Smart City, Hype or Reality!

We were the early founders of IoT technologies. In fact, sponsored by Google and IBM, we were the first putting together a complete IoT platform even before this acronym now addressing anything connected existed.

Since those early days pioneering this new technology, we went on with an increasing speed in order to accommodate the market’s expectations and SaaS requirements.

Very quickly we found ourselves dealing with Smart City where everything seems still to be abstract and disconnected from reality.

Enough looking at the ever-growing number of papers; in the last seven years, the number of papers published on smart cities has grown exponentially. However, very few of these texts critically evaluate the concept of a smart city. What’s more, there is still no precise definition of what constitutes a “Smart City”.

In our culture, as technology expert of systems and integrations with a number of projects done for global companies, we start by looking at the hype – and the related confusion – surrounding the concept of smart cities. We then try to identify the actors behind the concept of a smart city and see if the concept is capable of providing some useful substance. Finally, we offer our own analysis of what smart cities are all about and what would be needed for them to become a useful reality.

This exponential growth in the number of articles and books about smart cities, in both academia and the trade literature, points to the hype surrounding this topic. This is even more notable if one looks at the content of this literature, noting that most of it is not only identical – that is, copied from one another – but also mostly promotional, celebrating the beneficial virtues of smart cities, not only for cities (obviously), but also for economic growth, environmental protection, human wellbeing and humanity more generally Unsurprisingly, critical article about smart cities are very hard to come by. We have seen this issue already about IoT and industry 4.0. So many anticipations, so many expectations, so little knowledge, so much noise pushing sensors, celebrating vendors and management tools having no deals with M2M automated protocols.

This logically leads to confusion, fuelled by a proliferation of related concepts. Some of this conceptual innovation is simply due to the fact that authors feel the need to come up with new ways to differentiate themselves in this increasingly crowded semantic space. But a more profound reason has to do with the fact that authors of such articles come from different disciplinary backgrounds and therefore seek to highlight different features of what they think smart cities are.

PERSPECTIVES ON SMART CITY

Engineer’s perspective, the omnipresence of network infrastructures in particular digital technology and infrastructures.

Economist’s perspective, business-led urban economic development mostly due to private entrepreneurship and business intelligence.

Innovation economist’s perspective, urban development focused on high-tech and creative industries

Public manager’s perspective, innovation in the way city are governed by ICT

Sociologist’s and (in some way) architect’s perspective, community building and sharing, vertical farming, sustainability

There is clearly a confusion of concepts, not to mention the promotional dimension of these concepts, as all of them have positive connotations. There is currently no clear definition of what a smart city is. This confusion is due to the fact that authors from various disciplines have tried to jump on the smart city bandwagon without really understanding the underlying technological evolution that has made a certain “smartness” possible.

The reality of smart cities

A smart city is not just a concept; there are indeed some practices associated with it, even though these practices are far from what the concept – and its different variation promises. We can now identify the following practices, all of which come under the “smart city” label.

Smart transportation covers a series of smart city practices or rather applications, such as integrated electronic timetables or (more or less integrated) electronic ticketing.

A smart environment typically pertains to the monitoring of urban environmental conditions, thanks to sensors and other measuring devices.

Smart energy mainly refers to smart meters and the monitoring of electricity consumption, although smart streetlights could also be mentioned in this context.

Smart water basically means the same in the area of water and sometimes wastewater.

The smart building encompasses both above (smart water and smart energy) to designate buildings that monitor their own state along with a set of parameters (consumption, states, etc.).

Smart safety and security designate basically surveillance devices (notably cameras) that monitor people and movement throughout a city.

Smart health care, sometimes also called e-health, pertains to the digitalization of health care services, such as diagnostics via the internet, but also more efficient management of the highly fragmented health care systems.

Smart government/city-services, also called e-government, refers to the digitalization of the traditional paper-based government services, ultimately aiming at a purely digitalized interaction between the citizens and the public authorities.

Smart participation is broader than simply e-voting (which would be one of the smart government services), as it encompasses more innovative interactions between the citizens and the various public, but also private entities.

Connectivity is often mentioned in the context of smart cities but basically means equipping cities with (tele-)communications infrastructures, whether they are wired or wireless.

All of these practices are introduced in a very piecemeal fashion, owing to the fact that they are generally promoted by some of the city’s administrative units without coordination with other units. Additionally, there is typically no coordination among the different promoters and vendors of the various smart city technologies, let alone standards that would allow for an integrated approach to smart cities. There is generally also a problem of metropolitan governance, given that metropolitan areas are composed of several cities, which are political entities of their own and typically do not coordinate among themselves, whether in matters of a smart city or in any other matter.

In short, the introduction of smart city practices and corresponding applications is generally driven by vendors who are themselves specialized in certain technologies and solutions. The most widespread of such vendors come from the device producers in the areas of sensors and meters, as well as smartphones, among others. In the smart city arena, one can also find telecom operators, for whom smart cities constitute an opportunity to install connectivity. Finally, the third type of vendors in the smart city arena are data integrators, data management firms, and data analytics firms, which typically offer more integrated services and solutions to citizens, but mostly to city governments.

Therefore, given the vendor-driven nature of smart city solutions, it is only that the concept is primarily a promotional one. This leads to the fact that even the smallest application – such as smart street-lighting – is now equated with a city has become smart. City governments and mayors go along with this because such urban labeling contributes to the city’s self-promotion.

In conclusion, we may say that many cities around the world have bits and pieces of smart city practices, but these rarely warrant a city to be labeled a smart city, and even less so to be a smart city.

Analysis

Nevertheless, these practices, albeit piecemeal and uncoordinated, are real. As such, they point to an underlying movement of growing digitalization of the cities. Yet, such digitalization requires at least three elements in order to lead to smartness. First, the generation of data (from all sorts of devices), secondly, the interconnection and exchange of these data (thanks to telecommunications infrastructures and the internet) and, thirdly, the analysis of the generated and interconnected data (thanks to ever more sophisticated algorithms). However, vendors generally only provide one of these elements, and then often only for one of the sectors, such as energy or transport.

If combined intelligently in so-called “digital platforms”, these three dimensions of digitalization, integrating the different sectors, would enable smart cities to have huge potential.

In particular, digital platforms (that is, smart cities) have two main potentials:

First, smart cities clearly have the potential to create huge efficiency gains in and even across the various infrastructures. These gains are basically due to much more efficient coordination among the various actors involved in the provision of the respective services, in transportation, health care, energy, etc. This leads to reduced costs, as well as to less waste and therefore also to more efficient use of resources, something that can be seen as a contribution to sustainability.

Secondly, smart cities – particularly thanks to digital platforms – also have the potential to develop much more integrated services tailored to (individual) customers’ needs. This precisely results from the power of these digital platforms, which are capable of much better match supply and demand.

Considering all of the aforesaid, we came to the following conclusion;

there cannot be a smart city complex with disconnected segments and underserviced elements.

There cannot be a smart city grouping elements of different vendors having their unique control routines and devices

There cannot be a sustainable model without a single ecosystem, industry supported and agnostic to all elements, existing, when we have to retrofit, or yet to exist, where we are building.

There cannot be a smart city without a collaborative platform where all parts and elements responding to a project, or to a municipality can be on the same page.

KonectCity has the unique ability to represent the single access point for all existing technologies, hardware, platforms, database, sensors and more with no restrictions and no boundaries to its scaling capabilities or data processing.
KonectCity is actually the “full liner” capable of connecting A to Z within a single platform.

We are not just a system, we are the system.