The article appeared in APAC CIO Outlook magazine: Special Edition on IoT (September 2017 Issue). See – HTML version HERE. Digital Magzine Version – HERE.


Think “Lean Methodology” – Build, Measure, and Learn. I think that’s how we should build Smart Cities. We can no longer take the risks of building projects fast and turning them into “white elephants”. Most of the time, Smart Cities deployment failed even though we planned well but failed in execution. Failed in getting the citizens to use the facilities. Failed in maintaining and sustaining the business model.

The maturity of acceptance of city dwellers is also an essential element. I don’t think we can just replicate the success of one Smart City in one country to another country without a proper understanding of the priorities of the citizens due to the ethnicity and maturity of the city inhabitants.

To avoid such issues, let’s use the “lean methodology” in developing Smart Cities. The key element is the MVP (Minimum Viable Product), or in this case, we might call it “Minimum Viable City.” Here’re the steps:

  1. Develop a hypothesis by getting citizens’ inputs. Provide the citizen with engagement tools that allow them to engage with the government or city authorities.
  2. Collect the data and analyze the citizen’s priorities
  3. Build the “Minimum Viable City” Smart Applications using physical sensors
  4. Measure the impact and usefulness.
  5. Learn from the citizens whether their pain points are adequately addressed. Iterate the process again.
  6. Scale up the deployment.

How to Build Smart City via Minimum Viable (MVC) Approach Click To Tweet

But, what are the best tools to get citizens’ input? Many citizen engagement mobile apps (for example – identifying potholes, drainage faulty traffic lights, illegal parking, unattended, etc. issues) that can geo-tagged the location of the issues failed simply because it’s unable to sustain the popularity, usage, and continuous enhancement. Why? Below are tips for the city authorities to consider avoiding and repeating these failures:

Buy-in from both segments i.e. officials and citizens

It requires the active participation of both parties. It’s like a “chicken or egg” question. Who starts first? Residents felt that their complaints would go down the deaf ears of the local councils – just like going down the black hole. The local authorities that are sensitive to the citizens felt that the citizens need to channel their grouses into a proper channel rather than letting their anger on social media become terribly viral.


If you ask 100 or 1000 people on the streets whether they have heard of such an application, we can almost guarantee that none have heard that. It’s also the fault of local councils which uses only their official website portal to announce or publicize the citizen engagement mobile app. There’s no continuous effort in educating the public.

Finding the concerned citizens

What type of individuals are concerned about the cleanliness or safety of the surrounding. Sometimes, they prefer to complain but not to act when given the opportunity to participate. The selfishness of the citizens sometimes hinders such services since people are only concerned about themselves and their homes rather than the whole community or their city.

Gamification if necessary

People want an incentive to participate in crowdsourcing initiatives. Either get themselves paid in money or prizes. The other way is to gamify the app in such a way that gives some form of status within the community app.

Pressure Groups

No administrators of the cities would love to handle hundreds or thousands of complaints each day throughout the whole year. But if they did not manage and close the complaints, how could they solve all the problems which are already in the queue? Sometimes, city authorities need a little push or “pressure” from the people.

Social Media Channels

The most popular official channels by local councils are either through phone, fax, web portal or email. But technology has rapidly changed the landscape, thus, allowing the citizens to communicate on their favorite social media channels.

In-house vs. Outsource

There’re a lot of similar citizen engagement mobile apps in the market. But most of them forgot that the backend system that handles the reports is not visible to them. Nearly all local council IT departments are not set up as a product development house. The budget given to them is only enough to operate, manage and maintain the IT system but not to become innovative and develop their application.

Product Roadmap

Handling a continuous development and future enhancement of the backend system requires sustainable IT support resources. New technology emerges and thus it must quickly be adapted to the current process workflow.

Smart City vision

Citizen engagement is only one of the single components of a Smart City. They are many applications that require integration into a smart city platform; thus, they cannot be developed in a silo manner. A real Smart City needs an integrated platform that collects and aggregates various sources of data (structured or unstructured) to discover the insights of the city and make cities a better and sustainable place to live.

It’s NOT an IT job!

Of course, any IT company can develop a mobile app. However, IOT requires different skills that encompass embedded programming, understanding different communications protocols, cloud services, and big data analytics.

Building Smart Cities using IOT is not easy as it seems. We must build the right business models and ensure the investment are justified to address the real pain points of the citizens.

Related Book Review

If you’re interested in creating smarter cities and improving the quality of life for urban communities, “Smart Cities For Dummies” is the perfect book for you. The book covers a range of topics, from the essential role of data in building better cities to big ideas for improving city services through digitalization and the smart use of technology. Whether you’re a city planner, community leader, or concerned citizen, this book will give you the knowledge and guidance to create a smart city strategy and make a difference in your community. Get ready to be an agent of change and build a more innovative, sustainable future.

About the Author

Dr. Mazlan Abbas is an IOT Evangelist, Thought Leader, and CEO of FAVORIOT.  He is passionate to build a Generation IoT of the future. And currently, his company, Favoriot, is offering a FREE IoT platform subscription to start your IoT journey.

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