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Smart city planning
and development:
A guide to
getting started

Author: Shane Schick

Smart city planning is an opportunity for local governments to reimagine almost everything about life in the communities they serve.

Though the definition of "smart cities" can vary, the term is often associated with the creative and strategic ways in which municipalities make use of mobile apps, cloud-based tools and the Internet of Things (IoT). The rise of these digital technologies has opened up public service transformation possibilities that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago.

Sometimes smart city planning evolves from the success of a single project, where the deployment of new technology or the automation of a process indicates the potential for a more holistic approach. In other cases, local governments start from a big-picture view based on a vision for a safer, more accessible or even more democratic community.

Smart city planning and development

If you're new to smart city planning and development, there are several high-level considerations you should take into account as you develop your plan.

Start with the citizen at the center

It might be tempting to begin with back-office productivity or efficiency improvements you can offer to municipal employees, but smart cities are best developed by putting the needs of citizens first.

Just as a private enterprise would create personas to improve their customer experience, consider all the areas of friction that might make life challenging for citizens today.

When citizens need to engage with the city directly, for example—when a citizen needs to report a broken parking meter or street light—how much of the experience is based on manual or paper-based processes? Where could you introduce speed and simplicity into service delivery? Which performance metrics are causing the most challenges?

Answering these kinds of questions first will help you prioritize the building blocks that will make a city smarter.

Evaluate the current state to prepare for a better one

Cities need to operate 24/7, which means that ripping and replacing everything is both impossible and unwise.

There probably won't be any shortage of ideas and technology use cases, whether it's allowing citizens to pay bills online, weigh in on neighborhood planning or checking beach conditions. While this brainstorming is happening, make sure you also audit your existing IT to understand the full scope of your potential requirements.

Depending on your smart city plan, you may need to think about expanding public Wi-Fi coverage, for example. On-premise servers might need to shift to the cloud to offer compute resources that can quickly scale to support new applications. Stronger IT security measures may need to be put in place to ensure that digitization doesn't put citizen data at risk.

Remember the long-term implications as well. How will the technologies to support smart cities potentially impact budgets? What kind of maintenance will be required? How often will applications and infrastructure need to be upgraded? Who do you partner with?

Build an inclusive smart city team

Municipal governments know better than most how important it is to be both consultative and collaborative in any changes they bring to a city. This becomes even more critical when technology could introduce new processes and a shift in longstanding behaviors.

Besides internal IT departments and the vendor partner ecosystem that bring smart city plans to life, find ways to incorporate the ideas and feedback of those who will be most affected.

This includes not only "users" who are directly employed by or work closely with the local government but also citizens themselves. Think broadly in terms of community groups, local businesses and those in education, healthcare and the nonprofit sector.

Understanding concerns and objections early in the process will make it easier to solve problems before they affect deadlines, budgets or both.

Launch—and then keep looking back

Don't launch like a rocket into space, focusing only on the stars. As with many other areas of IT, smart city plans may work best when they begin as small pilot projects that allow for rapid testing, feedback and iteration.

Spend as much time on the communication plan as you do on the technologies you deploy. Consider all the channels where citizens and other stakeholders will need to be made aware of the plan and how they can reach out for support or assistance as the launch unfolds.

To some extent, smart city planning and development will depend on the unique needs and resources of the municipal government in question. Then it's a matter of mapping out the journey you're going to take and the milestones you want to reach. Cities don't become fully "smart" overnight. But when they do, you'll realize the time spent planning was worth it.

Explore how Verizon is making smart cities possible.