top of page

Smart City - Roadmap and Steppingstones


From a transportation perspective, the decision to launch a smart city initiative raises several interesting questions. In what should you invest, and what order should you sequence investments and what would make a good starting point? You might also ask what the expected effects would be of the investments. It is very easy for a smart city initiative to involve into a series of high profile projects that deliver a significant media impact and standalone benefits and yet lack a coherent connection between projects. Even more value could be delivered from the projects if it was possible to take advantage of the synergy between them to develop an optimum investment sequence.

Effects driven

An effects driven approach to Smart city transportation investments poses a major challenge in that we are still not quite sure of the effects of individual projects and the combined effects of various projects. In this article, I explore the possibility of defining a sketch planning tool that would enable us to take the first few steps towards a detailed understanding of these factors.

Let us begin with the premise that services provide value and benefits rather than projects. While it is necessary to define projects as deployable units that can be managed, scheduled and budgeted, the value of a project, in my opinion, revolves around the services that are supported because of the project implementation. Taking this is the starting point, it is then possible to create a vision of service deployment and evolution across the smart city.

Service evolution

Service evolution in the smart city would have three dimensions – space, time, and quality. Space typically refers to the geographic coverage of the service, but in this case, it may also relate to the percentage of the population having access to the service. Time, as expected, relates to the timeframe over which the service is evolved across the smart city. Qualitative relates to the quality of the service delivered as it may be possible to implement basic or partial services as a steppingstone towards the ultimate service.

Costs and benefits can then be attached to each service, to provide input to the definition of the optimum sequence of service deployments. The adoption of a service evolution approach also clears a pass for private sector motivation and investment to be captured in the smart city initiative. Services can be delivered by either the public or private sector and the definition of a service, which focuses on what is required rather than how to do it, provides the flexibility for private sector initiative and endeavors.

Optimum sequence

In defining the optimum sequence of services to be delivered in the smart city, it is also necessary to take account of legacy or sunk investment. In other words, the departure point for a smart city initiative should take full account of previous activities and previous investments. For example, if the smart city in question has considerable prior investment in electronic tolling, electronic ticketing, and electronic fee collection for parking, then the delivery of a citywide integrated electronic payment service, may be given a higher priority due to the sunk investment. In addition to the sunk investment, there is also likely to be considerable experience and expertise accumulated in the smart city because of the prior investments. This is another factor that would feed into their ranking of the integrated payment service within the services portfolio for the smart city. Synergistic or build effects can also be extremely valuable in the development of service evolution patterns. There is considerable interest in developing services that enable connected citizens and city visitors.

An integrated payment service could also provide the conductivity required to support a two-way dialogue between the city, the citizens, and visitors. In this case, the service is providing direct results to make payment easier, cheaper and safer and delivering an indirect platform for the delivery of other services that relate to connected citizens and visitors. The same smart phone apps that support integrated payment, could also support crowdsourcing and information delivery to citizens and visitors.

Having developed at least a high-level view of the order in which services should be involved and implemented across the smart city, it is of course necessary to define a sequence of projects that support the delivery of the services. This can be blended with existing services that are already been provided by the private sector, but perhaps in areas other than transportation.

Unit costs and benefits associated with each service would be the primary driving forces behind the order of the service within the delivery portfolio. The approach, at this point however cannot be purely quantitative. A subjective assessment is also required to ensure that the combined effects of services are considered and the legacy effects mentioned earlier. What is described here are the first basic steps in creating an advanced decision support system for smart city transportation service evolution. Prioritization of service delivery and staging of projects can be influenced by an understanding of the effects of the investments. While the initial version may not be completely scientific, it represents a milestone on the way towards a truly scientific approach to investments in smart city transportation.

The benefits delivered by smart city transportation services can also be aligned to goals and objectives. Service benefits can be categorized as safety, efficiency or user experience related enabling a direct relationship to be developed between services, goals and policy objectives.

Public and private business models

An interesting aspect in developing the sketch planning tool is the ability to consider how business models affect costs and benefits. Taking full account of private sector motivation to invest in smart city services can also lead to an optimized investment pattern. It may also be possible to identify seed funding opportunities for the public sector that can leverage private sector motivation and investment in the delivery of services.

It may be the case that the ultimate smart city features an interesting blend of public and privately delivered services within an overall framework. Taking a top-down structured approach to the definition of the services required and the order in which they will be delivered, also sets the scene for clear communication across all of the smart city partners, with regard to the overall objective and the planned investments. This empowers smart city planners to open effective dialogue with non-technical decision-makers and potential private sector partners. A framework approach also enables the opportunity to strike a balance between short medium and long-term effects.

bottom of page