What does a city mayor focus on every day? What key questions must be answered? Generally, it’s about jobs and economic development. What’s the available job market in our city and do we have a qualified workforce? Where’s the land to build factories? Will this attract new business? How do we increase the tax base to support new infrastructure?

But many days the focus is even closer to home. Are the buses and rail systems running on-time? Is the trash being collected in a timely manner? Are potholes being filled? These are the challenges that not only occupy a mayor’s time, but often leads to re-election, if managed well.

Government, as an entity, is naturally based in geography and its principals. Mayors therefore require an understanding of the extent to which the city relies on geographic information. At its core, the land base and property information is fundamental to supporting government operations with property taxes and administration. The smart city, therefore, depends upon the proper administration and management of land information, ownership and extent of land coverage within its municipal and political boundaries, and importantly, is the basic infrastructure operating efficiently. With a more complete digital land base, city managers and politicians can more easily respond to requests and support citizen engagement by utilizing information derived from a geographic information system (GIS).

Building upon a digital land base, smart cities can begin to add attribution (e.g. land value, taxes applied, etc.) to geographic features both above and below ground. This will augment a complete geospatial data and asset management system, the information from which can be widely distributed to citizens, politicians and city departments for better city services and management.

More challenging is the ability to realize the “Digital City” … a city where the infrastructure, above and below ground, in and outside of the built environment is sensed, measured, mapped, recorded and displayed, graphically and geographically.  India, for example, is seeking plans to identify “100 smart cities” that will receive government funding to promote urban renewal and improve livability To the average citizen, the requirements may be more basic: how bad is the traffic and will municipal transit buses be running time? Many mobile apps from both city municipal authorities as others now provide time of arrival for buses and trains, where location-based information is key to giving citizens a service that makes life more efficient and improves the perception of city government. In fact, transit data once held by the government is “freed” to allow citizens to act differently. It’s data democracy at its finest.

The municipal mobile app data is also an example of how sensors can be used to monitor the activity of many city services. From municipal transit data to traffic to local weather, sensors deliver critical information. As such, the Open Geospatial Consortium’s Sensor Web Enablement (SWE) initiative strives to set specifications for interfaces between mobile devices and sensors, and to develop data models that connect to web services. These specifications enable data visualization and analytics that makes the digital city into a smart city.


See a pothole that needs repair? Many cities allow you to download and app to report necessary street repairs. The app records the location of your report by accessing the mobile device’s GPS chip and stamps the report with a latitude and longitude. The report is sent to the public works department for repair scheduling and allows city managers a city-wide view of all repairs by time, day and location. It’s just another way the city can be proactive in asset management.

As an example of other types of digital data, 3D models of city assets such as police and fire stations, utilities, including water, sewer, gas and electric, have been developed in several cities, giving city managers an immediate geographical view of their municipal infrastructure. In addition, the ability to track public safety vehicles gives police and fire chiefs a clear picture of the location of their mobile assets, an invaluable view in the wake of any catastrophic event. Likewise, a digital land base can be used to develop computer-aided mass appraisals for levying the appropriate taxes.

As sensors are used to monitor highway traffic, utility efficiency and the location of field service teams, the ability to get a city-wide view of its infrastructure is vital to maintaining city services. Tech-savvy mayors are now running their local government using GIS. As a result, the information it provides can deliver the essential insights into how a city can run smarter and perhaps even a few more votes in the next election.

To learn more listen to the archive of SAP Radio’s Digital World special edition of Coffee Break with Game-Changers featuring Joe Francica, MD Geospatial Solutions, Pitney Bowes and experts from Harvard Kennedy School and SAP.

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