A Systems Engineering Approach to Smart City Planning – Inspired by IEEE P2784

Written by Jim Frazer

Smart City planning covers a large range of human factors, stakeholder communities, applications, and technologies. The IEEE P2784 follows the system engineering process to ensure that solutions are embraced by a consensus of stakeholders, while being explicitly defined and managed from conception to commissioning, to operations to retirement. This process ensures the maximum impact of benefits in minimum time and at minimum net cost.

Smart Cities, as well as those aspiring to be "Smart", possess the responsibility of delivering critical products and services that are needed by businesses, public workers, and citizens 24 hours a day. Residents need clean water, businesses must have power, waste must be collected, and the school system must run thoroughly and efficiently. A city, county, or state relies on these functions to drive the revenue needed to operate in a prudent, cost-effective, and efficient manner. This revenue, whether from sales taxes, property taxes, income taxes, or user fees is all dependent on a vigorous economic environment ultimately dependent on growing economic activity and high-paying jobs. In a broader sense, these efforts also include the three pillars of sustainability: (1) to preserve and enhance the natural environment and (2) to preserve and enhance a resident's quality of life while doing so in a (3) economically viable manner. Each of the vertical applications described below contribute to these goals. Cities and other larger jurisdictions worldwide have awoken to the challenge of providing this forward-looking, future-proofed foundation.

Whether you are a city planner, urban practitioner, designer, government official, engineer, scientist, sociologist, geographer, researcher, or any other relevant actor who is passionate about Smart Cities, the nine critical applications of smart cities include:


1. The Built Environment

The Built Environment is about the human-made space in which people live, work, and recreate on a daily basis. This refers to the city’s buildings, parks, and public spaces. It includes schools, firehouses, police stations, and hospitals. HVAC, security, and lighting are all important parts of this domain.


2. Energy Infrastructure

Energy Infrastructure produces and delivers energy, primarily electricity and gas, for powering virtually all services and needs, processes, and comfort. This includes the substation, distribution assets, street lighting, and metering of municipally-owned utilities, as well as those of rural electrical cooperatives. The technologies of microgrids and energy storage, as well as photovoltaic and wind generation, are increasingly making an impact in this domain.


3. Telecommunications

Today, telecommunications is critical for citizens’ 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, and air and maritime ports all are critical. Today paradigm shifts are happening in many domains of mobility, from transportation service providers like Uber and Lyft, to more highly integrated Mobility-as-a-Service initiatives built on blockchain technology. Connected Vehicle technologies promise a reduction of incidents by up to 80%, 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

Telemedicine 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. Combining massive medical data with artificial intelligence will generate insights to assist doctors in health alerts, treatment monitoring, long-term care, and diagnosis.


6. Water and Wastewater

Water infrastructure includes collection, distribution, metering, and reclamation. Wastewater is water generated after the use of freshwater, drinking water, or saline water under different applications. Water purity and cleanliness are also addressed here, as well as the reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation.


7. Waste Management

The infrastructure responsible for the collection, distribution, reuse, and recycling of waste materials. Worldwide, incinerators and landfills are increasingly viewed as non-optimum methods for processing a city’s waste stream. Thankfully, insightful solutions are coming to market that address these critical issues.


8. Public Safety

Public safety infrastructure, agencies, and personnel keep citizens 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 are in this domain.


9. Payments and Finance

As we stated above, sales taxes, property taxes, income taxes, or user fees are all dependent on vigorous economic environment. 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. Unified portals can drive enhanced revenue where registration in one domain – like a city co-ed softball league may detect an address change - creating revenue from a required driver’s license update.  Enhanced applications include dynamic pricing for parking and many other similar applications. Lastly, many Smart City applications are now available on a subscription model where revenue is shared between the private provider and the public agency – thus eliminating any upfront capital contribution from the city.


Next, let’s examine the foundational technologies used to achieve dramatic improvements in each of those Smart City domains.


1. Instrumentation and Control Systems

Instrumentation and Control Systems are how a smart city monitors and controls the operational parameters of its electric distribution and metering network, their water system, transportation network, and more. Instrumentation provides the raw sensory input of a smart city. This includes smart meters for electricity, water, and gas; air quality sensors; cameras, and Intelligent Transportation Systems technology on the roadway. Examples include switches, breakers, and other devices that let operators measure, monitor, and control both on-site and remotely.

2. Connectivity

Connectivity is machine-to-machine communications and is how the smart city’s devices communicate both with each other and with the management center. Connectivity ensures that data is promptly delivered to where it is analyzed. Examples include citywide WiFi networks, cellular networks, as well as networks for electric metering, street lighting, and traffic signal control. Technologies needed should be characterized by low power, extensive geographic coverage, inexpensive and feature a long battery life.

3. Interoperability

Interoperability ensures that products and services from disparate providers can exchange information and work together seamlessly. Interoperability’s many benefits include allowing city management to choose between many suppliers – thus eliminating long-term costly sole source agreements. Interoperability also drives product commoditization – thus driving down the acquisition costs. Lastly, it allows future-proofing a project – a solution can be built out over time without concerns about whether newly added segments will “plug-and-play” with those installed earlier.

4. Security and Privacy

Security and Privacy are technologies, policies, and practices that safeguard data, privacy, and physical assets. Today, the publishing of clear privacy rules and the implementation of a cybersecurity system is of prime importance. Security and privacy are foundational in smart cities' efforts as it builds trust with citizens, public agency staff, the business community, and other important stakeholder groups. Building this trust is imperative, as without it, Smart City initiatives may experience significant stakeholder pushback.

5. Data Management

Data Management includes processing and storage of data and ensuring its accuracy, accessibility, reliability, and timeliness. Data is perhaps the most foundational building block of a smart city initiative. In order to maintain data integrity and value, good stewardship using industry best practices and standards is required – including proper policies around access, authentication, and authorization. In order to allow cross-pollination of applications across a city’s often siloed departments, open data standards should be employed.


6. Computing Resources

Computing Resources include embedded near real-time control system components up to substantial data center server farms. It’s important to define this term broadly as it includes mobile phones, handheld communications devices on private first responder networks, and all personal computers on the network. It can include police body cams and other video surveillance systems as well as other edge devices. Also, quantum computing will make a huge impact on optimization, and simulation. Quantum computes will be linked together.

7. Information Analytics

Information Analytics create actionable information from the raw data that the instrumentation and control system collects. This can include crowd control or gunshot detection analytics in order to determine where to best deploy a police presence, electricity demand response analytics in order to determine the best energy efficiency incentive for customers - in near real-time, and fastest and least expensive routes for transit users.

In Part 2 of this article in the July issue, we’ll examine the systems engineering process, including:

  1. Discussing the value of technical standards to the process
  2. Describing challenges to the process and how to overcome them
  3. Reviewing the top 12 dramatic benefits realized through the use of SEP for Your Smart City Project.



This article was edited by Loi Lei Lai

To view all articles in this issue, please go to June 2022 eNewsletter. For a downloadable copy, please visit the IEEE Smart Cities Resource Center.

Jim hs
Jim Frazer leads the Infrastructure and Smart Cities consulting team at ARC Advisory. Jim has authored many lighting, transportation and Smart City project specifications for end users as well as national and international standards for the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the United States Department of Transportation.

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