A Guide to Creating New Citizen Experience in IoT-Based Smart Cities


Cities turn to IoT technologies to solve various tasks: optimize city management, ensure better service delivery, increase energy savings, etc. Busy with these tasks, they often lose sight of the central goal – catering for citizens.  No wonder people start perceiving IoT-based smart city solutions as having questionable value for citizens. In this article, we prove the opposite and explain how to build a city that creates new experience for city dwellers.

Let’s keep it simple: citizen-centric approach starts with a clear vision. With a focus on infrastructure and services, smart city development is driven by separate, unrelated projects. To become truly smart, cities need to move forward to an integrated approach, building a holistic platform with well-defined interfaces. It will help cities deal with large-scale streams of data, leaving space for integration and expansion, as well as address the following key goals:

  • Automate service delivery, e.g. notify a truck driver to empty a full waste container.
  • Address citizens’ requests in a timely manner, and give citizens feedback when the request is fulfilled or if it’s delayed.
  • Ensure citizens’ engagement, creating a common space that unites citizens and city administration.

To achieve these goals, it makes sense to focus on the following smart city platform components:

  • IoT solution
  • Service management solution
  • Citizen portal

IoT solution
IoT smart city solutions gather, store and process data from sensors. For example, sensors gather data on the fill level of waste containers and relay it to the cloud for processing. Once the relevant data is processed, IoT solution takes an output action – sends a notification to a truck driver, informing them to empty a waste container.  Output actions also include altering traffic lights, sending alerts to field technicians, isolating water pipe sections in case of a leakage, etc.

Cities use sensor data to make urban life significantly better: manage congestion, maximize the efficiency of energy use, enhance public security, etc. But to create even better experience for citizens, cities can combine sensor data with the data about the inhabitants (it comes from a citizen portal, social media, citizens’ mobile app) and the infrastructure of a city (it comes from municipal databases.)

Connecting “thing” data with the data about inhabitants who use or operate them provides great personalization opportunities and helps to implement IoT smart city services faster and at a lower cost. For example, cities can map citizens’ journeys to monitor traffic or adjust traffic lights waiting times. For that, citizens’ smartphones receive GPS signals from satellite navigation systems that determine their location. To make use of this data, a city application anonymously sends location data to a smart city platform.

Connecting sensor data with the data about the infrastructure of an IoT-equipped smart city helps monitor the performance of “things”, schedule preventive maintenance, and fix them before they pose any threat to citizens.

Service management solution
The main task for a service management solution is to provide timely support for citizens and address their queries as fast as possible. With a service management solution, IoT-based smart cities can gather citizens’ queries across different channels (e-mail, social networks, online communities, phone, web-chats, etc.), prioritize and assign them to support agents.

For example, a citizen notices that a road sign is damaged and reports an issue. A service management solution processes a query and automatically creates, prioritizes and assigns a case to a support agent. The agent schedules a case and sends a notification to a field worker who starts fixing the issue. Once the issue is resolved, the agent closes the case and gives feedback to the citizens, informing them about what was done with their contribution.

Integration of a service management solution with an IoT solution implies even more automation of handling problems. This way, a problem is identified automatically, without any human intervention. An IoT solution constantly monitors the state of connected things and if an outage takes place or a device is broken, a new case is automatically created in a service management solution. As soon as the device is fixed, the case is closed in a service management solution and its status is set back to ‘normal’ in IoT solution. Such integration has many benefits. It allows users to automate frequently occurring tasks, bring unnecessary manual labor down to a minimum, as well as identify and solve problems before anyone notices.  

Citizen portal
A smart city is not just an automated city – it creates a common space for citizens. One of the means to achieve this is creating a citizen portal. Citizens use it for numerous purposes:

  • Communicate and exchange data with city administration and other citizens in real time.
  • Access knowledge bases (blogs, wikis, files) to find information on public transport, energy prices, waste collecting schedules, etc.
  • View live data from particular hotspots, e.g. a city mayor’s speech.
  • Leave feedback and recommendations, e.g. on the quality of services the city provides.
  • Report malfunctions and file cases, e.g. report broken connected things, waste dumping, or crimes.

For example, Los Angeles has developed a citizen portal that allows citizens to anonymously report crimes, find the closest police station, schedule a field worker, access an open data knowledge base, find a parking spot, check public transport schedules, pay parking tickets, etc.

Additionally, since more than 80% of governments have social media presence cities can integrate a citizen portal with their social media pages in Facebook and Twitter and use them for feedback or as reporting channels. This way, portal users could process queries coming from different social networks in one place.

What’s in practice?
To illustrate how these platform components work together, let’s consider an example.

One of the connected streetlights goes out. IoT smart city solution constantly monitors the state of streetlights and identifies the problem. It sets the streetlight’s status to ‘outage’ and automatically creates a case in a service management solution. It is possible due to the integration of an IoT solution with a service management solution.

An alternative case is when a traditional streetlight not equipped with sensors goes out. Since it is not connected to an IoT solution, the outage cannot be identified automatically. In this case, if a citizen notices an outage, they take a picture and upload it to a citizen portal. Due to the integration of a citizen portal with a service management solution, a query automatically opens in a service management solution. A service management solution processes the query and creates a new case.

Then, in both scenarios, the case is automatically prioritized and sent to a support agent. The agent assigns the case to a field worker. The field worker who uses a mobile app receives an alert, drives to the required location and starts fixing the issue. As soon as the issue is fixed, the case closes in a service management solution and its status sets back to ‘normal’ in an IoT solution. To inform city dwellers that the issue is resolved, platform users can set rules to automatically respond to the citizens involved, as well as post a message on a citizen portal.

How to hasten implementation?
Implementing a smart city is a large-scale project. To get value faster and avoid freezing investments, it makes sense to apply iterative approach. Iteration implies building a core solution and then expanding it both vertically and horizontally.

Vertical expansion means achieving a more functional architecture e.g. adding more data storage capacity, integrating deep analytics tools, developing mobile apps for instant interaction with citizens, etc.

Horizontal expansion means better connection between separate smart city solutions. Taking data or capabilities from two or more separate solutions and integrating them together can create new functionality. For example, integrating a smart traffic solution to a smart environment solution can help to monitor air pollution level in the city and, based on it, redistribute traffic, automatically altering traffic lights.

On a final note
Combining sensor data with pseudo-anonymized data about citizens, cities create a well-rounded picture of how citizens interact with the city. This helps to deliver more personalized experience.

With service management solutions, cities constantly gather queries from a variety of different channels and respond to them in a timely manner.

With a citizen portal, cities create a common space for city dwellers, facilitate interaction between citizens and city administration, as well as gather feedback and provide relevant information about city services.

About the author: Alex Grizhnevich is a process automation and IoT consultant at ScienceSoft, an IT consulting and software development company headquartered in McKinney, Texas. His 17+ years’ experience in IT and OT includes programming industrial microcontrollers, developing web and desktop applications, databases and document management solutions for oil & gas and logistics. Holding the degree in automation and management of industrial processes, Alex is now focusing on IoT and machine learning on sensor data.

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