How Smart Is Your City?

Danielle Beurteaux

One of the big events at this year’s CES was AT&T’s announcement that it would be collaborating on smart cities initiatives in several U.S. cities, beginning with Chicago, Austin, and Atlanta. Chicago, for example, will focus on infrastructure, energy efficiency, and citizen engagement.

Marlyn Zelkowitz, SAP’s IoT Future Cities lead, describes how some cities are already using smart solutions.

1. Infrastructure monitoring

Good analytics are the backbone of any city’s transformation. Cities are transforming by creating more efficient information streams and then sharing them between departments, removing the problem of information silos. Cincinnati, for example, recently improved its online and offline permit process, opening a new building where seven of the city’s agencies have a presence.

Zelkowitz also cites the city of Buenos Aires, which uses SAP’s HANA to help manage infrastructure. The city has placed sensors in storm drains that deliver information about how the drain is functioning. Buenos Aires is at sea level, on the Salado River, and sits above five underground rivers, which means that the city regularly floods, especially during spring, when there is typically heavy rainfall. In April 2013, 16 inches of rain fell in just two hours, resulting in nearly 50 fatalities.

Once the city had installed the drain monitoring system, however, the next spell of heavy rain was a different story. “They had torrential rain for three days, more than had ever fallen in that time period, and in the city there no loss of life,” Zelkowitz says. “That was the first time they’d ever had that experience. That’s through better management of resources using a combination of geospatial, mobile, cloud, and analytic data.”

2. Cities adapt applications to their needs

Cities will get creative with adapting existing applications to suit their needs. In Victoria, Australia, the state government used SAP’s Ariba network as a provider network and to release bids for state work.

“There was a concern about [lack of] competition. Competition sparks new ideas and grows new jobs and can get out of dependency on a handful of companies…The idea being small and mid-sized companies grow faster and grow more jobs than big companies,” Zelkowitz explains. “It’s a good way to encourage startups and smaller businesses to do business with government. I loved that they had that idea in 2013 to foster startups and foster competition for the benefit of all.”

3. Encouraging citizens to get involved

Citizen involvement in smart cities is important in two key ways. One is in terms of how citizens live and react to their environment and their ability to voice their wants, complaints, and concerns. The other is how citizens get involved with the formation of a smart city—what problems needs to be solved? How will solutions be deployed and used?

Some cities have forums, surveys, and town meetings to gather citizen input, and organize events like hackathons where residents can do things like create apps for use in their community. “Citizen sentiment analysis is an important part of any future city program,” Zelkowitz notes. “What are they complaining about, reporting as problems; is there an easy way to tell us, ‘Hey, there’s a storm drain blocked or trash or a tree down’? How do we report on those things?”

Read about another smart city: Brisbane, Australia. Why Geospatial Data Is Part Of Brisbane’s Smart City Strategy.


Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.