3 Kinds of Smart Cities Shaped by IT

Inside Green IT

3 Kinds of Smart Cities Shaped by IT

Image CC licensed by Flickr user geoftheref

It's counter-intuitive to many -- including me -- that cities, especially big cities, are the most sustainable places on earth.

Yet through a combination of infrastructure, such as high-rise apartment buildings, and behavior, such as driving less, urban households use 15 percent less energy than their rural counterparts (the suburbs are worse yet, I'm afraid).

In his highly-recommended new book, "The Triumph of the City," Harvard economist Edward Glaeser elegantly argues that cities are humankind's greatest invention and government policies should encourage urbanization in the developed and developing worlds.

The role of information technologies in creating more livable and sustainable cities, sometimes known as "smart cities," has landed on our research agenda at Forrester. My colleague Jennifer Belissent has done deep research into how IT vendors are creating and exploiting opportunities helping local governments improve the efficiency and sustainability of urban infrastructure. Forrester defines the smart city as:

A "city" that uses information and communications technologies to make the critical infrastructure components and services of a city -- administration, education, healthcare, public safety, real estate, transportation, and utilities -- more aware, interactive, and efficient.


Siemens envisions the critical infrastructure components as depicted in the figure below.

Siemens' vision for smart city infrastructure

Jennifer's research also found that not all cities are "cities." Smart cities can actually come in three flavors:

1. New Cities Built Smart from the Start

Like Songdo in South Korea or Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, these are purpose-built, designed to attract businesses and residents with a master plan that uses IT systems to deliver world-class services.

2. Existing Cities with Retrofits and Upgrades

Cities like Manchester, U.K., and Monterrey, Mexico, are using technology-based initiatives to create new economic opportunities, improve education and ultimately retain and retrain their populations.

3. 'Non-Cities'

Non-cities can be campuses, company towns and even amusement parks. The Saudi Aramco national oil company, for example, provides extensive services to its 350,000 employees, including public safety, education and healthcare.
As smart city implementations spread, city governments find themselves pinned between critical urban pain points (population growth, pollution, crime) and diminishing public resources or budgets to address them. Throw in enthusiastic tech vendors and the result is a proliferation of point solutions: emergency response systems, traffic congestion systems, waste and water management, smart buildings, smart electrical grids, etc. What our research found, however, is that the key to becoming a truly smart city lies in bringing these systems together, creating an integrated approach to city governance (see below).

Smart city governance

City leaders are turning their attention to overarching governance tools, and we expect that adoption will grow. The opportunity for tech vendors and service providers lies in facilitating smart governance -- offering cloud and shared services models for business applications, providing integration and cloud management services, and generally facilitating the coordination and collaboration among city departments and city leadership.

To help define and drive the VERGE business opportunity -- the space where four technology sectors overlap: energy, information, buildings and vehicles -- GreenBiz.com will hold a series of high-level roundtable discussions next month that will be livecast from Shanghai, London and San Francisco. You may be surprised to learn just how many companies play in this emerging space, including Best Buy, Google, Honda and IBM.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user geoftheref.