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Adam Rujan Nicole Simpkinson Taylor Zalewski
April 3, 2018 Article 7 min read
Smart city technology can help cities operate more efficiently while improving services to citizens and businesses, among many other benefits. Here are the top 10 ways we see smart cities — and their stakeholders — benefiting.

Point of view photo looking up at tall city skyscrapers.

While the definition of a smart city is still evolving, a few things have become clear: Smart cities leverage information and communication technologies to enhance service levels, citizen well-being, sustainability, and economic development.

Smart city technology can make cities more effective and efficient, which is necessary given the projected rapid growth in urban populations over the next few decades. As a result, investments in smart city technology in North America are expected to increase from $118.5 billion in 2016 to $244.5 billion in 2021, according to BCC Research. About two-thirds of cities have already invested in smart city technology, and many others are eyeing implementation. Increased federal funding and strong partnerships with city governments and private sector technology firms will further cement the reality of smart cities.

Smart city technology can make cities more effective and efficient, which is necessary given the projected rapid growth in urban populations over the next few decades.

Smart cities that leverage connected technology across their operations reap a host of benefits. From our extensive research and work helping cities develop technology plans, here are 10 benefits we see cities derive from smart technologies every day:

1. More effective, data-driven decision-making

Advancements in “big data” and connected devices have allowed cities access to information that’s never been available before. A well-designed data analytics strategy gives city officials the ability to access and analyze a massive amount of information — and easily glean meaningful, actionable insights. When a city can monitor desired metrics in real-time, service levels quickly rise.

Effective big data applications and strategies provide a city with information to identify and staff police in high-risk areas, for example, as well as forecast and plan for expansion in citywide population growth and identify trends in citizen interests, concerns, and needs. Big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) offer endless possibilities to enable stronger decision-making. This in turn enhances the lives of residents by cutting costs and improving services.

2. Enhanced citizen and government engagement

Citizens today expect their cities to deliver robust, user-friendly digital services. Collaboration tools, modern and intuitive websites, mobile applications, self-service portals, and convenient online accounts have become the standard in many facets of life, and citizens expect no less from their city. Expanding digital services in communities make smart cities a more attractive place for residents to live and promote a connected citizen experience.

Expanding digital services in communities make smart cities a more attractive place for residents to live and promote a connected citizen experience.

Accessible government data, interactive maps, government performance dashboards, transparency into budgeting, live-streamed city hall meetings, and a strong social media presence all assist smart cities in creating closer relationships with citizens. These smart technologies help increase civic engagement and trust in city officials.

3. Safer communities

A smart city is a safer city. Leveraging technology advances and pursuing private/public partnerships help reduce criminal activity. Technologies such as license plate recognition, gunshot detectors, connected crime centers, next-generation 911, and body cameras all give law enforcement an edge while on the job.

Many cities have already started investing in smart technologies to help promote a safer community. The City of Detroit has recently teamed up with local businesses to develop a connected cloud video platform that gives law enforcement the ability to access footage from business’ security cameras in real-time. The results to date have been significant. According to Police Chief James Craig, violent crimes have dropped by 50 percent in areas that have partnered with law enforcement to use the city’s platform.

4. Reduced environmental footprint

With the rise of greenhouse gases, debris in our oceans, and trash in our streets, smart cities are fighting back to reduce negative effects on the environment. Energy-efficient buildings, air quality sensors, and renewable energy sources are providing cities with new tools to shrink their ecological impact.

Deploying air quality sensors around a city, for instance, can provide data to track peak times of low air quality, identify pollution causes, and deliver data analytics officials need to develop action plans. These sensors can help lay a foundation for reducing air pollution in even the most populated cities, something that is sure to save lives since medical problems related to pollution claim millions of lives each year.

5. Improved transportation

Smart city transportation investments are expected to rise over 25 percent annually over the next five years, according to SmartCity.Press. Connected transportation systems have some of the greatest potential to drastically enhance efficiencies throughout a city. From enhanced traffic management to public transit riders' ability to track bus or train locations, smart technologies allow cities to better serve citizens despite often rapidly growing populations.

Smart city transportation investments are expected to rise over 25 percent annually over the next five years...

Technologies such as intelligent traffic signals optimize traffic flow, relieving congestion during peak travel times. Other smart transportation technologies, such as smart parking management, allow cities to capitalize on additional revenue streams. Reduced congestion, growth in autonomous vehicles, and efficient vehicle routing all reduce vehicle-related space needs in urban areas, potentially expanding the land use for development.

Recently, the City of Chicago launched a mobile application to allow citizens to make online payments, view updated bus and train schedules, and track vehicles in real-time. The app works across all city public transit options and has made using the city's transportation systems easier for Chicago residents.

6. Increased digital equity

Smart city technology has the ability to create a more equitable environment for citizens. To ensure digital equity, individuals must have access to high-speed internet services and to affordable devices. The adoption of public Wi-Fi hotspots strategically placed throughout a city can offer reliable internet services to all residents.

Take the City of Seattle, for example, which has developed a plan to deliver skills training, ensure availability of affordable devices, and provide accessible and low-cost internet connections.

7. New economic development opportunities

The public investment in smart city technology has a large potential multiplier effect — up to 10 times, according to a recent report, which means massive expansion in gross domestic product growth when cities innovate. Many large private sector companies are also teaming up with local governments to invest millions of dollars in smart city infrastructure and initiatives. Smart city investments are playing an increasingly important role in enhancing cities' regional and global competitiveness to attract new residents and businesses. Providing an open data platform with access to city information, businesses are better able to make informed decisions through data analytics from integrated smart city technologies.

8. Efficient public utilities

With a limited supply of natural resources available to meet human demand, smart technologies are giving cities the tools needed to effectively conserve and reduce the inadvertent waste of water and electricity. Smart sensors now allow cities to quickly identify leaks in pipes and fix damaged segments in a shortened time frame, reducing the amount of water lost. Smart electric grids also allow for two-way communication between electricity providers and consumers to help better identify times of peak usage and outages.

Cape Town, South Africa, has used smart metering technology to combat the ongoing water crisis plaguing the city. Its smart meters track water usage for customers and relay that data to their accounts. Cape Town citizens then get an itemized daily bill that displays their water consumption. After the smart metering pilot project launched, residential homes realized a 40 to 60 percent drop in water consumption. Data analytics and smart sensor technology have proven a viable solution to help conserve valuable resources.

9. Improved infrastructure

Aging roads, bridges, and buildings often require massive investments to maintain and repair over their service lives. Smart technology can provide cities with predictive analytics to identify areas that need to be fixed before there is an infrastructure failure.

Smart technology can provide cities with predictive analytics to identify areas that need to be fixed before there is an infrastructure failure.

Smart sensors can transmit data showing adverse structural changes, identify tilts or cracks in buildings and bridges, and send messages to notify personnel of the need for inspections or maintenance. These capabilities present a massive opportunity for cities to save tax dollars — and lives — on preventable infrastructure failures.

10. Increased workforce engagement

A highly effective workforce is an essential criterion for realizing an efficient smart city. Deploying smart technologies helps alleviate the burden of manual tasks that many city employees face every day. The advancement in autonomous agent capabilities, mobile devices, bots, and sensors allow city employees to steer their efforts towards more strategic initiatives, reducing time spent on the day-to-day manual operations.

Smart cities can transform the work environment by streamlining manual processes and giving employees greater opportunities to reach their full potential while also providing citizens with improved services.

It's hard to ignore the many benefits connected cities offer. As with any significant citywide technology initiative, though, implementation takes vision, investment, and careful planning to ensure adoption and success. Taking the first steps toward picturing what your smart city might look like is, well, the smart thing to do.