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Smart cities solutions deliver on connected citizens’ demands

November 8, 2017

Hugh Ujhazy   

Leader of the IoT practice team for IDC Asia/Pacific

Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, with that proportion expected to increase to 66% by 2050. Projections show that urbanisation combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050, with close to 90% of the increase concentrated in Asia and Africa, according to United Nations. The popularity of cities is only expected to increase. Smart city solutions offer the efficiency, scale and visibility to deliver services expected by citizens and public-sector governors combined. The accelerated rate of smart city adoption in emerging markets is likely to continue to set the benchmark for investments in cloud, connectivity and analytics toward the realisation of the intelligent urban domain.

Ecosystems to enhance quality of life in cities

Smart city projects focus on delivering sustainable development of the economy, promoting citizen engagement, driving technological innovation with the context of a citizen friendly environment. Fundamental to this is the building of an ecosystem of partners to fundamentally change and improve the quality of citizens’ daily life.  The smart city is an entity that delivers on these fundamentals – whether it be an economic zone, a city, a city district, a county, or a city group. Smart cities are characterised by how they apply ICT technology toward the improvement of the lives of citizens. Smart cities will also compete to attract industry, enterprises and a skilled workforce by offering flexible government, citizen safety and public-sector efficiency.

Early efforts around smart cities focused on IoT projects to deliver individual use cases. Although the independent use cases were successful, they lacked inter-connection and thus failed to realise the promise of a mature smart city environment. Later attempts started at the architecture design stage and then focused on data sharing as a means toward realizing the delivery of operational and service platforms. These platforms (and the fundamental means of connectivity between them) improved information sharing and collaboration between the different departments within city governments.

Interconnected platforms – foundations of smart cities

Smart city frameworks are founded upon scalable, interconnected platforms, many of which live within public sector cloud or hybrid IT platforms. Many cities in mature and emerging markets have invested on cloud, network and security as the fundamental cornerstones of city connectivity. Enhancements to Wi-Fi, mobile and fixed broadband networks along with the introduction of low power WAN solutions are all designed to create environments conducive to IOT use cases. Network technology like LoRaWAN and Sigfox, along with narrowband IoT have been implemented across markets ranging from China, to India, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Similarly, investments in national broadband projects have placed markets like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and key cities in China and India on par with worldwide performance and availability.

Key use cases for consideration within a smart city framework include public safety and emergency response, traffic management, smart lighting, parking and waste management along with preventive and remote health, smart utility, security and surveillance within the context of smart homes and buildings. Based on IDC’s Worldwide Semiannual Internet of Things Spending Guide (May 2017), spending on these use cases across emerging countries in Asia Pacific (including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Rest of Asia Pacific, Thailand, Vietnam) will reach USD$7.9 billion by 2021.

Barriers to smart cities success

In reviewing key markets within Asia Pacific, IDC’s 2017 IoT Global Decision Maker survey has found that the major obstacles to implementing smart city solutions include security concerns, lack of internal skills and concerns around the technology stability and maturity. The journey toward smart for a city is an expensive proposition and with multiple vendors offering capabilities through software, services and platforms, choosing the right solution which is future proof becomes a major challenge.

The top three benefits anticipated from investing in smart city use cases include:

  1. Improvements in productivity and efficiency for municipal employees and citizens
  2. Reductions in operational cost of the management of a city
  3. Improvements in services provided to citizens.

Recent case studies have shown reductions in city energy costs of over 30% following the introduction of smart lighting, reductions in city council operating costs due to improvement in planned and preventative maintenance and reductions in congestion due to smart parking and improved traffic management. Surveillance, police body cameras and dedicated mobile networks to manage emergency responses have been the subject of numerous case studies with a consistent reporting of reduction in crime rates, improvement of relations between citizen and police forces and more robust emergency response capabilities.

Diverse demands across smart cities worldwide

Smart City projects represent a huge investment in time, money and process transformation. However, these projects also offer solutions to address urban challenges through innovation. These challenges, such as increasing urban density, increasing population, increasing energy consumption, and old infrastructure management, may be unique for each city. There is no one-size-fits-all smart city solution.

All smart city stakeholders need to collaborate with each other and define a long-term strategic objective that will lead to beneficial socio-economic outcomes. They should aim to find a model that meets the high cost of implementation and installation as well as revenue management and information sharing across the whole value chain of each IoT solution.

The data collected from IoT sensors and devices is a valuable resource for both the public and private sectors. Open data for all the stakeholders is a key ingredient for new business and revenue models, which can also be used to increase transparency across public sector departments and increase engagement with citizens. Similarly, the information derived from smart city initiatives must be used for the common good of the citizens and strictly within the spirit and letter of the law on data privacy and citizen data protection.

Read one of our previous blogs on the possibilities of smart cities around the world.