The Smart City Journey: 5 Key Steps to Success

View of downtown Columbus, Ohio skyline. Columbus was the winner of the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2016 Smart City Challenge.

View of downtown Columbus, Ohio skyline. Columbus was the winner of the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2016 Smart City Challenge. SHUTTERSTOCK


Connecting state and local government leaders

COMMENTARY | The path to becoming a smart city is eased by incorporating a few important steps into your planning.

Any city has the potential to become a smart city. The general criteria is pretty straightforward. All you need is to deploy sensors, cameras or other technology devices using a robust, ubiquitous network so that data can be collected and then analyzed in near real-time for the benefit of citizens and visitors. Most cities already have a network infrastructure in place throughout their communities ready to be leveraged. But, even so, the journey to fully achieving smart city status isn’t always simple or straightforward. For cities hoping to reach their smart city goals, they should consider incorporating these five key actions into their planning:

  1. Define the problem. Defining what the city wants to solve is the first step. For instance, if improving parking downtown is the goal, does the city know enough about the current challenges related to parking? Maybe the parking zones are too long or short to accommodate the parking needs. Or the issue could be the timing of the traffic signals, poor directional signage or lack of awareness of where free and metered parking is located. No matter what the issue ultimately is, cities have to understand it before making changes and will need the right corresponding data to help inform this process. ?
  2. Dedicate resources. Having a dedicated division within the municipality like an innovation department or specific positions that focus their time on smart initiatives helps ensure that plans become reality and are delivered on time and on budget. Data collection and analysis isn’t something that can be done on the side. It’s critical for the success of a smart city to be fully committed to overseeing and measuring data on an ongoing basis. ?
  3. Assemble a team. One of the key findings from successful smart city implementations is to not go on the journey alone. Even with a dedicated smart city department lead, it’s important to tap other city resources, bring in a citizen group and reach out to key technology partners to form a team approach on a path forward. Leveraging peer groups can provide a broad sponsorship platform for future innovation. In addition, involving multiple, diverse stakeholders has other benefits like sharing costs, pooling resources and incorporating equitable solutions.
  4. Create a vision. All smart deployments must answer the question: So what? Cities must be able to articulate the value that citizens will gain from the project. Sometimes the desired change is very straightforward like saving energy or saving money. But other times it might be “softer,” like increasing situational awareness to improve public safety. Bottom line, creating a vision is an important step for cities looking to get buy-in. Once established, city officials should socialize the vision with other city leaders and the community in order to gain the level of support needed for the project to be successful.
  5. Build and implement. Once there is buy-in and local officials have provided authorization, prioritize the technology and the areas where you want to start the deployment of smart technology. Give yourself time for deployment and to gather results before moving on to the next initiative. Come to agreements with your key stakeholders on milestones and metrics that will show the success of the project. Once goals are met, socialize the success as a win for the community, furthering the involvement from citizens and helping continue the culture of innovation.

As city leaders move forward and progress on their smart city initiatives, success lies in a strategic combination of the technology and people who are committed to the “possible” becoming the reality

Patti Zullo is senior director of Smart City Solutions for Spectrum Enterprise, a part of Charter Communications. Ms. Zullo is responsible for defining and executing the Spectrum Smart City go-to-market strategy. She has over 20 years of enterprise leadership experience in the areas of IOT/analytics, cloud, Internet security and mobile communications. For more information about Spectrum Smart City Solutions, visit

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