Defining smart city “smartness”

When we think of smart cities there is a desire to launch into dialogue about the technology, which is more often than not a sensor, IoT device or similar rather than focussing on how the data is to be accurately collected, collated and consumed.

Municipalities must distinguish between input (the amount of data coming into the city) v’s outcome (how is the data being utilised to improve the communities overall experience) and before investing in more and more smart infrastructure consider, how is the data going to be used purposefully? How “smart” is my smart city in utilising this data to drive policy and change? What can be done to grow the “smartness” of my city?

Volume and the Community

Ultimately the community is at the centre of a smart city. The best technology isn’t “smart” if it’s not widely adopted. The most successful smart city applications are those that are adopted in volume by the community and manage to change their behaviour, while enriching the overall experience within the city. Encouraging small changes in behaviour such as choosing not to enter the city looking for parking, (adding to congestion and pollution) based on parking data showing no availability, and encouraging alternate options or modes of transport in peak parking occupancy periods is smart. Simply installing sensors and having a sign at the end destination showing occupancy is not effectively sharing occupancy data with the community.


Integrating various IoT devices with different technologies and existing infrastructure sounds easy right? In reality connectivity is far from ubiquitous, smart devices can be connected to the cloud or internet but often not to each other, data is often separated amongst various vendors and or within various council divisions. For many municipalities the challenge remains of modernising their city in a way that allows data to flow freely, then presenting and consuming it in a meaningful way. The success here is really about ensuring the vision of how the smart technology and data comes together is clear.


Even with some generous government grants currently available municipalities are still operating with limited budgets in this space. As municipalities come to the realisation they don’t need to host, build, manage and own all this themselves, private investment and genuine private partnering will accelerate a wave of change in making smart cities, smarter. This rings true particularly when there are opportunities to generate revenue. We are all aware that technology is ever changing, evolving the way municipalities interact with the community and with private enterprise providing new technology solutions and services that municipalities often can’t, partnering is a compelling way forward.

About the Author

Shane Tracey is Business Unit Manager-PayStay, Australia’s leading pay-by-mobile parking app. Shane’s analytical and technical skills together with his product management and software implementation experience ensures that PayStay continues to evolve and support smart city strategies in Australia and New Zealand.

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