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Guides Strategy Designing a Holistic Smart City Initiative

Designing a Holistic Smart City Initiative

Published on 08/01/2016 | Strategy

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Scott Amyx

Scott Amyx is CEO at Amyx+, Managing Partner at Venture1st, Voted Top IoT Influencer and Expert by Postscapes, Winner of Cloud & DevOps World Innovation Award, Voted Top 10 Global Speaker, Nominated to Global NGOs, Futurist, Author.



Investments in smart cities are expected to top $1.5 billion by 2020 . Pioneers like Singapore, London, San Francisco, and Oslo are admired not only for their commitment to smart city initiatives, but also for their application of intelligent technologies in improving the quality of life. Smart city initiatives are the foundation to improving sustainability, increasing the well-being of citizens, and effectively managing resources. While city-wide technologies bring a host of improvements, they also present challenges. The best approach for implementing successful smart city initiatives is to develop a strong framework for initiatives.

Holistic plans that provide valuable services for citizens while creating a better environment start with the most fundamental ideas of planning, preparation, implementation, and feedback. How can we successfully build smart cities that serve their inhabitants? Amyx+ presents a methodology framework to designing a holistic smart city initiative.


The methodology for designing a smart city plan consists of four basic stages that incorporate seven design principles. First, the mission of the smart city program should be clarified. This involves the development of a mission statement that takes into consideration the concerns of all the stakeholders. Next, the preparation stage encompass all of the initial preliminary work needed to successfully develop a plan and implement programs, including a comprehensive approach to educating stakeholders and obtaining their input.

The development of the smart city plan includes the roadmap, which is a detailed plan that is guided by the values found in the mission statement and takes into consideration the outcomes of the preparation stage. The implementation stage includes the actual execution of the plan, as well as the ongoing support for the plan’s initiatives and feedback from the general population. The implementation stage involves the regular and consistent evaluation of an ongoing program. The seven design principles need to be incorporated at every stage of the process to ensure a cohesive, flexible, secure approach to the implementation of technological solutions on a city-wide basis. Security and privacy are the first and most important principles, as they are the foundational aspects of human rights. Security aspects of smart city initiatives should take into consideration a range of threats, such as outside agents with agendas against the city itself or against citizens, as well as opportunistic threats which may arise from access to unsecured data or devices.

While there has been a growing contention between individual privacy rights and the obligation of governing officials to provide a safe, healthy environment, city planners must understand that the data available in a smart city could have a significant impact on the life of its citizens. The careless use of data or the lack of safeguards could open up the city to litigation or federal investigation. The smart city’s main purpose is to serve its citizens, and the technology must not burden to those it serves. City planners must evaluate the current state of the city infrastructure in order to determine the possibilities of interoperability with vendors and platforms.

In order to best serve the widest range of people, a reasonable amount of data should be made freely available (open data). Ongoing communication with all stakeholders is vital to the creation and successful implementation of any initiative. Communication also provides the platform for the last design principle, which concerns the measurement and revision of initiatives. Getting real feedback from citizens, businesses, government employees, agencies, vendors, and tourists will allow for the greatest success of a program.

The Mission Statement

Leaders understand the power of the clear mission statement: it not only defines the company’s goals, but also elucidates its key values. A solid mission statement incorporates an understanding of the city’s current situation with its goals in mind. The mission statement should incorporate an idea of what the city planners consider a smart city, taking into account the uniqueness of the city or region. There are, of course, best practices that can be shared, but the mission and purpose of the smart city is unique to the local environment.

The geography, politics, industries, revenue sources, population, and needs of each city vary. All cities require water, utilities, and public services. However, one city may need to rely on desalination to generate drinkable water whereas another has access to ample fresh water supplies. Ultimately, the mission statement reflects the city’s values. How is the city government attempting to increase the quality of life for its citizens and visitors? While there is no single unifying definition for a smart city, common ideas include the use of Information Communication Technology (“ICT”), the use of city infrastructure to enhance the city’s development, and the incorporation of new models and solutions in order to address the issues cities face. Every city faces similar challenges in the form of governance, living standards, providing services, and managing resources.

A mission statement needs to be guided by these issues, as well as the values important to the citizens. For example, San Francisco, one of the many cities taking part in the US Smart Cities Challenge, included its concern for the environment in its vision of a smart city, strongly emphasizing its commitment to keeping the environment safe for its citizens. India’s smart city mission statement notes that the “four pillars of comprehensive development — institutional, physical, social and economic infrastructure” are essential in creating a strong guiding statement. The Smart London Plan (part of the Mayor’s Vision 2020), notes that any smart city initiative must “put people and businesses at its heart - so that Londoners can propel the innovation that will make London an even greater city”, honing in on the idea that the mission statement addresses the needs and wants of citizens and businesses.

Preparing for Success

Smart city initiatives involve considerable preparation. After the city planners have developed a cohesive mission statement that encompasses the needs of the people and environment, planners must turn their attention to providing a strong, well-informed base.

Input and Education Educating all of the parties involved in creating a smart city is one key to success. That education begins with a survey of what is already known, what citizens need, and what the city requires to meet needs and develop. City planners can gain insights for how to develop a comprehensive approach to smart city education by examining what other cities have done (one place to find updated, comprehensive information is the smart city council ). The preparatory stage extends to all stakeholders in smart city initiatives: the citizens, businesses, government employees, vendors with technology-based solutions, schools, and non-profits. Understanding city dwellers’ needs and wants can help the planners better prepare the smart city plan. Part of the smart city initiative in London, for example, included surveying citizens about their ideas for the smart city. Interfacing with the public and business can include going door-to-door, online surveys, contests for the best ideas, or on-the-street interviews. Another aspect of education is training for some of the stakeholders. For smart city planners, that means that any government employee who will be participating in implementing an initiative should be provided with a strong background in how the city plans to approach problems, a high-level view of how the technology works, what is the expected outcome of the technology use, and how it will benefit the public.

Workers also need to receive training on managing equipment and interacting with the public in order to address questions and concerns that may arise from the implementation of the technology. Education allows for the planning and operating the smart city initiative can get the best support from politicians and staff members who have a solid grasp of smart cities, IoT, centralized and decentralized security, privacy, open data initiatives, and best practices.

Assessment The preparation stage also involves assessing what the city already has in place, not only in terms of infrastructure, but other assets, as well. For example, obvious technical concerns like city-wide broadband would be part of that assessment, as would the types of educational institutions that provide strong technology programs. Does the city already support technology programs? How well informed are the citizens of the city? Some important concerns to address are the types of financial resources the city has at its disposal, its current governing model, and the education level of the citizens.

Platform/Vendor Management When city planners have a strong understanding of the types of technologies and platforms available, a neutral vendor-agnostic party can help the city manage the requests for information/proposals to ensure diversity in the types of vendors and solutions while adhering to best practices. This neutral third party should be well-versed in the latest technologies, security standards, data collection, data cleansing, data permissions, analytics in the cloud, and security, including security on the edge. This will ensure that vendors are thoroughly vetted and that technology is not based on a conventional platform that still uses traditional centralized security practices (all new technology must fully account for the nuances of IoT in order to ensure success). For example, how should a smart city negotiate with cloud providers ?

Plan Development

The planning and preparation stages go hand-in-hand. Plans must be developed holistically and should be based on the mission statement and input from all stakeholders. A common problem with smart city initiatives is that they are not implemented holistically. Each agency runs its own independent projects without following a centralized plan, resulting in a potpourri of vendors, technologies, protocols, and standards with no verified security standard or framework, data policies, or privacy checks and balances. This creates a major security risk that opens the city up to unlimited liabilities. Without a unified framework, security standards, and auditability, city data, resources, and highly confidential citizen records are open to attack.

The development of the smart city plan can highlight the seriousness and commitment of the city to its initiatives. This helps to promote the program within the city and also shows outside vendors that commitment. For example, Cisco recently invested $100 million in India because it understood the opportunity to support the nation’s burgeoning technology initiatives.

Roadmap Smart cities require a roadmap as a part of their plan that incorporates the easily-implemented initiatives as well as longer-term investments. Short-term projects that can be implemented quickly and supported easily form a ready foundation from which to launch other successful projects. A number of short-term projects include those focusing on LED lights, smart garbage cans, and CCTV. These inexpensive technologies provide a quick return on the investment and can be frequently implemented through existing agencies and infrastructure. Even for smaller investments, like LED lights and smart garbage cans, there will be a learning curve for staff and maintenance crews, but the payoff is that gains can be realized quickly. Lower energy costs, cleaner streets, and less crime can underscore the value of implementing technology on a city-wide basis.

Implementation Every aspect of smart city programs should be managed, guided, and supported. Implementation rarely progresses as smoothly as desired. There are a range of issues that are attached to every implementation, from device failures to problems capturing and understanding all of the relevant data. While it is important for a city to partner with outside vendors through a competitive and transparent process, the overall control of any initiative must remain within the city’s domain to ensure that security, privacy, and regulatory issues are all being addressed. Second, after a program is implemented, the support for it typically ends, so the project’s value diminishes or the intended results are never realized. Since there is no closed-loop feedback cycle or ongoing support, vital programs, such as open data projects, are abandoned, wasting taxpayer money, resources, and time while potentially creating liabilities for the local government. How should the smart city roadmap be implemented? There is some evidence that starting small can be beneficial. For example, in Nice, France, officials focused the beginning of their efficient lighting initiative on a single street. Starting with only one street allows the solution to be implemented in a real-world environment. The scale is small enough so that issues can be addressed quickly but large enough so that useful data can be collected and analyzed.

Measuring Success

Smart city projects need to have attainable, measurable goals for savings, efficiency, and effectiveness. However, how can something as ethereal as the “happiness” of residents be measured? Is it because citizens are choosing to live there longer, or are more people purchasing real estate? Are more businesses moving to the city? Measuring goals for a smart city program may be difficult because governments are not private enterprises. They are not governed by a return on investment, shareholder value, or market capitalization.

Chicago’s technology plan has a series of projected, desired outcomes, including cutting costs, improving the services and information offered by the city, encouraging more engagement from citizens, increasing public access to technology, increasing the number of STEM workers in the city, and of course, creating jobs. While governments are not businesses, various feedback methods should be in place to ensure that the public and business has an easy way to communicate about smart city projects. Individual agencies managing the smart city project should address any issues in a timely fashion.

Improving Life Smart city programs are one way to improve the quality of life of citizens while more effectively managing the cities’ resources. However, cities need a mission statement and roadmap to help determine the direction of the initiatives. Implementing programs requires a commitment to oversight and guidance. The measurements of the success of such programs need to incorporate a variety of markers. The initial planning stages of smart cities are vital to success, and understanding the obstacles can help with creating a strong, successful approach.

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