What Is a Smart City, and Why Should I Care?

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

The technology world is full of buzzwords, and our channel is no exception to this rule. As soon as one term becomes demystified, two more spring up in its place. Just when you thought you understood what the Internet of Things is and how it could impact your business, the term ‘smart city’ starts getting kicked around.

Hopefully you know enough about IoT to understand the ramifications of smart city tech (and if you don’t – no worries, we’ve got you covered). But if you’re an ISV or VAR, it’s imperative that you understand what a smart city is, and what it means to the channel.

Smart cities go beyond smart homes, Amazon Alexa-enabled devices, and the luxury of Wi-Fi in the park. Estimates from experts are predicting that more than $41 trillion will be invested in IoT tools, platforms, and technology in cities around the world over the next 20 years. It’s being seen as the solution to many of today’s modern problems: from gun violence to California wildfires, to traffic jams. And with a sticker price like that, you can’t afford to ignore it.

Don’t Miss the Big Picture

Sure, smart homes are already coming into play, and from Google to Amazon to Microsoft, you can take your pick of digital home assistants at your fingertips. But building a smart city is obviously a larger task, and it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

A smart city, as defined by the Smart Cities Council, “uses information and communications technology to enhance its livability, workability, and sustainability. It collects information about itself using sensors, devices or other systems, and sends the data to an analytics system to understand what’s happening now, and what’s likely to happen next.”

Smart cities will have a major impact on the digital economy, not to mention the global one. Like it or not, this is where things are headed, and all the data to move forward with implementation already exists – we aren’t waiting around for the technology to catch up to the idea here. From servers to routers and networking to cloud computing software to digital signage for outdoor kiosks, smart cities have the potential to demand many different verticals and technologies take part in constructing one.

Data Will Drive Decisions

Data aggregation will be a major tool, which will likely mean that fostering relationships with ISVs capable of aggregating different kinds of data will have a large payoff in this industry.

For ISVs, this means ensuring your solutions are capable of rising to the occasion. The onus of data aggregation and usability of this data will be on software vendors overall, and your solutions will need to be nimble, accurate, and capable of storing and disseminating data regularly in a usable format.

Object interoperability and consolidation of different smart solutions within a network will be a strong desire as cities mature under the smart city mantle. This means that every solution will need to be able to interact with other solutions throughout the city that depend upon them, and the data collected through these interactions will be key to growing the city as a digital ecosystem.

Real-time monitoring solutions will be used to not only monitor security, breaches, or traffic violations. They can be used to measure rainfall in the city that leads to flooding, the occurrences of natural disasters, weather patterns, and more. Solutions that can create and generate real-time data on a city can help officials and residents to predict future disasters, or anomalies and thus better prepare for these issues. Although the foundation of a smart city may be the creation of a digital infrastructure, whether a city grows or doesn’t will depend upon the data aggregated from this infrastructure of interconnected solutions.

If the city grows, your business can continue to grow along with it. However, this requires early insight, and adapting the solutions you’re selling to best fit the needs of the city. If your software doesn’t collect or store actionable data from users’ interactions with the solution, you may want to consider what it would take to change that. If your hardware is not paired with software that provides quick, easy-to-gather, useful data, you may want to consider shopping for a new partner before approaching smart city committees with your solution. Don’t just get caught up in making the initial sale, go the extra mile and ensure your solution is as useful to the people of the city as possible. This will open the door to more sales in the future, and provide a more positive experience for both front-end users and city planners aggregating data on the back end.

What Does This Mean to Me?

Now is the time for ISVs, manufacturers and VARs to familiarize themselves with the infrastructure necessary to create a smart city. Governmentally-focused VARs and ISVs may already have their fingers on this pulse, but there are many different factors to still consider. The ability to sell technology that can be refashioned to cater to smart cities can create huge opportunities. If you’re already coding digital signage and kiosk software, determine how these can be implemented into smart buildings, smart cities, and even bundled with other solutions like routers and wayfinding tools. If your bread and butter is inventory management, consider how that can be utilized to track assets for a city. If you produce mobility apps, you can easily adjust your pitch to include the different city workers who will be on the go and in the field throughout the different stages of city planning.

It’s also important to take a step back and adjust your perspective on these types of solutions. Although your business deals in tech, and smart cities need technology, don’t forget that building and refashioning cities is, at its core, a human issue. Every city is different, and will be looking to cater its smart city initiatives to solve human problems specific to its own population. Take the time to research accordingly to learn what each city is looking to focus on, and how you can specifically tailor your software to their needs.

This is particularly important when looking to create streams of recurring revenue as cities adapt, change, and update the technologies important to their digital ecosphere. Create meaningful solutions, and carefully plan how your solution will best pair with hardware to create a beneficial experience for people within the city. If the solution isn’t accessible or usable by the people it’s meant to help, the investment a city has made in your business will not appear to pay off, and you’ll lose the ability to gather recurring revenue through updates, upgrades, and other changes within the city.

This means choosing the best partnerships for your products as well, whether you’re a hardware or software manufacturer. Your solution will be seen as a whole unit, and if it doesn’t rise to the occasion, you may lose business because your partner’s hardware wasn’t up to the job, or because the software wasn’t user friendly enough. Be selective in your partnerships, and carefully put together the best, customized solution for each city you’re looking to approach, based on their needs and focuses throughout the process of building their smart city.

Adding Value

Perhaps one element of creating a smart city that can easily go unnoticed is how crucial value-adds will become. Urban landscapes are complicated, and so is the technology necessary to tie it all together and solve complex problems. The first initial step will be integration planning, and VARs and ISVs should want a place at the table when those discussions happen.

A smart city is more than just a few pieces of technology linked and functioning together – it’s a living, moving, changing ecosystem, and city planning committees will be eager to have all the help they can get during the implementation phases. Be sure you’re able to offer additional support, installation services, roll-out tech support, and troubleshooting. This can mean the difference between winning and losing in the battle to gain these contracts.


Smart cities are coming. They may be coming at different paces, and with different priorities in mind, but they’re coming – and for many cities, the initial steps have already been taken. Navigation kiosks, open and free WiFi in public spaces, and transportation solutions have already taken root in many large cities all over the world. The train is ready to leave the station, but it’s up to you to decide if you’ll be on it or not.

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