Skip to Content

Sweet home, smart city

Pierre-Adrien Hanania
August 3, 2020

By Pierre-Adrien Hanania and Giulia Carsaniga

Throughout history, cities have been subject to breakthrough changes impacting the way societies and citizens work, consume, interact, and more generally live and adapt. As depicted by Jeremy Rifkin in “The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World,” cities now stand at the brink of a new historical transformation, driven by digital tools and channels.

The cities of today are becoming organs of a connected world, catalyzing various forces through digital veins and relying on technological solutions to improve the quality, efficiency, and competitiveness of what is now home for 55% of the global population.

In light of this major trend, the report “Smart cities – Putting the citizen at the center of smart city initiatives”  ­­recently published by the Capgemini Research Institute, provides the momentum to address four main theses surrounding the smart city phenomenon.

Thesis I – It is both a good and urgent time to launch the smart city journey

The higher computational power and flourishing potential of innovation-driven technologies, such as AI, blockchain, and sensing, are obvious assets to leverage in order to digitize a city.

Yet, the availability of digital tools is not the only driver of ongoing city transformation. A smart change is first and foremost called on by city dwellers, who see the digitization of their cities both as an opportunity and as a requirement.

In fact, of the 10,000 citizens surveyed by the Capgemini Research Institute, 58% believe that smart cities will lead to greater sustainability, while for 57% of them smart cities imply improved urban services. More importantly, 36% of the interviewees claim to be ready to invest and even pay in order to see these changes happen.

At the same time, many are considering leaving their urban homes due to pollution (42%) and the lack of public security (40%). These, and many other deficits of toady´s cities, could, however, be greatly countered with what smart cities can offer.

Thesis II – The digitization process must find its roots in the city’s DNA

While greater sustainability is at the core of every smart initiative, not every smart city has the same DNA. Some might build on the vision of a green smart city in order to rebalance the environmental crime. Still others will envisage a seamless smart city, where going to work in the morning doesn’t mean facing a slew of mobility issues.

In other words, the DNA of a smart city varies depending on the most prominent challenges faced by its citizens and the application areas considered for its driving initiatives. According to the Capgemini Research Institute, cultural and personal, financial, health and sustainability, as well as infrastructural issues are the four main concerns of city inhabitants (Figure 1). Healthcare, public security, electric utility, water utility, waste management, citizen services, sustainable development, and transport and mobility are the fields for which most smart solutions are conceived of these days (Figure 2).

Figure 1 – Key points that can lead citizens to leave a city
Source: Capgemini Research Institute, Smart Cities Survey, 2020, p. 6
Figure 2 – Areas considered for smart city initiatives
Source: Capgemini Research Institute, Smart Cities Survey, 2020, p. 5

This effort of matching a tailor-made blueprint to the situational context of each city is a key part of achieving a sustainable project upon which the citizens of the city can proactively embark. While an air quality solution might indeed be key in one city’s context, it could seem trivial in another. Similarly, CCTV capabilities may face adamant rejection in one city but raise wide interest in others.

Thesis III – Federating data and stakeholders constitute the pillars of smart projects

Regardless of their DNA, a key enabler of smart city projects is the federation of assets at the crossroads between technology and society. On the one hand, data from all various types must come together to form the digital twin of the city being digitized. On the other hand, various stakeholders, policy makers, industrials, academics and the civil society must join forces to transform the industrial potential into a living document, evolving with time and insight (Figure 3).

Figure 3 – Smart city framework
Source: Capgemini Research Institute, Smart Cities Survey, 2020, p. 26

The case of OnDijon provides a great practical example. Born out of the collaboration of industry, citizens, and regional authorities, and implemented via the key involvement of Capgemini, the smart city program of the French city of Dijon features:

  • The establishment, in one year, of the City Command Center to consolidate the six current supervision centers of the metropolis
  • An open innovation program to design new services for citizens and economic actors
  • The installation of new connected urban infrastructures, and the progressive renewal of aging infrastructures.

By federating water, electricity, and other data through various sources, and by bringing all actors – from the political administration to industrial partners, research centers, and local startups – to the same table, the Dijon project has been able to mirror the city’s environment and foster great results. Not surprisingly, OnDijon has achieved 65% energy savings and halved significant infrastructure maintenance costs.

Thesis IV – No smart city without smart citizens

All these success factors would, however, be nullified if citizens were not placed at the center of the smart city vision. As ultimate beneficiaries of smart services, citizens need to be involved throughout the realization of a smart city. In particular, this involvement should occur on three levels:

  1. With a bottom-up, iterative, and consultative process focused on informing and increasing knowledge on technologies´ use and benefits, which should be ascertained from the project inception to the design and implementation
  2. By making sure citizens are meant to use and leverage the smart tools, such as traffic monitoring apps helping them to decide whether to go to the job with a bike, car, or public transport
  3. By embracing the full potential of the smart citizen’s emergence. This implies embedding the new era of citizens in the full process of data-driven cities as well as building on anyone’s proactive ability to deliver data to the city’s administration. The smart citizen can, for instance, take a picture of broken infrastructure and, by sending it to the city’s command center, let it be leveraged and guide relevant services through sometimes very urgent next steps.

Conclusion – It’s all about the digital social contract

As in all previous industrial revolutions, the place of the new tools and approaches must be discussed within society, as the digitalization of one’s city will adapt its functioning in many aspects.

Meeting citizens´ material and emotional needs, enabling them to shape the cities they will live in, creates a new sense of belonging in an always connected and constantly evolving reality. The more cities will succeed in doing so, the more citizens will be keen to call them “home, sweet home.”

For more info, please reach out to Pierre-Adrien Hanania, Global Offer Leader – AI in Public Sector.

Further articles by the author:

Further insights from the Capgemini Research Institute: