Supporting the smart city agenda

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In the first of a series of articles examining how smart cities will impact our urban environment, Rebecca De Cicco, Director at Digital Node shines a light on what the UK is achieving in this burgeoning sector and how BIM will need to play its part

According to the UN’s latest 2018 Revision of World Urbanisation Prospects, the world’s urban population currently stands at 4.2 billion, with around 68% of the whole world’s population projected to live in urban areas by 2050.

The report even suggests that by 2030, we will see 43 megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants, mostly in developing regions. It’s no surprise then that this shift toward urbanisation presents a complicated set of challenges in meeting the needs of the population regarding sustainable development, housing, transport, energy, employment, education, health care, and infrastructure.

How we approach and solve these challenges is an urgent issue with smart city systems being hailed as the answer to manage resources and the economies associated with such a population shift.

Our future cities must be ‘smart’, but what does that mean? The British Standards Institute (BSI) defines the smart city term as “the effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens”. The definition sounds simple, but the challenges of delivery are not.

Standards to support smart cities

In 2014 BSI produced the Smart Cities Vocabulary within PAS180, recognising that terminology and analytical language surrounding smart cities would require some standardisation regarding this agenda. Aimed at city leaders, this PAS defined terms which included intelligent city concepts across different infrastructure and systems elements. They also developed the PAS 181 Smart City Framework to enable city leaders to develop, agree and deliver smart city strategies, and the PAS 182 Smart City Concept Model; a guide to establishing a model for data, tackling the barriers to implementing intelligent city concepts, including the interoperability of systems and datasharing between agencies.

These PAS documents outlined the standards to provide the necessary conditions for innovation and collaboration, recognising that each city would likely have a different vision to meet its individual vision for its future. When one considers BIM in the world of smart cities, intelligent clients and a BIM-enabled supply chain would certainly be desired, ensuring the information translated to the asset owner or city would be ‘smart’ enough to use and reuse downstream. Keeping systems connected to other smart city systems such as roadways, lighting systems, underground services etc., is the key, and a building built with BIM at its heart can enable the integration with other systems and supply the data required for future infrastructure, planning and maintenance.

The London approach

So, how well is the UK adopting smart city principles, concepts, and programmes? A recent study from Philips Lighting cited London, along with Singapore and Barcelona as being the world’s best, with London being commended for its focus on communities when implementing technology. However, the report indicated that local authorities are being hindered through budget limitations, a lack of leadership in the implementation, limited capabilities in infrastructure and challenges around short-term planning.


The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently unveiled the new Smarter London Together smart cities roadmap aiming to tackle the main inhibitors to digitised cities, such as those mentioned above. Khan’s plan to make London the smartest city in the world relies on innovative data capture and how best that can serve citizens.

To capture that data, the roadmap requires the city’s 33 local authorities and public services to work and collaborate more effectively with data and digital technologies. The collation of this data will be supported by a new London Office for Data Analytics (LODA) which was developed during a 2016-2017 pilot. LODA will use data science techniques to deliver significant benefits for citizens that can be designed around their needs, prove efficiency gains for public services, and how new technologies and smart city devices can be used to solve urban challenges like air quality.

About the author

Rebecca De Cicco is the director and founder of Digital Node, a BIM-based consultancy working with clients all over the world to educate, manage and support the implementation of a clearly defined process, underpinned by technology.

The technology market

As smart cities rely on everything being connected, the technology to enable not only intelligent services for citizens but to connect them with authorities is the bedrock of how a smart city can be achieved.

From sensors to The Internet of Things, geospatial technology to AI, the marketplace is estimated to reach $400 billion by 2020 of which 10 per cent can be reaped by the UK. Fortunately, the UK is recognising this potential market, and programmes such as Innovate UK and the Future Cities Catapult are supporting innovative companies to create the solutions to our urban challenges.

Innovate UK’s work to support businesses to realise the potential of innovative new ideas has already seen a commitment of over £1.8 billion, creating nearly 70,000 jobs and £16 billion for the UK economy.

Their Future Cities Missions intend to offer businesses improved access to knowledge, markets, skills and partners based outside of the UK to help remove the barriers to global growth. These missions have seen companies visit Malaysia, Singapore, and most recently, Australia.

Digital Node was chosen on the Future Cities Mission to Australia this year out of hundreds of organisations in the UK to travel to Melbourne to support how BIM and future cities are interconnected. Melbourne was chosen as the Australian city to support this mission as it was noted that future predictions on the city confirmed its rapid population increase in the next ten years, as well as the opportunities for UK businesses to offer their services in this city. An example of other companies who joined us on this mission included Just Park, a consultancy using a smartphone application to support intelligent parking systems as well as Grid Smarter Cities (gridsmartercities. com), a consultancy offering smart city eco-systems using data to connect communities, people, transport and parking. We were honoured to be part of such an intelligent forward thinking group.

Smart cities form a crucial component to the future of our cities, and although BIM is vital to this incentive, it is only one part of the broader picture to enable technology, data and innovation to thrive support this agenda.

As more businesses realise the potential of engaging with, and delivering smart processes, we will see the expansion of skills, knowledge, and the use of such processes become part of the norm rather than their current status of something to be admired from afar.

Clcik here to read ‘Smart City Innovators‘, the second article in this series, in which Rebecca discusses the importance of supporting innovative companies in developing technologies for smart cities.



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