For the past three years, the IDC Smart City team has developed its top 10 predictions for the upcoming year. These predictions are designed provide the strategic context to help government leaders — from mayors to city council members to CIOs and innovation offices — transform their organizations by applying technology to real urban challenges, and to provide a springboard for thinking about the future within the context of a structured set of predictions tied to current and next budget cycles.

This year's smart city predictions covered a broad range of topics, including the impact of crowdsourced information on intelligent operations centers, the growth in national policies on smart cities, and the role of the city in the smart home and connected car. The predictions revealed three particularly interesting trends emerging around the smart cities movement:

  1. A growing adoption and awareness of the smart city concept by an expanding set of government leaders. Not only does IDC see more demand for strategy development and implementation road maps, but the requests come from cities, counties, states and central/federal government agencies. We predict that by 2017, at least 20 of the world’s largest countries will create national smart city policies to prioritize funding and document technical and business guidelines.

     

  2. A high variability in understanding the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the benefits and challenges that must be considered from new types of mobile and connected things (drones, wearables, connected cars). We continue to see many of the same cities investing in the smart city IoT, but even for cities with pilot projects, there is a lack of citywide strategy at the level of guidelines for implementations. As such, we predict that in 2016, 90 percent of cities worldwide will lack a comprehensive set of policies on the public and private use of drones, sensors and devices. This will result in increased privacy and security risks. Similarly, we see a more acute and faster adoption of public safety and transportation IoT investment, often without a strategic framework, which IDC believes will lead to more project risk and wasted spending, such as spending on duplicative systems or devices.

     

  3. Information from social media, crowdsourcing and sharing economy companies will have a greater impact on cities. Cities are grappling with how to ingest this data into systems and put it to use. Not only is this data unstructured in the form of text, video, images and audio, but it also comes from a variety of sources that exist independent of government. This presents a challenge since data from these sources can be highly relevant and useful for improving government services. The Waze traffic app is a great example of this — crowdsourced traffic information for commuters, if integrated with systems in the transportation management center, would help operators update digital signs more quickly, potentially adjust traffic signals and dispatch responders more quickly. But getting this information into existing systems is not a simple task.

These three areas influence all 10 of the IDC smart city predictions, as well as how cities approach many challenges and the technical aspects of their solutions. IDC believes that emerging technologies are already transforming the citizen experience and government services, but this is just the beginning. Cities must balance moving forward while managing risk with keeping pace with their residents and local businesses. These predictions, and what we can learn from them in aggregate, are a starting point for 2016.

Cities should look at smart city initiatives in the context of these challenges, but also as tied to specific outcomes related to future investment. While smart city technologies have always been tied to goals of increased economic development and sustainability, the discussion is being framed more around future investments, and not just related to technology, but also around physical infrastructure, the livability of a city and urban planning. Most companies or startups moving to or already in a city understand the current environment — the traffic challenges, network availability, cost of office space and availability of talent. Now these companies are interested in the future investment — where is the city headed? Is it going to solve the challenges that can inhibit business growth, such as unsafe neighborhoods, traffic congestion and a lack of workers with certain skill sets? Will the city continue to invest in areas of success like cultural events, car or bike sharing initiatives, clean parks, and resiliency plans for severe weather events? These questions are often the same ones residents and visitors have.

Cities should begin to frame their smart city strategy at a more specific level for action. This is not a simple exercise; IDC has identified 19 high level areas — from citizen data architecture to governance/ controls to leadership – that must be addressed for effective smart city implementations. The first step is to take a deeper look at strategy by tying high-level mayoral agendas to specific smart city initiatives, and connecting these initiatives with specific measures and outcomes.

Ruthbea Yesner Clarke is research director of the global Smart Cities Strategies program at IDC. In this program, she discusses the strategies and execution of relevant smart city technologies, including the non-technology best practice areas, such as governance, innovation, partnerships and business models essential for smart city development.