Smart Cities Pitfalls

A Smarter Way to Analyze Your Business

Pitfalls…What to watch for that could destroy your Smart City ambitions

Below is a partial list of questions to contemplate.  Answering other than “YES” to any of these questions suggests you should evaluate your city before you begin any smart city initiative.  What you need is insight and strategies that will help your city understand its “current reality” and what is necessary to enhance implementation of the Smart City concept.  In our discussion of the pitfalls associated with smart city initiatives there is at least one pitfall that will relate to each of these questions.

Can you answer “yes” to each of these questions?

  • Is your city prepared and ready to create and execute a complex transformation?
  • Is the description, purpose and expected result for each initiative defined and documented?
  • Is there a plan to deal with solid waste?
  • Does your city recycle and are the residents aware of the cooperation that is expected?
  • Are the required core technology migrations understood and defined for successful smart city implementation?
  • Is Automatic Vehicle Location used for city vehicles?
  • Are the required Strategic Partnerships defined to assure rapid and efficient implementation?
  • Is there a process established to deal with change management?
  • Is asset performance management a priority?
  • Does the city have an appropriate stakeholder structure that will accept and drive new technology?
  • Does your city have a vision and long-term commitment to evolving technology?
  • Are risks understood and identified for the perception, adoption, or confidence in smart environments?
  • Are user and technology requirements formally and regularly reviewed (and at what frequency)?
  • Is the city citizen centric (or not) i.e. impacts policy, technology adoption, benefits?
  • Has your city identified the barriers the community will have to overcome in order to implement smart city technologies?
  • Are there customer tools available to enhance service operations?
  • Will Smart City status impact the city’s environmental quality?
  • Have you identified areas of the city that pose unique challenges?

Each department in any city has the potential to be smarter.  That potential puts each department in position to improve the quality of life in the city by “enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment”. [i]

While every department in any city has the potential to be smarter, the utility department is the obvious place to offer ubiquitous benefits across the entire city.

Technology, Processes, and People are the three tenets of success in all departments for any smart city initiative, yet, as we investigate the pitfalls, you will be able to see the importance of the role of the utility.

Investigating, analyzing and addressing department issues around these three tenets, we will break down the pitfalls in five common attributes for each department; the objective being to help you avoid the majority of the pitfalls associated with community digitalization.  These attributes are: (1) Vision Strategy & Alignment (2) Culture, HR and Training, (3) People – Processes – Technology, (4) Business Attributes, and (5) Change Mechanics.

(1)   Vision, Strategy and Alignment

The first pitfall related to this common attribute is having business goals that are not aligned with the available technology.  While smart cities focus on connecting a secure and scalable network infrastructure to create solutions around some of the most difficult problems, aligning the business goals to the available technology is insightful and a deal-breaker in the vision of the initiative. 

There are pitfalls around not understanding the risks.  Mis-using integrated information from the various parameters can destroy the resilience of the power grid, negatively affect prioritization of road maintenance projects, or make it more difficult to predict how crowds might react to inclement weather.  Incorporating holistic risk management principles into the Smart City strategy and vision will promote long-term resilience of the project.

Problems caused by having leadership that is out of alignment for a complex transformation come in a variety of categories.  Decisions around technologies, strategies, applications, and institutional arrangements can fail to establish the potential to address and mitigate issues, thereby reducing ROI for projects and or allowing problems to cascade resulting in failed projects (projects that lose money).

Not having required partnerships in place often creates barriers that lead to project, financial and emotional sacrifices. The stressful task of building a Smart City is greatly reduced with partners that can absorb some of the stress.  Partnerships can be an effective solution to this challenge by easing up-front costs and providing benefits for citizens, cities and companies. They are particularly effective in the application of new technologies in the areas of Software as a Service, Technology around data staff augmentation and doing the work of a liaison between city staff and the utility.

(2) Culture, HR & Training

Focusing training on the wrong employee behaviors can impact pitfalls related to honesty, transparency, conscientiousness, fair dealing, policies and procedures.  Employees in all areas will have to expand their skill sets, especially in the utility, to include new technologies, effective change management, projects that promote green initiatives, operational efficiency, and citizen safety.

Misalignment of the decision-making process within any initiative can lead to groupthink.  Groupthink is not always a bad thing.  Sometimes having people in the group who tend to just do what everyone else does helps create an easier path to consensus.  But is it the best answer?  Groupthink can lead to disaster if doing what everyone else is doing happens to be the wrong thing.  Independent thinking with attention to detail is the preference to avoid this pitfall.

How you operate needs to include a city-wide safety and risk management culture.  Why?  Because how you operate needs to include a consideration of risk vs. reward and opportunity cost.  The utility should lead the way in this common attribute because in its role as a ubiquitous benefit for the entire community, it has the largest potential cost, pitfalls and rewards for each of its projects. A decrease in safety and an increase in risk issues are the result of encouraging the wrong culture.

A Problem Prevention Plan is essential.  Without this plan misalignment with the HR Roll can result in long term issues and short-term consequences.  To avoid this pitfall HR should have the responsibility to drive the four canons of any smart city initiative.

1.  Prevention – where HR should investigate the enterprise risk management of the city, the insurance policies that have been put in place and the policies and practices that will mitigate the impact of present and future incidents.

2.  Preparedness – where threats and vulnerabilities would be assessed, future business impacts would be analyzed, plans and procedures would be put in place, and employees would be trained according to the results of the assessments

3.  Response – HR should develop plans to control, contain, and minimize the impact of any potential incident

4.  Recovery – Every city, large and small, should have a problem recovery plan, also known as a business continuity plan, which involves input from management, supervisors and employees, as appropriate. The plan should include procedures, guidelines, call trees and other pertinent information for the business as well as plans for crisis management.

 (3)   People – Processes – Technology

While the foundation of a smart city is its use of technology to enhance city performance and optimize service delivery, a major factor in what makes a city a smart city is its level of sustainability.  A truly smart city uses technology to become self-aware, which enables informed decision making and facilitates positive change.  Technology is increasingly playing an integral role in how we plan, build, and serve our communities.  Not exploring Sustainability presents an ominous pitfall.

Cities worldwide are increasingly embedding smart technology to gather and analyze data.  Smart cities have a huge potential for improving sustainability, but are currently limited by market-focused economic models.

Misinterpretation of your maintenance best practices, not understanding the benefits of Waste Management and confusion related to the features and benefits of Asset Performance Management all relate to major pitfalls that could stop a Smart City initiative dead in its tracks.  Prior to beginning a Smart City initiative, the city should investigate the extent to which they understand what is to be accomplished in these three areas.

Day-to-day best practices promote the sharing and development of ideas and the ability to turn good ideas into value-creating products and services advancing technological innovation for Smart City status.  This allows the attributes associated with the strategic direction of the smart city initiative to bond, establishing a process that incorporates project perception, business performance, leadership, planning, asset management, change management and the IT process.

The last, and perhaps most important pitfall to be aware of that directly impacts people, processes and technology is misunderstanding the benefits of utility services.  Utility Services provide numerous benefits to the community and its residents.  The benefits of utility services include:

  • Telecommunications, electrical utilities, and natural gas
  • Certain transportation services
  • Water and wastewater treatment services
  • The supply of heating, and water for homes
  • The collection of waste water
  • The disposal of water
  • The disposal of waste
  • Matching local resources to local needs
  • The creation of special programs for energy efficiency, conservation and economic development incentives
  • Electric, gas, water & sewer crews located within the community
  • Local employment
  • Attracting and retaining commercial and industrial customers

 (4)    Business Attributes

Pitfalls related to not doing the necessary planning to set and maintain Strategic Direction will produce fundamentally flawed decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, who it serves, what it does and why. Ineffective strategic planning will speak to how an organization will know if it is successful. An ineffective strategic plan will negatively affect priorities, focus energy and resources in the wrong direction, weaken operations decisions, and challenge employees and other stakeholders that are trying to work toward common goals.

The mishandling of the IT process is a common pitfall in the development of a smart city.

There are five technologies crucial for smart cities and the IT process.  Mishandling any of these will put excessive pressure on the success of the project. These technologies are:

  • Sensors – Because they are ubiquitous components of the urban landscape. Sensors are a crucial component of any intelligent control system.
  • The Internet of Things Technology – IoT provides a template for a body of communicating devices that provide smart solutions to everyday problems.
  • An Information and Communication Technology – Creating a two-way communication channel is very important for a city to be smart.
  • Artificial Intelligence – allows machine to machine interaction by processing data and making sense out of it.
  • Geospatial Technology – provides a necessary framework for collecting data and transforming observation in these collections to facilitate software-based solutions around a smart infrastructure.

The misuse of Processing Management and Optimization best practices will impact on the adaptation of necessary networks.

Sensor and actuator networks are deployed to monitor the environment and civil infrastructure, and to improve on traffic conditions, energy distribution, and location-based commerce.  One of the key challenges in the use of Processing Management and Optimization best practices is the management of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).  Failing to properly integrate the computing network with physical systems and processes will lead to the failure to create a new generation of intelligent systems that can adapt to malfunctions, cooperate and evolve during operation and become more efficient, fault tolerant and trustworthy.

Issues with Reliability, Maintenance & Quality Initiatives will create pitfalls associated with your infrastructure assets.

Failure to create a cost-effective way to manage your public infrastructure assets will prohibit the ability to streamline how information related to infrastructure assets is captured, stored and managed.  This will eliminate the ability to provide the instant insight you need to make informed decisions on repairs, maintenance and future investments.

(5)    Understanding Change Mechanics

Having to deal with an unanticipated level of resistance is a potential pitfall that you cannot plan for.  Resistance is inevitable.  Discuss management methods and personalities in advance so you can anticipate where the resistance might come from and how it might be something you can use to your advantage.

Do not fail to recognize that change is a process.  There are three “States of Change” and a successful initiative depends on properly dealing with each state.  This is important, so get help if you must! 

(1)    The present state where you need to recognize the pain, decide how it should be measured, characterize it, communicate it, and address its consequences.

(2)    The transition state where you understand what it will cost, consider all the roles of those that will be engaged in the process, be quantitative, resilient, connect with your peers and develop a strategy.

(3)    The desired state where you may articulate your wins, express the results quantitively, reward the behavior of the participants, look forward to the next win, replicate your success, and embrace the results.

Understand that processes (and change) can be measured – Not identifying the KPI’s for the various states of change and not measuring what you can will result in not being able to deal with the change process considerations.  These considerations include issues involving culture, process maturity, measurement system maturity, burning issues and chronic problems relating the results to the process of change.

Different people have different roles – A major pitfall is not Identifying the roles required to make this specific change happen and then using deductive logic to fill those roles.

Risk that the program team is not able to manage – This pitfall can be anticipated with the hiring of experienced risk managers that have dealt with difficult transition type projects.

Understand the differences in everyone’s “current reality”.  Discover the “Current Reality” of behaviors and process work performance in your company. Different people have different roles and some actually have a different “current reality”.  Understand how/why each position functions and adjust your change dynamics to suit.  Do not believe that you know what is really going on in your organization and processes.  It’s an easy trap to fall into with all of the pressures, priorities and programs to manage and keep aligned. Employees, with pressures of their own to perform, will create innovative ways to do their work despite the guidance of policies, procedures or work instructions. They will deal with conflicting priorities, resource issues, breakdowns or old habits.  Admit that despite the best process design and detailed work instructions, other factors are driving work behaviors. In a perfect scenario you should attempt to characterize these issues as a part of the design of your company’s processes.  You must consider what people are doing and how they will perform their duties related to the change you are asking them to make and you should take into consideration how busy they really are before you assign them to a project that will certainly change their world and the world around them.  Things like accountability, the available tools and your management style are very important when change is inevitable. Confusion over objectives, desired outcomes, success metrics, and methodologies is more common than it should be and understanding the risk as it relates to the city’s vision for what they would like to accomplish will drive the initiatives and define roles, responsibilities, objectives, and goals to create plans and strategies that avoid the pitfalls

Confusion over objectives, desired outcomes, success metrics, and methodologies is more common than it should be and understanding the risk as it relates to the city’s vision for what they would like to accomplish will drive the initiatives and define roles, responsibilities, objectives, and goals to create plans and strategies that avoid the pitfalls.

About the Author:

Michael St. Angelo is the President and CEO of NeuraMetrics Inc. Mike has held executive sales and marketing positions at a company that was the worldwide leader in process automation, an industry analysis firm that studied and advised major corporations and utilities and a company that marketed enterprise software. He has led the development of an efficient and robust method to conduct mission critical, process and organizational assessments, benchmarking and studies. His methodology and tools offer expanded insight into causes of organizational performance including analysis of process behaviors. Mike has taught undergraduate courses and provides freelance articles occasionally for industry publications.

He may be contacted at:

Office: (904) 246-9733

Cell:    (904) 631-7879



[i] US Green Building Council Florida Chapter