Smart City Platform Strategies

Author photo: Larry O'Brien
ByLarry O'Brien
ARC Report Abstract

Executive Overview

Smart cities can be viewed as a system of systems. These include smart lighting systems, building automation systems, emergency management systems, security and access control systems, intelligent grids, renewable power, water treatment and supply, transportation, and more.  The smart city concept is not new; many of these systems existed well before the term “smart cities” was coined.  As a result, these systems often consist of older legacy technology combined with new IoT-based systems and technologies.  What is new, is the concept of a smart city “platform” to unify these systems for users.

Currently, the systems that control and operate today’s cities and communities typically function largely in a siloed manner, with little or no connectivity to other systems.   Clearly, cities do not function in such a siloed fashion.  What happens in one system can affect what happens in other systems throughout the city.  Drainage and flood control systems, for example, can impact both traffic management systems and emergency management functions.  Power systems have a critical impact on just about every function in the city.  If power consumption peaks on extremely hot days, how might a city utilize its energy management systems, intelligent building controls, or lighting controls to reduce peak load?  By monitoring and analyzing the usage of city assets, government can distribute the assets properly to improve operational efficiencies.

Smart city platforms serve to unify data and information from the many siloed systems.  The platforms provide a common mechanism for visualizing and managing data, and, most importantly, optimizing overall city operations.  More end users and owner-operators are starting to realize the value of unified smart city platforms.  These can provide seamless access to data across multiple systems and operating domains to create a unified and holistic view of the overall performance and state of the city and its various functions. 

The age of the Internet of Things (IoT) has brought with it an increasingly broad range of sensors, computing technologies, and services, leading to many new smart city platform offerings.  Managing the massive amounts of data generated by IoT-based sensors and systems, however, is a primary challenge that end users and vendors alike must address.  A good smart city platform unifies and helps provide context for the huge array of data generated and turns these data into actionable, contextualized information that can be used to reduce energy consumption and operational costs, while improving the overall safety and quality of life of citizens. 

However, as we’ll discuss in this report, a good smart city platform implementation requires the right functionality, security, and empowered workers to succeed.   

What Is a Smart City Platform?

Clearly, many cities are becoming “smarter” to various degrees by employing an increasingly broad array of digital technologies and smart sensors.  In broad terms, a smart city is connected, intelligent, and optimized to reduce costs, increase safety, attract investment, improve sustainability, and enhance livability. 

Perhaps most importantly, smart cities create a foundational infrastructure for the high-wage jobs of the future.  Jobs drive city revenue through sales, income, and property taxes.  This requires smart governance; a smart, educated workforce; and smart citizens; plus, the digital transformation of assets and the deployment of sensor networks with ubiquitous multimodal connectivity. 

Smart city platforms perform many functions.  These include analytics, remote asset monitoring, performance management, decision support and/or presentation components.  At its core, the smart city platform should include a common environment for visualization, advanced applications, analytics, and contextualized data. 

Smart city platforms should also include elements for cybersecurity and may include capabilities to manage devices, systems, and networks.  Common APIs and application development tools may also be included as well as other advanced functions such as GIS and location services, advanced reporting, and simulation. 

Smart City Platforms Are Part of The Operational IoT Edge

Most smart city platforms today are IoT-enabled and may be deployed in a private, public, or hybrid cloud, via remote server, or on-premise.  Many of today’s IoT-based smart city platforms reside at what ARC defines as the Industrial IoT Edge, but also sometimes referred to as the “operational IoT edge.”

Increasingly, the industry is recognizing the importance of the edge of industrial internet-enabled architectures for its important role in fulfilling the promise of digital transformation strategies.  Initially focused on delivering timely, clean data to cloud-based applications, the operational IoT edge has emerged as an entirely new ecosystem within the overall enterprise architecture.  

smart city platform strategies

ARC defines the Industrial IoT edge as the place where physical devices, assets, machines, processes, and applications intersect with internet-enabled portions of the architecture.  Industrial IoT edge devices provide input to, and may receive output from, industrial internet-enabled systems, applications, and services, but reside outside of clouds and data centers.  Edge systems typically operate on-premise but are distinct from traditional non-internet-connected automation and control systems. 

Suppliers are responding to the emergence of the Industrial IoT edge by expanding the range of hardware, software, and solutions targeted to serve its broadening functional spectrum.  Traditional automation gateways used for simple protocol conversion have morphed into edge computing devices that support standard microprocessors, Linux and other COTS-based operating systems, and containers.  Escalating compute and storage requirements are forging a new “thick” edge that re-sides above the network infrastructure layer to further enable edge processes.

Industrial IoT edge software platforms have likewise emerged from their origins in device connectivity and management to become full-blown IT/OT integration and application execution environments capable of serving escalating requirements at this tier of the architecture.  These platforms are increasingly viewed as the vehicles for local computation and application execution in service to Industrial IoT-enabled business improvement processes.

Smart City Platforms Eliminate Vertical Industry and Application Silos

By definition, smart city platforms can integrate many different functional areas of a smart city into a single environment.  The smart city platform suppliers may specialize in one or several smart city applications, such as smart lighting or traffic management systems, but the software platform should be able to integrate data from multiple smart city application areas. 

Common Functional Areas

ARC recognizes nine critical smart city application domains:

1. The Built Environment

The Built Environment refers to all of a city’s buildings, parks and public spaces. This includes schools, firehouses, police stations and hospitals. HVAC, security, lighting are all important parts of this domain.

2. Energy Infrastructure

Energy Infrastructure produces and delivers energy, primarily electricity and gas. This includes the substation, distribution assets, streetlighting and metering of municipally owned utilities as well as those of rural electrical cooperatives.  Microgrid and energy storage technologies as well as photovoltaic and wind generation are increasingly impacting this domain.

3. Telecommunications

Today, telecommunications are critical for citizen’s safety and well-being as well as for the economic vitality of the business community. High-capacity, well-priced broadband is required for virtually all business activities today – from call centers, and retail distribution hubs, to server farms and medical imaging and telepresence.

4. Transportation and Mobility

Roads, streets, bike lanes, walking paths, vehicles, public transport, airports, and maritime ports all are critical.  We are now seeing paradigm shifts in many domains of mobility.  Connected vehicle technologies promise to reduce incidents by up to 80 percent, and autonomous vehicles may deliver you or your purchases to a final destination with an efficiency unimaginable just a few years ago.

5. Health and Human Services

Tele-medicine and educational virtualization are poised to bring these critical services to underserved communities whether rural or urban. Community outreach and online voting are included here.

6. Water and Wastewater

Water infrastructure includes collection, distribution, metering, treatment, and reclamation. Water purity and cleanliness are also addressed here, as well as reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation or industrial purposes.  Municipal water and wastewater utilities are often also responsible for managing stormwater runoff and monitoring combined sewage and stormwater discharges.

7. Waste Management

Waste management spans the infrastructure responsible for collecting, distributing, reusing, and/or recycling solid waste materials. World-wide, incinerators and landfills are increasingly viewed as non-optimum methods for processing a city’s solid waste stream.  Thankfuly insightful solutions are coming to market to help address these critical issues.

8. Public Safety

Public safety infrastructure, agencies and personnel keep citizens and businesses safe.  This includes the police, fire, and EMS first responders as well as emergency and disaster prevention and management agencies, courts, and corrections facilities. Law enforcement body cams as well as IoT-enabled gunshot location systems fall within this domain.

9. Payments and Finance

Payments are at the core of economic activity in cities and underlie every economic transaction including salaries, consumer spending, business procurement, and taxes. Streamlining the payment process by a simple online bill payment process can yield great dividends. Enhanced applications include dynamic pricing for parking and similar applications. Lastly, many smart city applications are now available via a subscription model with revenue shared between the private provider and the public agency – thus eliminating any upfront capital contribution from the city.


Many smart city platform providers talk about a “single pane of glass” for end users to enable them to visualize the many functions of a smart city.  This common visualization and human machine interface are an essential part of the smart city platform.  Common visualization can improve situational awareness for operators and can greatly reduce training costs.  New advancements in operator interface design are making it easier for end users to spot critical information and make operational improvements. 

Data Management

Smart city platforms should include a common mechanism for data management.  With the implementation of a true smart city platform, data from any smart city system or application domain should be accessible by anyone that requires it from any point in the system.  Having a good partner ecosystem and APIs that allow for integration with a broad spectrum of applications is also important. 

Smart cities must also be able to turn the millions of data points from intelligent sensors and other connected assets into useful information.  For this reason, a good smart city platform should provide a mechanism for common contextualization of data throughout the system. 

Connectivity and Networks

Smart city platforms must provide connectivity to a wide range of OT and other networks and protocols all the way down to the sensor level.  These include protocols like BACnet and LONworks for building automation systems as well as a wide range of Ethernet-based networks and other networks that incorporate the IP suite of technologies, including wireless networks.  The influx of IoT-based solutions and industrial edge solutions also drives increased adoption of newer networking technologies, and protocols, such as 5G and MQTT. 


Smart city platforms must incorporate cybersecurity pervasively across the system throughout its lifecycle.  This includes secure development lifecycle practices for application development, relevant security certification for products and applications, cybersecurity through project implementation, and the incorporation of cybersecurity discipline in the operational phase of the system through proper training, work processes, and cybersecurity products and services.

Products, applications, and services for cybersecurity can include firewalls, endpoint protection solutions (antivirus and application whitelisting), threat detection and response solutions, asset inventory solutions, security information and event management, and more.  Cybersecurity services also cover the lifecycle from assessment related services through operational services such as outsourced security operations centers (SOCs). 

Analytics and Advanced Applications

Advanced applications, including analytics-enabled applications, form a large portion of the business value proposition associated with smart cities.  Smart city platforms must provide an open and secure environment that enables these applications to take the myriad data points from different sources and turn them into useful, contextual information that can be used to make intelligent decisions about city operations. 

Examples of advanced smart city applications and analytics functions include things like unified reporting tools that allow end users and owner operators to compare and examine relationships between trends in different systems.  In the transportation management sector, for ex-ample, users can compare historical performance of parking occupancy and stay times versus energy consumption by outdoor lighting systems and traffic density.  This can help optimize parking availability and mitigate traffic snarls.  Other advanced applications include policy automation and enforcement tools, and support of standard operating procedures. 

One of the more exciting prospects for IoT and cloud computing in the world of smart city platforms is the ability to bring analytics to the edge.  Cloud-based analytics applications have been available for some time, but with the advent of the Industrial IoT, some of their functionality is migrating out of the cloud and onto the network edge. 

This is particularly true for the predictive analytics that help reduce downtime, maximize performance, enhance production operations, and deliver other important Industrial IoT business value propositions.  Availability of analytical feedback on or near the target assets delivers speedy (ultimately, even real-time) feedback. 

Smart City Platforms Must Turn Data into Useful Information

Cities can’t be “smart” unless the right people are empowered to make good decisions.  Large networks of legacy systems, combined with new IoT-based sensors and systems, can make it challenging for smart cities to manage all these different data sources and turn the data into useful, actionable information.  However, providing common actionable context for data from those myriad sensors and systems creates many opportunities to improve performance, increase safety, reduce lifecycle cost, and improve citizens’ quality of life.

More Data, More Complexity

If the age of digitalization has provided us with anything, it is lots of data.  Millions of data points from millions of sensors are connected to an increasingly wide range of systems and applications.  Turning all these data into useful information is a tremendous challenge.  Data comes in widely varying formats, with different vendors handling and expressing data in different ways.  Different protocols also have different ways of expressing data, and the lack of a single standard protocol in smart cities and building automation compounds the issue. 

The Cost of Point-to-Point Integration

Lack of common context for data comes with a cost.  In today’s smart city implementation projects, much of the integration between systems and applications must be done in a point-to-point fashion with the aid of a systems integrator or engineering firm.  This is a great cost to end uses and owner- operators. 

For smart city-related software and system implementation projects, custom integration can account for more than half of the overall project cost.  This offers a significant business opportunity and potential to reduce both project and ongoing operational costs, since these custom-integrated environments must be maintained throughout their lifecycles.   The end user must maintain the custom installation throughout its lifecycle and these costs will continue, or even increase over time. 

Table of Contents

  • Executive Overview
  • What Is a Smart City Platform?
  • Smart City Platforms Must Turn Data Into Useful Information          
  • How Smart City Platforms Provide Value
  • Conclusions and Recommendations


ARC Advisory Group clients can view the complete report at ARC Client Portal   

If you would like to buy this report or obtain information about how to become a client, please Contact Us     

Engage with ARC Advisory Group

Representative End User Clients
Representative Automation Clients
Representative Software Clients