The phrase “smart city” isn’t an accolade. Wikipedia defines a smart city as an “urban area that uses different types of electronic methods and sensors to collect data. Insights gained from that data are used to manage assets, resources, and services efficiently…. This includes data collected from citizens, devices, buildings, and assets…. The smart city concept integrates information and communication technology.”


Other analysts also compile trends in technology each year. IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) reviewed 2020 and came to some of the same conclusions as IDC. It found COVID-19 had a marked influence on the pace of the adoption of three technologies:

  • More than half (55%) of the chief information officers and chief technology officers IEEE surveyed have sped up and increased adoption of resources in the cloud.
  • 52% have accelerated 5G adoption.
  • 51% have increased adoption of AI and machine learning.

The IDC report noted similar trends for municipal governments, and the authors projected the changes into the next five years through the complicated structures of urban landscapes. Internet of Things (IoT) was an important focus of both the IEEE and IDC analysts, especially as work-from-home adjustments have forced a flood of personal devices into mobile workforces.


The 10 most important trends in smart city technology will demand more investment, introduce more automation, and add more security risks. IDC’s FutureScape report includes the following shifts to a more digital environment:

1. In 2021, a disturbing 20% of digital devices deployed by urban governments will be compromised by malware and ransomware. The number of these devices have increased due to the urban IoT ecosystem along with the remote relocation of workers. IDC expects hackers will specifically target IoT networks that monitor grids and water networks. The report advises using AI and machine learning to redesign IoT ecosystems and to monitor and protect them from attacks.

2. Almost half (45%) of communities will transition by 2021 to hybrid workforces that depend on cloud-based apps, digital collaboration tools, and mobile technologies.

3. By 2022, 40% of cities will use digital space-planning tools like digital twins as part of their recovery from COVID.

4. Also by 2022, 40% of police agencies will use digital tools like video streaming and shared workflows to improve community safety. IDC expects a shift of emphasis away from violent crimes to the lower-level crime, mental health, addiction issues, juvenile delinquency, and other social issues that comprise 80% of the calls that come in daily. This shift will require greater investment in core technologies to deal with these issues.

5. 20% of midsize urban areas will hire staff specifically tasked with moving the municipalities in the direction of digital transformation and innovation by 2023.

6. Because urban public transportation has taken such a hit from the pandemic, 40% of cities with 500,000 or more residents will adopt technologies to increase private transportation strategies by 2023. These services could include mobility-as-a-service providers, car-sharing services, bikes, and electric scooters. And there will be new route plans to “be more self-contained/neighborhood centric while reducing scheduled routes to connect more distant neighborhoods.” One model that IDC describes as an “in-neighborhood hub-to-spoke” plan, will move away from the current one-size-fits-all plans.

7. Smart city investment by communities, utilities, telecom providers, and consultants will increase to $203 billion by 2024.

8. An overwhelming 75% of cities will intervene to end the digital divide in their communities by 2025. This will likely be built on high-speed connectivity designed as a public utility. Tech companies can contribute to the effort by repurposing unused spectrum such as TV Whitespace, and by offering new sources for connectivity such as low Earth orbit satellites from the SpaceX’s Starlink system.

9. In order to improve remote management of critical infrastructure and services, 30% of cities will turn to IoT, AI, and digital twins to create a hybrid physical/digital solution by 2025.

10. To provide delivery of 20% of municipal services and products by 2026, cities will turn to digital and hybrid digital/physical environments.


Taken all together, this list of changes describes an almost tectonic movement toward, and ultimate dependence on, a digital landscape that will not only look very different, but will, no doubt, also involve some resistance as changes are made along the way.

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