (Cape Town) and good government (Colima). In times gone by, military strategic value (Halifax) also played a critical role, and thankfully that is at least somewhat less important today.

There’s a virtuous cycle of economic development that’s tough to get started: talented and ambitious people underwrite good municipal government, and they are hard to attract without it. Such people typically want clean, safe streets. Good services and a reasonably cohesive social environment, rooted in economic inclusion and opportunity, are essential.  It’s not an easy formula to get right.

Here at the event, it’s interesting to see numerous economic development agencies alongside technology and asset vendors. The economic development agencies are selling a high quality of life; the vendors are selling the tools to provide it, from sensors to street sweepers. What brings it all together is the hard, detailed, often unglamorous work of quality city management. That’s something that SAP is setting out to make simpler for urban leaders. New police cars and sensors are great, but they’re not much use if taxes aren’t collected to provide for maintenance and citizens can’t interact quickly and conveniently with their government to report service issues.

Few technology vendors can match SAP’s longstanding experience in working alongside public sector customers to implement management practices that put the technologies associated with smart cities into productive, affordable use. That’s how cities can kickstart the virtuous cycle of good government, quality of life, economic development, and social inclusion.

“It” cities are fun, dynamic, prosperous places that get a lot of attention. They often enjoy natural assets like a strategic location or good weather, but these are no guarantee of success and many cities excel with neither. The painstaking, behind-the-scenes work of becoming such a city and staying that way is what we focus on with our customers – we make it simpler for them. The next time you’re visiting a city where the streetlights work, energy is affordable, crime is under control, and disasters can be surmounted, there’s a good chance that SAP is under the civic hood. Enjoy!

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