city with data (jamesteohart/


Building a smarter city

Several years ago, when cities like New York and Los Angeles heard the hype around urban modernization, they typically experimented by implementing vendor-sponsored solutions to see what benefits they could deliver. Those days are over.

City and state CIOs are now implementing smart city technology because they know the benefits. There is growing recognition that being a smart city advances public priorities such as economic development, education, health care and public safety – and that it improves the life of residents through intelligent digital government services. In fact, a recent McKinsey research report indicated the smart city industry is expected to skyrocket to $400 billion by 2020. 

Also, more government IT leaders are shifting from an IT-centric to an outcomes-oriented approach. Singapore, Dubai, Tokyo and New York City are among the top spenders on smart city technology, while countries like Estonia are considered some of the most digitally advanced according to IDC. It’s evident cities globally are embracing modern technology and are reaping the benefits, so who can blame other public-sector CIOs for wanting to join them?

Here’s where to start:

Plan ahead and understand the obstacles

Nelson Mandela once said, “Action without vision just passes the time." It’s important for CIOs to understand what they’re trying to accomplish and why they’re trying to accomplish it before moving forward.

When planning, it’s also imperative to recognize the inevitable obstacles that can inhibit implementation: Cybersecurity ranked as the No. 1 concern among state CIOs since 2014 in NASCIO’s annual list. With limited budget and hordes of information, cities and states are easy targets for cybercriminals. Cities should consider an end-to-end approach to security, starting with managing risk and leading to secure applications and trusted infrastructure. Only with a secure infrastructure in place can they properly focus on emerging technologies and serving their community.

In addition, cities are only recently beginning to receive government funding, forcing them to often look elsewhere for financing. According to Deloitte, 10% of smart city projects are supported by private financing, while 41% are supported by a mix of public and private funds.

What to do first?

Leverage existing data to improve efficiencies.  Once a plan is in place, CIOs can immediately begin modernizing existing resources without breaking the bank by leveraging existing data. Cities have a wide range of data at their disposal, but how they use that data is critical. When data is viewed as an asset, cities can leverage performance metrics to support new initiatives and improve the community experience at minimal cost.

One city, for example, used property data from a number of agencies to spot dwellings that were prone to fires. A predictive analytics system sifted through the data and identified the properties most likely to fail inspection. Without analytics, only 13% of inspections found dire conditions; with analytics, more than 70% of inspections found unsafe living environments.  

Use IoT to gain insights.  Using sensor data collected from the internet of things, autonomous vehicles or smart streetlights, smart city programs can quickly and accurately convert it to spot problems, analyze trends or make predictions.

The “Safe City Las Vegas” project uses high-definition cameras, IoT devices and sound and motion sensors to identify incidents such as shots fired and glass breaking in real-time and then automatically alert city command centers and law enforcement. The city can not only respond to critical incidents more rapidly and more accurately than before, but it can also apply advanced analytics and machine learning to the data so the system learns to spot patterns that appear abnormal.

When looking to build a smart city, there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach. The best practices above are good starting points, but to get a better sense of what their future smart city, leaders can look all over the world for inspiration. The possibilities for innovation are truly endless.

Editor's note: This column was updated May 24.

About the Author

Rob Silverberg is CTO of digital communities at Dell Technologies.


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