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Smart city research initiative aims to develop results-driven playbook

ESI ThoughtLab will define the cost benefits of smart city investments and provide city and business leaders with an evidence-based guide.

The playbook aims to bridge the information gap on the economics of a smart city
The playbook aims to bridge the information gap on the economics of a smart city

Research firm ESI ThoughtLab has brought together a coalition of companies with expertise in key sectors within cities to develop a playbook for becoming a smart city.


Given the rapid pace of digital change, ESI said the aim is to provide city leaders with the analysis they need to create digitally enabled and interlinked urban ecosystems.




The evidence-based playbook will set out to help identify the technologies and data solutions that will deliver the greatest social, economic, and business benefits to citizens and companies.


Ultimately, by using technology to transform and interlink key elements of their urban ecosystems, smart cities can promote a virtuous cycle of economic growth and social wellbeing that will attract more business, talent, and investment.


This coalition includes Deloitte, Oracle, Eaton Lighting, NTT Group, Stantec, Pennoni, Nokia, Cognizant, and Visa.


The coalition also comprises research organisations from the private and public sectors, including the Organisation for International Economic Relations (OiER), the Penn Institute of Urban Research, the IESE Business School Cities in Motion, MetroLab Network, Viable Cities, the Smart Cities Council, Renaissance Urbaine, Anbound, the Re-Imagining Cities Foundation, and more.


“Businesses and residents around the world are embracing technological innovation faster than many cities can react. With digital change happening in hyper-speed, urban leaders need to act now to bridge the technology gap between their cities and stakeholders,” said Lou Celi, CEO of ESI ThoughtLab.


“But to make this happen, city leaders need rigorous analysis on the smart investments and practices that will drive the best economic, business, and social outcomes.”


According to ESI, urban leaders face a huge information gap on the economics of smart cities – a gap that is impeding the ability of communities to transform into digitally-empowered, sustainable cities of the future.

“City leaders need rigorous analysis on the smart investments and practices that will drive the best economic, business, and social outcomes”

The 2019 Smart City Research Initiative, Building a Hyperconnected City: Business models, use cases, and benchmarks behind high performance seeks to fill this void. It will examine the ROI of smart city programmes of 100 leading cities around the world of varying sizes and levels of economic development.


ESI ThoughtLab will conduct the research over the next eight months and release the results at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona in November 2019.


Comprehensive research


Working together with the coalition of companies and research partners, ESI ThoughtLab’s team of urban experts, economists, and thought leadership specialists will draw on advanced analytics and economic models to conduct this comprehensive research programme.


The programme will include:

  • A rigorous benchmarking study of 100 smart cities of varying sizes, locations, and levels of economic development
  • Development of a database including data from the smart cities themselves, respected secondary sources, and corporate and research members of the coalition
  • Analysis of smart city investments and returns in all parts of a city’s ecosystem, including mobility and transportation, energy and the environment, IT infrastructure and telecoms, water and waste management, buildings and infrastructure, safety and health, and talent and education
  • Measurement of performance impacts from the use of emerging technologies, including AI, blockchain, IoT, cloud, open platforms, 5G, data warehouses/lakes, mobile apps, virtual and augmented reality, and drones and robots
  • Creation of bespoke cost-benefit models quantifying the impact and payback period of smart city investments across the urban ecosystem
  • In-depth interviews with key city leaders to gain insight into best practices and proven use cases of smart initiatives, with ROI analysis, in key areas of the urban ecosystem.

The programme output, which will be provided for free, will include an eBook, executive summary, city benchmarking platform, and a microsite that urban leaders can use to help them drive high performance from their smart city initiatives.


“By drawing on the data and resources of our coalition of corporate and research partners, as well as city benchmarking participants, we aim to deliver a concrete roadmap to becoming a smart city,” added Dr Daniel Miles, chief economist, ESI ThoughtLab, and research manager for the programme.


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