Smart City technology trends: part 2

Smart Cities: technology trends (Part 2)

Recently I’ve been asked to write a technology trends paper for the IEEE looking at the main technology trends affecting Smart Cities. This is a broad topic, covering a lot of ground and I’ve been forced to pick a subset of technology trends that are affecting the evolution of smart cities. I’ve broken the topic into manageable sections – each a single blog post – as follows:

  • PART 1
    • Smart cities: background and technology ecosystem
    • Key technology areas #1
      • Networking,
      • Cyber-physical systems and the IoT,
      • Cloud and Edge computing
  • PART 2 (this post)
    • Key technology areas #2
      • Big Data,
      • Open Data,
      • Citizen Engagement
      • Smart City Standards
  • PART 3
    • Smart Cities: Impact of technology trends
      • Business issues
      • Recommendations

Smart Cities: An overview of the technology trends driving Smart Cities (Part 2)

Open data

Another significant trend in Smart Cities is the adoption and exploitation of Open Data. Open Data in the context of Smart Cities refers to public policy that requires or encourages public agencies to release data sets and make them freely accessible. Typical examples are city wide crime statistics, city service levels, infrastructure data, etc. Many governments and leading cities now run open data portals, e.g., the UK and Canadian data portals, (, and city portals such as San Francisco (, and London (

While Open Data is not a technology trend in itself, it leverages a number of the underlying technologies discussed, such as Cloud Computing, IoT, etc. and is a source of big city data. Open Data is driving the use of these technologies as cities develop open data portals and other city stakeholders begin to exploit access to this open data. Equally it needs to address some of the challenges associated with big data including data security and in particular issues of privacy.

The evolution of open data represents a broadening of the information available related to city operations. It’s primary goal is transparency, but a significant subsidiary goal is to make information available to third parties that can be exploited to improve city services and foster innovation around new services. San Francisco in the USA and London in the UK have led efforts to exploit open data with local companies creating mobile applications based on Park data[1], tourism, parking and transportation[2]. Similar approaches are appearing in cities across the world. It is clear that increasingly cities will make available more data as open data. However, what is also likely is that the ecosystem of open data providers and operators will evolve with an cities taking on less of a role as open data operators and an increasing number of 3rd parties taking city data and curating it for both citizen and business needs. An interesting early example of this is the City Data Exchange operated in Copenhagen[3].

Big data and data analytics

Smart Cities, by their very nature, generate significant amounts of data in their daily operations. The trends identified above, e.g. IoT, Open Data are driving cities to collect and make available additional significant amounts of data – some static but increasingly large parts of it are real-time data. This data exhibits the classic characteristics of Big Data – high volume, often real-time (velocity) and extremely heterogeneous in its sources, formats and characteristics (variability).

This big data can, if managed and analyzed well, offer insights and economic value that cities and city stakeholders can use to improve efficiency and lead to innovate new services that improve the lives of citizens.

The evolving technology that captures, manages and analyses this Big Data, leverages technology trends such as cloud computing. Cities are now able to access and use massive compute resources that were too expensive to own and manage only a few years ago. Coupled with technologies like Hadoop/HDFS, Spark, Hive and a plethora of proprietary tools it is now possible for cities to harness big data and analytical tools to improve the city.

For example Boston, USA is using big data to better track city performance against a range of indicators, but also to identify potholes in city streets and to improve the efficiency of garbage collection by switching to a demand driven approach[4]. New York has developed a system (FireCast) that analyses data from 6 city departments to identify buildings with a high fire risk[5]. London uses a wide variety of city data and advanced analytics to map individual neighborhoods to better understand resource allocation and planning which is made available through the Whereabouts service[6]. Singapore tracks real time transportation and runs a demand driven road pricing scheme to optimize road usage across the island[7].

Citizen engagement.

Citizen engagement represents a complementary aspect of Smart Cities and although not strictly a technical consideration, relies on the data gathering and data management discussed in the open data and big data sections. Essentially it aims to harness technology in support of greater engagement with citizens – partly in an attempt to ‘tap into the collective intelligence’ of cities and partly to understand better what citizens do and need in their daily lives. In this context, engagement is not just with citizens, but with the entire ecosystems, city workers, businesses, tourists etc. While it may be obvious that cities need to engage and listen to their citizens, it is surprising how few channels exist for meaningful dialogue between cities and their citizens. To address this, a trend over the last 5 years in leading Smart Cities is the exploitation of technology to engage and communicate with citizens. This has taken a variety of forms including:

  • Phone or web applications to allow citizens to report city issues such as graffiti, accidents, etc. or to directly engage with city services (often referred to as 311 services in N. America). Originating from work in Washington DC, details of activities in cities such as Boston, Helsinki, London can be found on the open311 organization’s website[8].
  • Hackathons and other developer events to engage the technical community with Open data and new service initiatives. Successful examples include the Code for America program[9] and other tech focused routes adopted in Europe[10]
  • Co-design and user centric design processes to engage citizens in the ideation, design and delivery of new services. This citizen centric approach has be tried in a variety of forms in many cities, with early adopters such such as Milton Keynes[11]in the UK or the EU’s citizen city project[12] developing best practices.
  • Crowdsourcing city data from citizens to better understand the activities and actions of the urban population, or to use citizens to help gather data that is otherwise hard to obtain. Examples include crowdsourcing flood information in Jakarta using tweets[13] and using citizen input to create wheelchair accessibility maps in Böblingen in Germany[14].

Engagement, as described above, is actually an initial step towards empowerment. The ultimate goal of citizen engagement is the empowerment of citizens to take on and improve their daily lives through community leadership.

The 6 major trends identified above are critical to the role out of smart cities and will shape the way technology is used to enrich the lives of citizens. Obviously they are not the only factors, other areas such as security, privacy, environmental sustainability and a host of others cut across these technology trends shaping their evolution and deployment. However, these 6 trends are critical and are shaping the future of our cities. In the next section, we explore standards activities that relate to these 6 areas and to the more general smart city landscape.


Standards are critical to the evolution of Smart Cities helping to smooth the adoption of new technologies and providing a trusted framework for city authorities and practitioners. All of the technological areas outlined above are subject to intense standardization activities with significant ongoing activity in the standards bodies, both international organizations such as ISO, ETSI and the ITU as well as national bodies and of course the IEEE. A useful overview of the main international activities is captured by the UK’s national body in its Smart City Overview document[15].

The figure above, based loosely on the UK’s Standards documents shows standards body activities grouped into three levels, with Strategic focusing on providing guidance to city leadership, Process looking at procuring and managing smart city projects and activities and technical looking at the lower level details of the technologies used for Smart City projects – obviously IEEE standards tend to focus on the lower part of the diagram.

At the strategic level, an important standard is the ISO 37120 Sustainable development of communities — Indicators for city services and quality of life. This standard, part of a suite by ISO’s Technical Committee 268 identifies 100 indicators that cities should track to allow them to benchmark progress. There are a number of cities moving to adopt these standards and efforts to benchmark across cities by the World Council on City Data[16]. The BSI has led some of the early thinking on a strategic approach to Smart Cities and has recently created the Smart City Institute in conjunction with the UK’s Future City Catapult[17].

At the more technical level, the ISO JTC1 committee has produced useful survey documents on Smart City standards activities and is shepherding two technical standards that are still under development, (from the ISO/IEC JTC1 group) but worth tracking are ISO/IEC AWI 30145 Information technology – Smart city ICT reference framework and the associated ISO/IEC AWI 30146 Information technology – Smart city ICT indicators which are both looking at the ICT infrastructure needed for Smart Cities.

The IEEE, recognizing that the IoT is a critical technology trend, has led efforts to create IEEE P2413™, Draft IEEE Standard for an Architectural Framework for the Internet of Things (IoT). IEEE P2413 ( is in development to propose an architectural framework supporting cross-domain interaction, system interoperability and functional compatibility and to fuel the growth of the IoT market. Additionally, the ITU has an active standards group (Study Group 20) in the IoT area[18].

The IEEE-SA is known for taking a system-of-systems perspective in standardization. As an example, in the area of Smart Grids, IEEE 2030®, IEEE Guide for Smart Grid Interoperability of Energy Technology and Information Technology Operation with the Electric Power System (EPS), End-Use Applications, and Loads. A more comprehensive list of IEEE standards related to Smart Cities can be found in the “IEEE standards activities for Smart Cities” document[19].


The final part of this 3 series blog post explores the ramifications of these technology trends on the business landscape for smart cities and concludes with some recommendations for companies working in the Smart City space. Read Part 3 here


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