- Twenty-three U.S. cities were named as top global connected cities in a recent report released by ESI ThoughtLab. Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Washington, DC were the only five U.S. cities to fall into the "leaders" category.
- The report concludes that in the modern era, "becoming a smart city is no longer enough," and unlocking full return on investment (ROI) from technology requires cities to "morph into hyperconnected urban centers." It recommends ways that cities can become hyperconnected, how to overcome roadblocks and how to assess ROI.
- The report presents the business case, best practices, challenges and performance metrics for becoming a hyperconnected city. Report authors pared down a list of 171 smart cities and carried out benchmarking studies on 100 cities.They classified each city under one hyperconnectivity maturity level: leaders, advancers and implementers.
The report explains that hyperconnected cities drive value and unlock the greatest economic, business, social and environmental benefits by leveraging new digital technologies to transform and interconnect different parts of an urban ecosystem. Over 90% of the cities studied use an array of technologies such as public Wi-Fi, cloud computing, biometrics and artificial intelligence. Data and technology work hand-in-hand to drive performance in hyperconnected cities.
Areas that commonly are improved through technology are public transit, traffic management, public health, public safety, water projects, energy, waste collection and the environment. Benefits include decreased energy consumption, more stable energy prices, litter reduction, lower traffic congestion, better emergency response times and reduced pollution. Importantly, technology implementation often results in greater citizen satisfaction and engagement.
Hyperconnections across numerous categories unlock a multiplier effect, and ROI grows as they become more interlinked, the report says. By that metric, cities that are just starting to become more interconnected have a lower ROI than those that are further along. The multiplier effect can translate into large cost savings over time, and apply to the previously mentioned citizen and societal benefits.
Gaining support from citizens and other stakeholders was the top roadblock globally, including in North America. But different regions of the world showed other primary roadblocks. South America, for example, suffers from insufficient support from government leaders and complex procurement processes.
Problems arise when cities fail to gain adequate citizen support before implementing certain technologies. Facial recognition technology — specifically, backlash that led San Francisco to become the first city to ban the technology this spring — is cited as a high-profile roadblock caused by failing to gain public support.
Managing cybersecurity and privacy is another major obstacle, in addition to keeping pace with technological change. More than half of the cities studied are "mindful" of cybersecurity implications, but less than half consider themselves well prepared for a cyber attack. Lower income cities and those with low levels of hyperconnectivity are especially unprepared for a cyber attack.
The report includes eight hyperconnected city case studies. Each focuses on one key element to help other cities learn. The Las Vegas case study highlights a theme prevalent throughout the report: public-private partnerships (P3s). The city uses a P3 model to pilot programs instead of a traditional request-for-proposals (RFP) approach. For example, in August the city launched a pilot with NTT and Dell to collect data about wrong-way driving and detect near collisions. The results could enhance Las Vegas' actions to reduce such accidents; it already has increased signage on one-way streets.
Another U.S.-based case study is Georgia Power's expansion of the state's smart LED lighting network. This represents the largest penetration of LEDs by any single utility in the world. The network of 1 million regulated and unregulated lights reportedly saves $3.7 million on electricity annually. The LED network provides the baseline for other smart city infrastructure. For example, cities in the Atlanta metro embed a surveillance system into the existing connected lighting infrastructure, allowing police to better detect and deter crime.