Smart Cities For Dummies book cover

Smart Cities For Dummies

Published: July 15, 2020


Become empowered to build and maintain smarter cities 

At its core, a smart city is a collection of technological responses to the growing demands, challenges, and complexities of improving the quality of life for billions of people now living in urban centers across the world.

The movement to create smarter cities is still in its infancy, but ambitious and creative projects in all types of cities—big and small—around the globe are beginning to make a big difference. New ideas, powered by technology, are positively changing how we move humans and products from one place to another; create and distribute energy; manage waste; combat the climate crisis; build more energy efficient buildings; and improve basic city services through digitalization and the smart use of data. 

Inside this book you’ll find out:

  • What it really means to create smarter cities
  • How our urban environments are being transformed
  • Big ideas for improving the quality of life for communities
  • Guidance on how to create a smart city strategy
  • The essential role of data in building better cities
  • The major new technologies ready to make a difference in every community

Smart Cities For Dummies will give you the knowledge to understand this important topic in depth and be ready to be an agent of change in your community.

Become empowered to build and maintain smarter cities 

At its core, a smart city is a collection of technological responses to the growing demands, challenges, and complexities of improving the quality of life for billions of people now living in urban centers across the world.

The movement to create smarter cities is still in its infancy, but ambitious and creative projects in all types of cities—big and small—around the globe are beginning to make a big difference. New ideas, powered by technology, are positively changing how we move humans and products from one place to another; create and distribute energy; manage waste; combat the climate crisis; build more energy efficient

buildings; and improve basic city services through digitalization and the smart use of data. 

Inside this book you’ll find out:

  • What it really means to create smarter cities
  • How our urban environments are being transformed
  • Big ideas for improving the quality of life for communities
  • Guidance on how to create a smart city strategy
  • The essential role of data in building better cities
  • The major new technologies ready to make a difference in every community

Smart Cities For Dummies will give you the knowledge to understand this important topic in depth and be ready to be an agent of change in your community.

Smart Cities For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Human destiny is tied to cities. If we humans are going to have a happy and prosperous future, we need new ideas, skilled talent, and informed leaders to build the cities of tomorrow. Everyone deserves a good quality of life. Smart cities can help make that happen. Find out how. [caption id="attachment_271877" align="alignnone" width="556"] ©THINK A/[/caption]

Articles From The Book

10 results

General Political Science Articles

What Is a Smart City?

There may actually be no such thing as a smart city. Wait — what? That’s certainly an odd comment coming from an article about smart cities. Okay, let’s explain. There’s no such thing as a completed smart city. It would be difficult to find an example where all the work has been finished and the designers and implementers have, after completing their tasks, washed their hands and said, “We’re done. Voilà! Here’s your smart city.” Nope. Doesn’t exist. After all, is a city ever completed?

With a few rare exceptions, cities are in a constant state of change. Whether they’re being updated and improved or expanding upward, downward, and outward (or all of these); our cities are living, evolving entities. Cities are a work in progress. They are shaped by (among many factors) community needs, by societal trends, by crisis, and by better ideas. They shrink and expand, they decline and are reborn, and they are destroyed and rebuilt. They are never finished.

And so it’s a logical return to the idea that there’s no such thing as a smart city. Instead, there are compelling and urgent needs, and a necessary response to demands, for cities that function with greater “smartness” to be smarter in all areas and in every way. A smart city isn’t a city that has merely achieved some level of satisfactory smartness. A smart city is one that identifies with the need to be smarter and then bakes that knowledge into its functioning, action-oriented DNA. It doesn’t continue to use obsolete 20th century solutions. A smart city implements 21st century solutions for 21st century problems. If there’s one aspect of smart cities that can be chastised for continuing to cause confusion and excessive debate, it’s the absence of agreement on the definition of the term smart city. Here you get a brief breakdown of what constitutes a smart city and what does not.

What a smart city is

As Sicinius, the bearded protector of the Roman people’s interests, states in Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus, “What is the city but the people?” Indeed, what is the city but the people? This is the right place to start when discussing the future of cities. After all, cities are defined by the human experience. They exist in support of people, are the invention of people, and deeply reflect a people's culture. In Bangkok and Tokyo, the city landscapes are replete with temples, like Budapest is with hot baths, Amsterdam is with coffee shops, and Vegas is with casinos. The feel, the look, the behavior, the heartbeat of the city — these are all a reflection of people. Cities communicate the history and life of those who live there. (Some like to say that architecture is the language of the city, which is a fitting way to look at things.) Across the planet, cities have emerged for different reasons, and their design has been shaped by various influences. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to cities. Though they share some common needs, such as energy, transportation, communications, and sanitation, they have as many differences as similarities. Sure, a city can be defined and categorized by such characteristics as its geography, governance, population, and infrastructure, but its purpose, needs, and culture cannot be so easily abstracted and normalized such that you can generalize about their nature. The uniqueness of each city must be viewed through this lens. Many cities suffer the same challenges. Finding a parking space, for example, is a universal pain. But the way problems are solved is often specific to each community. For every challenge that is similar, others are often unique. It’s this backdrop that is essential for an understanding of how to think about smart cities. To be able to confidently say that Barcelona and Dublin are smart cities (or are becoming smarter) means that there would need to be a globally agreed-on definition and an agreed-on set of extensive standards and measurements. These don’t exist, and they may never exist. Okay, to be fair, there are a small number of proposed and voluntary standards for smart cities. Two strong examples are: The term smart city is much less important than the purpose of the work and the outcomes. In fact, to clear up confusion, many other terms are used that are all simply synonyms. They include connected city, hyperconnected city, intelligent city, digital city, smart community, and others. Smart city (or smart cities) is the term that has stuck.

A smart city is defined by its people, not by some outside arbiter. If Helsinki believes that it’s creating a better quality of life for its people in its innovative use of technology, it has the right to call itself a smart city.

John Harlow, a smart city research specialist at the Emerson College Engagement Lab, states that “smartness in cities comes from people understanding what's important to them and what problems they are experiencing.” The most basic definition of a smart city is one that responds to its citizens' needs in new and improved ways. You’ll learn more regarding this definition shortly, but first, some additional contextual basics. The future of humanity is firmly rooted in cities. For better or worse, as rural communities rapidly decline, immigration to cities is booming. By the end of the 21st century, all things being equal, most humans will live in urban settings. This remarkable shift will define the future more than just about anything else humans do (other than perhaps populating other planets). Despite our many misgivings, on balance, cities are largely a success story. More than anything else, they have lifted billions of people out of poverty, providing jobs, shelter, accessible healthcare, and other support systems and regulations to assist in life’s needs. Edward Glaeser, the American economist and author of Triumph of the City, makes a compelling case that cities are humanity’s greatest invention. But it’s been a tough, ugly journey. The world’s early cities weren’t pleasant places for most people, and suffering was common. Fortunately, cities are now in much better shape, and an urban migrant should find options and opportunities to at least have the choice of a better life. However, though conditions in general are better than they’ve ever been, the challenges presented by cities today are more complex in many ways and are vastly more difficult and expensive to solve. Here’s a list of just a few of the smart city challenges awaiting solutions:
  • Overburdened and inefficient social support systems
  • Transportation congestion and poor public-transport options
  • Inequality
  • Poverty
  • Crime
  • Homelessness
  • Environmental damage
  • Poor air quality
  • Aging and broken infrastructure
  • Lack of jobs
  • Weak civic engagement
  • Food insecurity
  • Inclusiveness

This list is only a small reflection of the massive number of unique challenges that cities on every continent have to address. But it should be suggestive to you of the type of work that lies ahead.

An obvious question right now is this: Why haven’t humans solved these types of problems? Some of the answer lies in leadership priorities and insufficient budgets as well as in the scale and complexity of the problems involved. Clearly, if these problems were cheaply and easily solved, they’d have been addressed by now. They are neither. However, the history of innovation is a reminder that humans have the capacity to solve big, intractable issues. Improved sanitation changed the trajectory of healthcare, for example, and fertilizer made food abundant. Might innovation also help with the current challenges of the world’s cities? Many would argue yes, and technology powered innovation might offer some of the best opportunities. This kind of thinking may draw you closer to a definition of what a smart city is. The Smart Cities Council, a network of companies advised by universities, laboratories, and standards bodies, maintains that smart cities embody three core values: livability, workability, and sustainability. Specifically, the council states that using technology to achieve improvements in these three areas is the definition of what a smart city needs to be. So, considering everything you’ve learned so far, including researching the literature on the topic, what might a definition look like? Here’s a proposal: A smart city is an approach to urbanization that uses innovative technologies to enhance community services and economic opportunities, improves city infrastructure, reduces costs and resource consumption, and increases civic engagement. Fair?

Many smart city definitions include references to specific technologies — often this is a mistake. The definition should be about outcomes, and it should outlive technologies that come and go. There will always be better tools in the future. Limiting a definition to tools that exist now will make any definition quickly outdated.

Finally, don’t lose sight of these two important qualities that are essential for smart cities:
  • Technology use: There are many ways to address city issues, but when technologies are used as the primary tools, this helps to make the city smarter. A smart city is a system of systems that optimizes for humans.
  • People first: Don’t become too enamored by the use of technology. When deployed correctly, technology is largely invisible, or at least non-intrusive. What matters are the outcomes for people. A smart city is ultimately a human-centric endeavor.
After all, what is the city but the people?

What a smart city is not

Establishing the definition of a smart city is vital because it helps you comprehend the scope of the topic. But recognizing what a smart city is not also has value. Here are five things that a smart city is not:
  • An upgrade from a dumb city: There are many smart cities events each year, and inevitably a speaker or panelist makes a joke about cities being dumb before they were smart. The joke usually draws a chuckle. Fair enough — the notion of “smart” isn’t precise enough for what it is, but it’s the title that has stuck. All cities are complex, amazing feats of human creativity. They aren’t dumb and have never been — quite the opposite. Becoming a smart city is more about becoming smarter in the use of technology to make what the city does better and to provide solutions to problems that traditionally have been difficult to solve.

One last, related point on this topic. One point of view is that a smart city can exist only with smart people. This perspective is far from fair or inclusive. Communities are made up of all types of people, and everyone, if they choose, has something to contribute.

When building smart cities, ensure that all your efforts and experiences embrace the majesty of all people. You should, in fact, add this as a goal in your strategy.

  • A surveillance city: Implementing a smart city should not mean the end of privacy for its residents, businesses, and visitors. It’s true that smart cities deploy sensors in support of their efforts — possibly for monitoring air and water quality, improved traffic management, noise detection, energy management, and much more. It’s important to acknowledge privacy concerns where they arise, and city leaders need to listen carefully and respond with assurances. However, you should recognize that these efforts are made to improve services, not to impinge on privacy or create a surveillance city where everyone is being monitored. In developing and executing on a smart city strategy, stakeholders must ensure that privacy is upheld, data is anonymized, and the community is engaged in the process to provide transparency and build confidence.

    Deploying smart city technology that includes sensors should be specifically and carefully regulated by rules — even legislation — in order to protect the community. Make that a priority.

  • A strategy about gadgets and apps: Yes, technology is definitely at the center of developing a smart city, but if you look at many of the vendors in this emerging space, you can easily believe that the subject is really all about cool new toys and apps. Sure, plenty of those are available. However, transforming a city, solving complex challenges, and creating a higher quality of life for the greatest number of people are goals that require comprehensive changes in processes, rules, technologies, and the talent and skills to plan and implement it. Don’t be distracted by novel, piecemeal solutions. Sure, consider those factors in the mix, but recognize that creating a smart city is an undertaking that requires a significant focus on technology strategy, extensive solutions architecture, and systems integration.

    Remind yourself (and others) often that smart cities are about people, not technology.

  • A temporary technology trend: You might believe that the smart city movement is a recent development, perhaps just two or three years old. In reality, applying technology to make cities operate better has been under way for several decades. It isn’t possible to determine the first-ever use of the term smart city, but it certainly has references at least to the early 1990s. Even with a reasonably long history already, the real action of smart cities is happening now, and the most significant results will be seen in the years ahead. More than some sort of temporary trend, for cities to function well and bring a high quality of life to as many people as necessary, the smart city movement will last for multiple decades. Though the smart city concept may change over time, the goal doesn’t really have an expiration date. For many skeptical city leaders, it’s time to shrug off the belief that it’s a passing fad and get on board to embrace the benefits of urban innovation.
  • A concept that matters only to big cities: If you review the literature on smart cities, it certainly would appear that only big cities can be smart cities. The same names pop up all the time: London, Paris, Moscow, Melbourne, Dublin, Vienna, Barcelona, San Francisco, and others. Sure, these incredible cities have impressive smart city initiatives, but any city can pursue the goal of becoming smarter. After all, most cities in the world today are small. The big ones are the outliers.
Interested in learning more? Check out our Smart Cities Cheat Sheet.

General Political Science Articles

Establishing a Vision for Your Smart City

So you, your colleagues, and members of the community have decided that increasing the quality of life and solving complex challenges by using technology — coupled with data, new processes, and a progressive disposition toward innovation — is the right path for your city. You want to take a smart city approach going forward. Well done! No, seriously. The decision to act on something, to take a particular path relative to the action itself, can be the hardest part. It’s always possible to become entrenched in debate, to fail to find common ground, or to reach an impasse. But once some form of agreement is reached, even if just marginally directional, you should celebrate. Anyone who has worked on a project of some significance knows the difference between the big decisions and the many small decisions that happen. Without those big decisions, the project team might struggle. But it’s a great relief when direction is given. The project team can then move ahead with their work. One of the most important big decisions that has to be made at the beginning of a smart city effort is the establishment of a vision or vision statement. This vision is a top-level guide for almost all decisions to come. Singularity University has a term for efforts with a bold vision that motivates meaningful change. It’s called massive transformative purpose (MTP). An MTP is aspirational and focused on creating a different future. Realizing an MTP requires a mindset and work environment that leans into complex problems and strives to think big. MTP needs talented and dedicated teams working smartly with a huge amount of motivation. They have successes and sometimes failures. Creating a smart city may not be the equivalent of finding cures for all types of cancer, but the outcomes of smart city efforts are significant and can impact a lot of people. Consider your vision exercise as your MTP. The smart city movement remains largely in its infancy. The vast majority of cities in the world have yet to embark on this journey (assuming that it’s the right direction for many of them). They are starting from zero. As with any initiative, it’s easy to jump directly into the tactics after receiving direction to pursue smart city goals. But that would be a mistake. The first step on any smart city journey needs to be the establishment of an agreed-on vision. That vision guides strategy, and strategy directs the work.

Identifying the role of leadership for your smart city

Leadership and management are terms that are often used interchangeably. That’s a mistake. Although there are some underlying similarities, they are different. Each requires and utilizes a specific approach and mindset. Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things. It’s an essential distinction attributed to the management guru Peter Drucker. It’s one of the reasons that management can be learned, but leadership has qualities that some fortunate people possess from birth and can’t be easily acquired by training — such as charisma. Sure, many aspects of leadership can be learned, but it’s obvious that remarkable leaders don’t necessarily acquire their skills from books. It’s a little frustrating for those trying to be great leaders when they realize that they can learn and practice most skills but will always have a deficit relative to those unique leadership qualities that require something special. That said, the body of knowledge today on leadership is enough to help most leaders acquire the essential skills. Any given leadership team will have some with learned skills and some with natural abilities. That’s the case on city leadership teams, too. Smart city work suffers without great leadership. After all, research from across all industries suggests that projects generally succeed or fail depending on the availability of consistent high -quality leadership support. Who are these city leadership teams, and what might their responsibilities be relative to smart city work? To answer these questions, city leadership has been divided into these four basic parts:
  • Elected leaders: Assuming some form of democratic process, these leaders, which can include the popular role of mayor, are chosen by the city’s constituents via voting and serve for a predetermined period. This is by far the most common process. In some jurisdictions around the world, city leaders are appointed by other bodies. In either case, these leaders typically have the primary function of setting policy, approving budgets, and passing legislation. They may originate an issue to debate, or an issue may be brought to them by any number of stakeholders, from community members to city staff.

For example, if city staff proposes the smart city effort, elected officials are responsible for suggesting modifications, requesting more information, and approving or declining the request. Elected leaders absolutely must sign off on the smart city effort — particularly the vision, goals, and, ultimately, budget. A healthy public debate by elected leaders on the merits of the smart city work is valuable, as is eliciting public comment.

  • Appointed leaders: Running a city on a day-to-day basis requires a set of hired leaders. The city inevitably has some form of overall leader — the public agency equivalent of a chief executive officer (CEO), such as a city manager or city administrator. This leader has assistants, deputies, and an executive team that manages the various areas of the city. These areas may include transportation, public works, planning, energy, libraries, healthcare, technology, and many more. Big cities have a large number of managed areas.

The city leader and the team have the primary responsibility to implement and maintain policies. They make daily decisions and ensure that the city is operational and responsive to community needs. These leaders also propose initiatives to elected officials. A smart city effort may originate this way. It’s also possible, for example, that a strong mayor will ask for staff to develop a smart city plan and propose it to the elected leaders for approval. Appointed leaders are accountable to elected leaders and, by extension, to the community.

  • Leadership support and oversight: In this category, a small leadership team is tasked with originating a draft policy, recommendations, or other decision-making instruments on behalf of either the elected or appointed leaders. These teams, which have a guiding function, aren’t decision-making bodies. However, they are essential contributors toward city leadership. These teams can be permanent or temporary, depending on their function.

For example, the elected leaders may opt to create a committee to oversee and make recommendations and provide reporting oversight on the efforts of a smart city initiative. The team may exist only as long as the smart city initiative continues. Alternatively, a city may have a permanent transportation committee whose role is to make recommendations on matters related to transportation. Because this area is often included in smart city work, it may be the body that’s approached for leadership input. These teams are typically made up of suitably qualified members of the community.

  • Regulatory leadership: This category is a broad one, in order to capture a range of other leaders who may have input in a city’s decision-making process. The most obvious groups include those who make regulations at a regional or national level. For example, a national set of rules on how drones can be deployed in cities may be made by a leadership group outside of a particular city, but that city would be required to adhere to the rules. This can make sense so that all cities in a region or country follow the same set of rules.

People often debate how much power a city should have over its operations relative to the power of those at the regional or national level. Cities clearly want as much autonomy as possible, but the benefits of standards at a national and even global level have important merit as well. An example of an area where a city can benefit from national decision-making in the smart city domain is telecommunications. A national commitment to supporting infrastructure standards, and also financial assistance, benefits everyone. An example of global leadership is managing the climate crisis. Even though cities and nations have to sign on, the leadership and guidance may come from a global entity.

Creating a vision for your smart city

Your city has decided to embark on a smart city journey. Great! Now it’s time to create a vision or vision statement. What is a vision, and how is it created? Here, you’ll see vision and vision statement used interchangeably. There’s little difference between them, other than the number of words. A vision generally takes a few paragraphs to describe. A vision statement is typically only a few words long. The intent is identical. A vision is a statement of what you desire the future to be. It’s not tactics or operations. It’s not projects or deliverables. It’s simply a statement that guides the development of a strategic plan — called the envisioning process — and the decisions made throughout the journey. To help you better understand the role of a vision in the strategic plan, let’s take a quick look at strategic planning: Strategic planning is the systematic process of envisioning a desired future and translating this vision into broadly defined goals or objectives and a sequence of steps to achieve them. Put another way, the strategic plan is the translation of a strategic vision into outcomes.

A vision written correctly and agreed on by relevant stakeholders holds the initiative accountable and provides essential guidance in times of uncertainty. Though it’s easy to overlook or omit this step, its value can’t be overstated. Do it. You’ll be happy you did.

A vision isn’t the same as a mission. An organization's mission is what it does and how it does it, and it includes its shorter-term objectives. Your vision is none of those things. It’s long-term and future-oriented, and it describes a big-picture future state. It has clarity and passion. Here are ten tips for creating an outstanding vision statement:
  • Think long-term.
  • Brainstorm what a big future outcome would look like. Choose the one that gains consensus.
  • Use simple words. Don’t use jargon.
  • Make the statement inspiring.
  • Ensure that the entire vision statement is easy to understand.
  • Eliminate ambiguity. Anyone should be able to have a common understanding of what's actually involved.
  • Consider making the statement time-bound. For example, use language such as “By 2030 . . .”
  • Allude to organizational values and culture.
  • Make the statement sufficiently challenging that it conveys a sense of ambition and boldness
  • Involve many stakeholders.
Here are some brief vision statement examples:
  • Ben & Jerry's: "Making the best ice cream in the nicest possible way."
  • Habitat for Humanity: "A world where everyone has a decent place to live."
  • Caterpillar: "Our vision is a world in which all people's basic needs — such as shelter, clean water, sanitation, food and reliable power — are fulfilled in an environmentally sustainable way, and a company that improves the quality of the environment and the communities where we live and work."
  • Hilton Hotels & Resorts: "To fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality."
  • Samsung: "Inspire the world, create the future."
  • Smart Dubai: “To be the happiest city on earth.”
Though vision statements are typically short, no rule prohibits a more elaborate vision. As an example, here are the goals of the San Jose, California, smart city vision:
  • Safe city: Leverage technology to make San José the safest big city in America.
  • Inclusive city: Ensure that all residents, businesses, and organizations can participate in and benefit from the prosperity and culture of innovation in Silicon Valley.
  • User-friendly city: Create digital platforms to improve transparency, empower residents to actively engage in the governance of their city, and make the city more responsive to the complex and growing demands of the community.
  • Sustainable city: Use technology to address energy, water, and climate challenges to enable sustainable growth.
  • Demonstration city: Reimagine the city as a laboratory and platform for the most impactful, transformative technologies that will shape how people live and work in the future.
Not convinced a smart city is needed? Check out the case for smart cities.

General Political Science Articles

Becoming City-Data-Savvy to Develop a Smart City

Technology is the heart of a smart city. But, where there’s technology, there’s data. And knowing how to manage that data in a smart-city context is absolutely essential. Cities with technology create a lot of data. With more systems and devices coming online every day, the volume of data produced, collected, and stored is growing rapidly. It’s not just information such as your Facebook posts, Instagram photos, Google searches, and online forms you fill out — it’s also all the data produced by the myriad of processes taking place behind the scenes. For example, just one self-driving car generates over 4,000 gigabytes of data for each hour of driving. Now multiply that by the millions of autonomous vehicles that will come online in the next few years and it’s clear that just this one type of urban activity will create a colossal amount of data. This colossal amount of data is called data exhaust. Though that’s an appropriate term for vehicles, it applies to all the data that spins off electronic transactions. Between this data exhaust and the growing number of interactions that people have with all their devices, data growth is headed off the charts. In fact, right now it’s over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. The technical phrase for that scale is, “Dude, that’s a lot!” Here’s another mind-blowing fact. Considering all the data that’s been produced since people started using computers many decades ago, remarkably, 90 percent of all data ever created has happened in just the past two years. Technologists have come up with an appropriate term for this scale of data: big data. That isn’t exactly an inspired choice, but at least it's accurate. Every type of organization is now producing, collecting, and storing big data. The clever ones are using it to run their businesses better, to more deeply understand their customers, and to build new products and services. When organizations use data in a way that improves operations, increases their bottom lines, and helps them to outperform their competitors, they’re called data-savvy. This term indicates that they have recognized the value of data, developed the relevant skills to manage that data, and implemented a strategy to use data as a core instrument of organizational success. Kudos to them. The popular role of data today has created a marketplace with a broad range of software tools that help with analysis and decision-making. It has also created a high demand for data-related skills and has even helped establish a new branch of study and expertise, called data science. The private sector has recognized the value of data and data-savviness; rejecting the value of data is hardly conceivable in a for-profit organization. Other sectors of the economy have been slower to fully embrace their data love. Government has been a laggard, but those days are coming to an end. Today, government agencies — and cities, in particular — are jumping head-first into the realm of data science. In a field where everything is scarce, governments have an abundance of data. Governments create, collect, and store a wide variety of data sets that include ingredients such as crime reports, permits, library lending information, demographics, pavement conditions, geospatial features, tax information, project status, and so much more. With the addition of digital sensors across a city landscape, the amount and variety of data is set to explode in the years ahead. Using this government data to improve operations, make better decisions, build trust and transparency, and enable innovation solutions has the power to build better and smarter cities.

The smart use of data is a fundamental aspect of a smart city.

Enabling data-driven decision-making in a smart city

When you learn to fly a single-engine plane, part of the training process requires you to rely on the instruments regardless of what your brain might tell you to do. You wear a special cap that prevents you from looking outside. The instructor puts the plane into an usual configuration — let’s say a climb with low power —in order to create the conditions for an emergency situation. The instructor then tells you to use only the instruments to recover the flight orientation to a safe flying configuration. What happens is that your brain receives signals from the body, such as information about balance, that tell you to take actions that are wrong. But if you rely on what the instruments are saying, you make the correct maneuvers. The first few times you do this exercise, you have to fight your brain. In other words, you have to trust what the instruments are telling you versus what your brain wants you to believe. This example is analogous to how you must treat data. Good data tells the truth. Even though you might often want to believe something else based on how you believe something should be or on instinct relative to experience, you need to become comfortable with using data to make organizational decisions.

Data will provide important insight, but it won’t necessarily tell you what action to take. That part still largely remains a human function. You will need to consider context, politics, and economics, amongst many other factors.

There’s room for tacit knowledge, intuition, and experience, but they should be used sparingly and likely only in combination with what story the data tells. In fact, you must become hungry for exceptionally good data. The more you have and the richer it is, the higher the likelihood of a more informed data-driven decision.

Data leads to information that then becomes knowledge. This knowledge provides essential insights. It’s not uncommon now for leaders to feel constrained by not being presented with sufficient information to make an informed decision. A smart city cannot exist without the smart use of data.

Managing data in a smart city

It’s hard to think of an organization today that doesn’t use data in some capacity.: But, the existence of data within an organization doesn’t equate to any evidence that it’s being properly managed. Making a city smarter by using data as the rich, valuable asset it is requires the deliberate use of specialized tools, talent, and processes. Data has a lifecycle, from creation to retirement, and to glean its optimum value, this lifecycle must be managed — a process known as data management. Data management typically includes these activities:
  • Having the ability to collect, create, update, and remove data across disparate systems
  • Possessing the capability to retain data in various formats across different types of storage systems
  • Ensuring the high availability of data to authorized users
  • Maintaining disaster recovery options consistent with organizational needs
  • Supporting data's utilization across different types of systems and solutions
  • Managing data privacy and security
  • Being able to archive and destroy data according to policy and compliance requirements

These minimum data activities must be addressed in your data strategy.

You can easily test whether data is being well managed in a smart city. Consider the following basic questions:
  • Does every data set have an owner?
  • Can authorized people access the right data when they need it?
  • If a disaster — such as a cyberattack, a fire that destroys systems, or an accidental loss or deletion of files — occurs, is service restored quickly and without a headache?
  • Can data move securely between people and systems in order to best leverage its value?
  • Is talent readily available to produce reports, identify insights, and perform research with data?
If the answer to these questions is generally yes, you’re in a better position than most. On the other hand, if any of these questions can’t be answered with high confidence, there’s a good chance you don’t have a data management strategy, or the existing strategy needs to be reworked. Many larger cities have already embraced data management, but many still need to elevate this competency to the mature level it deserves. Smaller cities, while recognizing its value, struggle with this topic because of challenges with insufficient budgets to afford data scientists and specialized tools. Some good advice is for all city agencies to create a data strategy that rightsizes it against needs and the available budget. For example, for a large city, hire a chief data officer (CDO), and for the smaller ones, find staff that are interested in the topic who can carry out data roles as part of their other responsibilities.

Developing a data strategy for a smart city

Cities must have a data strategy if they want to have operational excellence, increased quality of life, and better performance results. The purpose of a smart city strategy is to have a plan designed to achieve some desired outcomes. Recognizing that data is your friend and that it can provide enormous value in every aspect of building and operating a smart city means that you have to create a deliberate set of actions to achieve results.

A data strategy is an agreed-on plan that all appropriate stakeholders sign off on.

A mistake that many organizations make after developing a strategy is to blindly follow it, even as circumstances change. The right way to deal with a strategy is to regularly confirm with stakeholders that the desired outcomes are still relevant and, if appropriate, modify the actions periodically. After all, nothing stays the same. Organizational agility is a valued 21st century characteristic. The worst type of strategy is one that’s created and never acted on. Creating a strategic plan isn’t the goal — achieving your outcomes is. Many excellent strategic plans are sitting on the shelves of executives, simply gathering dust. A data strategy must include, at minimum:
  • A description of the roles and responsibilities that various leaders and staff play in the management of data
  • The capabilities desired from the supporting systems
  • Any policy, legal, or regulatory requirements
  • An articulation of how data value will be derived
Creating a strategy for a smart city usually follows a sequence similar to this one:
  1. Agree on the vision for the smart city. Document and agree on the desired results (the vision) of the plan. It’s defining what you want the future to look like. Often, this is the hardest step. You might be surprised to discover the degree to which stakeholders aren’t on the same page when this exercise first begins. However, after all the arm wrestling and debating end, it’s gratifying when everyone does finally agree on the vision.
  2. Perform a gap analysis. A what? A gap analysis is the result of identifying the difference between where the organization’s current performance is and where you want it to be. For example, you might look at business metrics and determine where you are versus where you want to be. Only by completing a gap analysis can you take the next step and identify and define your objectives.
  3. Identify the objectives for the smart city. To reach your desired outcomes, often called goals, means that you need to have actions to get there. These are the plan’s objectives. They should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
  4. Define how the plan and the outcomes will be measured. Okay, here’s another truism: What gets measured gets managed. Without metrics, how do you know whether you’re winning? Define those targets. Don’t overlook this essential part of the strategy.
  5. Get the right people to sign off on the smart city strategy. This step is important. Without the right people putting their signatures on the plan, you’ll experience issues later on. It’s much harder for a leader to argue that they didn’t support or agree with a plan if there’s evidence that they have endorsed it. Making the final sign-off less difficult can be achieved by engaging those leaders throughout the strategy creation process.
  6. Execute the strategy and evolve as necessary. Yup, do the work. During this essential phase you’ll be obtaining funding, identifying project resources, running projects, and training or recruiting the right talent to manage the outcome.

Though this set of steps is applicable to creating a data strategy, it can be applied to any strategy. Use it every time you identify a goal and need to come up with a plan.

Want to ensure your smart city is successful? Avoid these ten mistakes.