How software is transforming our world faster than we think

Although the “smart city” concept is not something new, since it emerged more than a decade ago, it has been subject to continuous evolution. Back in 2004, the movement started with a worldwide programme to create a digital community. Companies from diverse sectors, such as telecommunications, security, construction, audio-visual, consumer electronics, utilities, computer science, healthcare and education, jointly with governments and public administrations set the building blocks of the first digital cities that soon evolved to smart cities.

There is no one definition for the smart city label, but one of the most accepted ones entails the following factors:

  1. Complex interconnected systems that apply electronic and digital technologies to communities and citizen services (transport, energy resources, civil protection, communication…).
  2. The use of ICT to transform life and working environments.
  3. Identification and reaction to consumer needs, embedding such information in systems, knowledge management and practices that bring people together.

Whether it is large capitals or smaller cities, there is a worldwide trend towards attaining the qualifying of smart. There are different non-excluding models that can support the development of smart cities, based on 4 fundamental dimensions:

  • Sustainability
  • Connectivity
  • Innovation
  • Social Cohesion

The true metropolis should embrace all the dimensions above, but successful players have proven that focus on selected categories rather than tackling all of them at the same time is an effective strategy.

New York, London, Paris, Barcelona, Singapore or Stockholm is real examples of advanced cities. Any tips that others can follow to progress and qualify as smarter?

Smart city roadmap

Here are 9 tips that can help to create the smart city roadmap:

  1. Meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, through the improvement of environmental sustainability. This encompasses antipollution plans, support for green buildings and alternative energy, efficient water management, and policies that help counter the effects of climate change.
  2. Adequate urban planning to improve the habitability of a territory, avoid over-costs and incentivise investment. Design local master plans, including compact, well-connected and accessible public services, green areas and spaces for smart growth.
  3. Improve the administration’s efficiency, redefining organisational and management models. There is a high correlation between public management and the state of public finances. And public accounts decisively affect people’s quality of life and a city’s sustainability, as they determine the level of taxes that must be supported by residents and the production system, the expected growth of the general level of prices, the possibilities of investment.
  4. Improve the city brand and seek international outreach. Maintaining a global impact and having international recognition attracts foreign investment and contributes to developing representation abroad and strategic tourism plans.
  5. Facilitate movement through cities and access to public services. Mobility and transportation affect the quality of life and can be vital to the sustainability of cities over time. The workforce’s need to commute as well as the need for an outlet for production generates externalities in the production system that need to be addressed.
  6. Promote economic development of a territory: local economic development plans, transition plans, strategic industrial plans, and cluster generation, innovation and entrepreneurial initiatives.
  7. Make technology an integral part of the society’s backbone. Technology must be understood as the key enabler to gain and extend competitive advantages of a city’s productive system and quality of employment. A technologically developed city has proven significant comparative advantages in terms of security, education and health, which are basic to secure sustainability and the city’s capacity to optimise investment, consumption and labour productivity.
  8. Set effective, quality and sound guidance of state intervention encourage citizens’ participation and involve business leaders and local stakeholders in the application of government plans. The citizen is the meeting point for solving all the challenges facing cities. Authorities’ ability to engage all parties towards the same goal is a key success factor.
  9. Attract and retain talent: creating plans to improve education and promote creativity and research.

Moving one step forward

Development of smart cities should drive clear benefits, but public sector leaders face the imperative to protect their cities from rising new threats and challenges, such as cyber attacks, multimillionaire investments in advanced infrastructure, easy access to public data, changing consumption patterns shifting to the “phygital” world.

In the midst of the Digital Transformation wave, which most companies are undergoing, it is time to understand and design the future customer’s journey, reimagine the business and create a new user experience that will foster user adoption.

The model for success relies on three core elements:

  • Strategy
  • Collaboration
  • Sound principles

All of them are sourced by the power of innovation.

Strategy: Cities need to define their Identity and establish a strategic plan. One of the most important questions a city has to ask itself is: What kind of city do you want to be? The answer will not only define the identity but also the path of transformation.


“In order to execute the strategic plans, it is necessary to acknowledge that cities cannot do it all alone. The transformation of a city is not an individual undertaking but instead a collective endeavour, so collaboration is essential.” (Pascual Berrone and Joan Enric Ricart)

The majority of leaders are clear on the imperative to evolve from the idealistic vision of a smart city to the realistic one. The objective of making “cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” is among the United Nations’ “17 goals to transform our world”. How to make this happen? Collaboration is the cornerstone.

  • On one hand, governments need to bring together key stakeholders and experts to enable that the right insights are available to inform decision-making.
  • It is essential to agree on a unified strategic vision, which will drive efforts from the different parties in an aligned way.
  • With a clear and aligned vision in place, stakeholders can collaborate to achieve prosperous and future development for their cities leveraging on technology and operational enablers.

Sound principles

S = Security

M = Metrics

A = Adaptation and inclusion

R = Resilience

T = Technology as an enabler of innovation and sustainable growth

A SMART city must be able to detect people’s needs and react to citizens’ demands transforming human and systems’ interactions into knowledge. Delivery of secure and robust public services, ideally in real time and flexible enough to adapt and anticipate upcoming trends should be the key drivers of sustainable progress and continuous improvement.

Written by Amparo Marin, CIO, Technology and Regulatory Affairs at Santander España