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Taking the pulse of 22 smart cities and sharing best practices

The city model we know today is mostly a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution: 200 years old and shaped by very different forces than those we’re encountering today. Heading into the third decade of the 21st century, new drivers are demanding a fundamental overhaul of how cities operate — and a new vision for their futures.

With 66 percent of the world’s population expected to live in urban areas by 2050[1], governments and other stakeholders realize they need innovative thinking to become smarter, safer and more sustainable.

Many in fact are already taking steps to become so — using intelligent ICT and the Internet of Things to optimize services and infrastructure, make better-informed decisions, boost economic development, encourage social interaction, and make environments ecofriendly and responsive to people’s daily needs.

To share best practices by learning from the experiences of cities around the world, Nokia commissioned the recognized, independent analyst firm, Machina Research, to study 22 urban centers and their value chains, plans and implementation roadmaps for becoming smart cities. The research also aimed to identify the real and tangible benefits of going “smart”.

Three routes to follow

One of the key findings in the resulting Machina Research Smart City Playbook is that cities generally take one of three routes to becoming smart, safe and sustainable: the “anchor” route, the “platform” route or the “beta city” route.

In the anchor scenario, cities deploy a single, key application for which there is a clear and pressing need, then add others over time as they also become necessary.

In the platform scenario, cities focus on building the technology infrastructure needed to deliver any manner of smart applications and services.

Beta cities, on the other hand, prioritize hands-on experience and take more of a “scattershot” approach, launching multiple pilots to see how they perform, without too much concern in the early phases about long-term deployment.

Finding the way forward

Even for cities following the same route, there is no one best way of becoming smart, safe and sustainable. History, geography, economy, culture and other factors all make cities distinct — so that a single implementation plan could not possibly meet the varying needs of each. That being said, Machina Research has identified several practices used by successful smart cities that others would do well to adopt.

The first, not surprisingly, relates to data itself. Technology-driven smart, safe and sustainable cities are data dependent and need to give careful thought to how that data is managed and protected. This involves establishing open and transparent rules for data use by government departments and third parties. Machina Research points out that one of the choices cities face is between sharing data freely through a fully open data policy (as is being done in New York) and monetizing data sharing to cover data-management costs (as with Berlin’s Offene Daten Berlin portal).

Similar to sharing data, Machina Research notes that a lot of leading smart cities are also committed to ensuring that the technology infrastructure itself is shareable among users inside and outside of government. In Vienna, for example, cross-departmental teams run smart initiatives to avoid creating silos, using the city’s smart platform in ways that take advantage of synergies and integration across applications and datasets.

Of course, it’s not just government and third-party partners who have a role to play in making cities smart, safe and sustainable. Since these next-gen cities are fundamentally about people and their lives, citizens must be actively engaged in their development, says Machina Research. Some of the most successful smart initiatives are those that are highly visible to citizens — whose benefits are clear and conspicuous — like smart lighting and smart parking. In Bristol, Watershed’s “Playable City” project encourages citizens to interact with the city’s new infrastructures; in Dubai, a “happiness meter” was introduced to allow allows citizens to rate their experience with the city’s smart services.

Shared, secure and scalable: the technology dimensions

From the above, sharing seems to be a common principle of any smart, safe, sustainable city venture — from data to the foundational technology itself. Two other prerequisites are that the technology be scalable, so that it can grow and evolve to meet changing needs, and secure, to ensure municipal systems and private data are protected from attack and misuse.

To achieve these technology aims, one of the final recommendations in the Smart City Playbook is for cities to establish effective relationships with technology vendors: companies with the innovation capacity, financial resources and knowledge to help them realize their vision — without getting locked into any single vendor’s solution for maximum flexibility over time.

Fostering the journey

The principles outlined in the Smart City Playbook are fundamental to Nokia’s values and offerings. We believe cities need a shared, secure and scalable smart city infrastructure to ensure urban assets and data are used optimally to enable the human possibilities of smart, safe and sustainable cities.

That belief is woven into the “DNA” of our technologies — including optics, IP, fixed and mobile broadband, cloud and Internet of Things platforms — to support cities in every stage of smart development. This, combined with our partner ecosystem of more than 300 innovative companies, makes us uniquely equipped to work with city governments around the world toward their smart city goals.

For city-by-city findings and the complete set of smart city best practices and recommendations, read the full Machina Research Smart City Playbook at

[1] United Nations, 2014 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects

Olivier Duroyon

About Olivier Duroyon

Olivier leads Nokia’s efforts in the go-to-market solutions for government initiatives, which encompass government-driven broadband Initiatives, modernization of administration networks, government cloud, smart cities, etc.  He has a background in public affairs and implementing information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure for national, regional and local governments.

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