What is a Smart City?

Everybody talks about it, but nobody really defines is…


Autonomous on-demand vehicles, high-speed public Wi-Fi, smart street lighting and augmented reality: no matter the technology, innovation or advancement, what we aim to do under the smart communities’ banner must be linked to and address community needs. A smart community should be working towards improving people’s lives, their happiness, and their health. The efficiency of critical infrastructure or data-driven decision making are just part of the journey.

The improvement of many key societal outcomes since the inception of the first Industrial Revolution (late 18th century) changed human experiences and have gradually made urban life healthier and happier. The Fourth Industrial Revolution: if we believe the hype, the global community is on the cusp of a monumental transformation in the way that we interact, work and experience the world we live in.

Waves of innovation and disruption have already started breaking all around us. It’s an exciting time whether we consider ourselves a participant or an observer. So how do we know if we are on the path of achieving smarter communities or just an age of incredible technological advancements?

We have identified the following elements as key principles for smart community success:

  • We are making better decisions across government, business and the general population – based on the timely availability of integrated and relevant data. More data, better data, insights and decisions should be our growth path in a smart community.
  • Improved asset use and performance. We are doing more with what we have, what we build and how we use it. There is less waste across our infrastructure and services because the infrastructure and asset configuration is better aligned with community needs.
  • Increased opportunity for more of us – to create, build and grow. Smart communities empower and improve the experience of the masses, rather than just furthering the interest of a privileged few.
  • Community members are brought along and as much as is practical, shape the smart development journey. Citizens are meaningfully involved in determining needs, making decisions and assessing the benefits of smart projects. Effective and balanced cooperation between the three core stakeholder groups – community, government and private sector – is needed to be smarter in process and outcome.
  • Smart technology is smart because of the way it interfaces and is used by people, not simply the way it connects with other technologies. At some point and hopefully at many points people need to be involved for ideas to be fully impactful.

Anything less than the pursuit and achievement of those Smart principles may leave community members with something akin to digital buyer’s remorse. Quicker, shinier, newer, but not smarter or better.

Harnessing Disruptive Technologies

By using sensor networks, automated systems and insights from data collected, technologies will help to improve livability, sustainability and support local economies as well as provide more proactive services to citizens.

Councils are also able to improve operational efficiency and provide cost saving initiatives through automation, greater business intelligence and facts to support trends and pattern recognition. While the Internet of Things is recognized as one of the key elements in a smart city or community, there are various other components and challenges which must be addressed to successfully execute a smart city strategy. It should be noted that smart cities aren’t just about technology; but also about disruptive technologies, disruptive thinking, innovation and business process optimization that enables councils and other organizations to create new opportunities that have been simply overlooked or didn’t exist due to constraints or obstructive barriers in the past.

In addition, smart communities focus on the community outcomes in terms of jobs, growth, environment and livability, attracting new people to the local area and retaining those who call it home.

What is a Smart City and how does the technology fit the equation?

Different entities define smart cities differently; however, it is commonly understood that smart cities are about liveability, economic develop- ment, sustainability and quality of the local culture and community. Disruptive technologies relevant to smart cities include:

  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Machine learning
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Renewable energy
  • Robotics and Automation
  • Data Analytics and Business Intelligence Tools

These, and others, have promised to provide greater disruption in the next 20 years which will likely rival the previous 100. A key impact of this upcoming transformation is the nature of work, the impact it is likely to have on social and economic ecosystems, service provision and in the longer-term overhaul and transform the education system to prepare the next generations for the highly automated, intelligent systems workforce they will contribute to.