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The three-legged stool of smart cities

(Image credit: Image Credit: Jamesteohart / Shutterstock)

We all have a clear idea of what a smart city should look and feel like, from free Wi-Fi to sustainable energy, the desirable features are numerous in their potential. However, before we begin designing a smart city, we have to examine what a smart city needs to function. We have to ask ourselves, what are the core pillars each connected community must be founded on to function? Effectively, what is the “three-legged stool” of the smart city – the stool being an analogy for the key aspects which the city needs to survive, and where without one leg it would cease to function.

These are the questions we ask ourselves at CGI on every smart city project we undertake, and for us, the three-legged stool of smart cities includes a combination of high-speed connectivity, a balanced infrastructure and ecosystem of data, and security

At this point, it’s a basic expectation that smart cities are our future. Without a balanced structure, they will flounder to start and drown under the inevitable progress of technology. But why are these the must-haves? Well, let me explain.

High speed connectivity

As such, the community will depend on high speed reactions. To have delays or crashes would be detrimental to the functioning of the entire environment, leading to more than grumbles but a decline in productivity, economy, and quality of life.

What is implemented isn’t as important as the implementation itself. When it comes to this topic, you can speak to several different people and get several different answers. Some might steadily recommend fibre optics while others sing the praises of 5G. Some may even tell you that the combination of both is the best solution. Regardless of where you stand, what is critical, is that whether you are creating a smart community for 500 or 5000, high-speed connectivity should be installed at the start.

Without high-speed connectivity, a smart city is likely to fail before it’s begun. To make a smart city a reality you have to find a way to support multiple organisational models, including local councils and authorities. You have to bring together a myriad of departments, systems, and functions. On top of this, it has to be connected effectively for public and private sectors to coexist seamlessly.


A balanced infrastructure and an ecosystem of data

The interconnectedness of smart cities means they will thrive on the interoperability between systems, devices, citizens and buildings. As such, a balanced infrastructure and cohesive ecosystem of data is needed for them to succeed and have a smooth day to day functioning.

Citizens will be required to move seamlessly within smart cities. As such, there is a requirement for various standards bodies to collaborate and define how best to support infrastructure and ecosystems. These ecosystems should be based on use cases, data and outcomes that the institutions define, and will feed into creating an infrastructure.

However, where do you begin? At first, there won’t be a single, smart city in the world which has the infrastructure built entirely from scratch, so how do you deal with legacy systems? We get asked this question a lot at CGI, and it’s entirely valid. What is best, to remove the legacy systems you already have in place and have in all likelihood invested in heavily – both with money and time – or do you work on updating them?

When we began working on a recent smart city project, we decided it was best to use and reuse what we could wherever we could. It’s a decision which will allow us to move swiftly in implementation, but it will also reduce costs in the long run. With the money they save from this decision, they are now able to invest it in other areas of the evolution of the city as needs change.

However, if you do decide to reuse and incorporate existing software into the development of your smart city, the important thing is to remember that you don’t want legacy systems to take you down any dead ends. The simple solution is to build a thorough roadmap which makes sure you are going to support the future.


Last, but by absolutely, no means least is security. I can’t say it enough, but this is perhaps THE most critical aspect of a smart city. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the sheer quantity of data a smart city will be dealing with on a second by second basis.

You have to guarantee that the best and most up to date measures are in place to protect data and sensitive information. As such, a clear cybersecurity plan should be in place from the start and updated throughout.

Security is more than cybersecurity. It’s also the security of having multiple back-ups. Knowing that if something stops working, the function of a city doesn’t grind to a halt. We think of smart cities as a digital environment, which of course they are, but in tech an issue which stops processes can make everything feel rather analogue – like a jammed cog if you will.

To prevent a standstill, you need to have the security of back-up options, processes, and programs which automatically come into play when something is down but also flag when something is failing or has failed. Without this, your city is vulnerable to multiple issues.

A smart city needs all three of these aspects to reach its potential and when developing one, we must think of the “three-legged stool”; high-speed connectivity, a balanced infrastructure and an ecosystem of data, security. Without taking this into account, a smart city is unlikely to get far off the ground. It’s the collection of these three elements that will help establish a functioning and successful connected community.

Andrew Palmer, CGI

Communications Subject Matter Expert.