Avoiding the Cascading Technology Trap

By Frank Rayal posted 04-29-2022 09:35


I introduced the cascading technology trap in a previous article. As a reminder, the trap lies in fast pace of technology evolution which exceeds the ability of cities to grasp and adopt technology. Here, I share 4 fundamental approaches, or models, that cities have adopted to avoid the trap.

Involve startups and early stage ventures

Singapore exemplifies this approach with direct budgeting of smart city contracts to startups. Since much of the fast-moving innovation comes from startups, the premise of this strategy is that startups are probably the best at integrating rapidly evolving technologies and deploying them economically. The cities that have taken this path did so primarily via a model where governments award contracts to startups, among others parties, for solving specific smart city problems. This approach has the beneficial side effect of fast tracking the development of the local startup ecosystem. The downside is the inherent risk of working with startups, which has to be mitigated through a well-balanced model of ensuring that the selected ventures have a good likelihood of survival.

Involve Internet and cloud players.

The premise of this approach is that Cloud players are leaders in data and information technologies who aim at disrupting the status quo in adjacent markets. Thus, players, such as Google, are welcomed to deploy their solutions with the goal of heightening the competitive landscape and leading the remaining players to adapt. The city is advantaged by ensuring that the right technology decisions are made. Kansas City is an example of this approach. Another is Seoul which partnered with SK Telecom as the lead player. The advantage of this model is that it ensures that the latest technologies are deployed. On the other hand, the high rivalry between the cloud players and other players in the ecosystem shifts the challenges to regulatory and politically sensitive ones, especially when the cloud players operate in foreign countries.

Slow down and make progressive smart city decisions.

In this approach, cities develop a relatively progressive roadmap according to a fast-follower model. Hong Kong exemplifies this approach with a progressive smart city blueprint and a deployment based on proven business case led primarily and independently by distinct government groups within the city. European cities, such as Paris and London, have also followed this model. This approach has the advantage of optimizing the deployment cost structure at the expense of deployment timeline. On the other hand, it has been hard to overcome the challenge of making technology decisions prior to such technologies moving into their next development iteration.

Consortium based smart cities decisions.

Barcelona is an example in this approach. The strategy relies on building an ecosystem that includes city government, technology players, R&D labs, telecom operators, startups and universities. Solutions are chosen based on a cooperative model among all parties in order to share experiences and minimize risks. Other cities in Europe, such as Stockholm, have to some extent followed this model. This model has the advantage of creating additional synergies between the various players in the smart city value chain. On the other hand, decision-making tends to be complex and proper governance has to be in place.





Startup catalysts

Fastracks development of local startup ecosystem

Risk associated with startups


Singapore, Dubai

Majors lead

Ensures latest technologies are implemented

Requires proper regulatory and governance to mitigate downside on intense rivalries

Kansas City, Seoul

Progressive implementation

Optimizes cost structure

Slow technology decisions

Hong Kong, Paris, London


Creates synergy across value chain

Complex decision making; requires proper governance

Barcelona, Stockholm


There exist additional approaches to solving the cascading technology trap. However, no one strategy to avoid the cascading technology trap is perfect. It becomes important to tailor a solution to specific ecosystem taking into consideration number of factors such as size, location, governance structure, economic conditions and other factors. Hybrid models develop over time taking into consideration the characteristics specific to each city. But if there’s one fundamental common thread in all models is that the integration of specialized technology experts within smart city organizations is critical.