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Putting the “Smart” in Smart Cities

Business intelligence (BI) and analytics are key technologies that put the “smart” in smart cities. Cities rely on BI tools like data visualization, mapping, data discovery and analysis, and dashboards to derive actionable insights from data. Cities already have an enormous amount of data stored in legacy systems with more added every day; IDC estimates that the digital universe will grow by 40% in five years.

Much of this growth is driven by the Internet of Things and, more specifically, mobile connected devices such as RFID, smart cards, body cams, and GPS. The data generated from these billions of devices will present challenges to cities as data flows in real-time, is often unstructured, and may come from social media or apps outside of government systems.

Important Vendor Qualities to Consider

Not all smart city use cases require the same type or level of analytics, but most will have to cope with the challenges described above. Given this, there are some common, key qualities that IDC believes cities should consider when evaluating vendors:

  • Ease and speed of analysis/ self-service: Ease and speed of analysis means that, when needed, departments can get rapid responses to leaders and quickly run reports that are requested. This means taking hours, not days or weeks, to run reports. Also, the reliance on data analysts or highly specialized skills is reduced. Data scientists or analysts should be left to focus on the more complicated, advanced analytic reports and “regular” government workers should have the tools on hand to run many reports themselves.
  • Strength of analytics: Government organizations are widely varied in their analytics needs. Some departments require advanced analytics and many do not.  However, mapping and geospatial analysis and the ability to access tools via mobile devices is almost universally important.
  • Flexible delivery models: Smart cities are slowly but surely moving to the cloud, be it private, public and/or hybrid environments. Smart city business analytics vendors must have developing cloud offerings that allow for lower cost options and enterprise-wide access to software.
  • Ability to share data: While at this point in time it is still not the norm for government organizations to share data easily across departments, this will be an increasingly important requirement for smart cities that want to get the most value out of their data – by not only blending different data sources but also sharing reports and findings.
  • Innovation and/ or Co-innovation: Vendors should be internally innovative, committed to R&D, but also to co-innovate with regional and local government partners. This results in product offerings that continue to improve and better meet the needs of smart city buyers.

IDC’s Vendor Analysis Reveals a Tight Field of Leaders

Based on these qualities, IDC evaluated six global smart city business analytics software vendors.  These vendors essentially were the short list of vendors that met all the criteria; though we expect several more to qualify in the near future.  The vendors included were IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, SAP, SAS, and Tableau.

IBM was one of the early vendors in this space and continues to benefit from first-mover advantage and steady investment in the market.  SAP, Microsoft and SAS have more recently made big plays with their own branded offerings, key product updates and industry partnerships along with Oracle and its large established base of city customers. The two much smaller companies, Tableau and Salesforce, are serious contenders in smart cities and we expect them to increase pressure on the other larger vendors with new business models and products.

A Solid First Step

The vendors we analyzed are the foundational vendors for core BI and analytics solutions, but the ecosystem is very dynamic with a lot happening in visualization, loading and analyzing real-time data streams, cognitive computing, and industry-specific analytics in public safety, health and human services, revenue collection, and intelligent transportation. Even beyond this ranking, it is worth looking at what city departments need at a more granular level, or by use case, which requires an in-depth look at:

  1. Data manipulation and discovery
  2. BI and reporting on top of back office operational systems
  3. Fast and easy to use analysis and visualization

The bottom line is that cities should carefully consider their existing and future BI and analytics, too, to derive the most value from data, taking into account the impact of mobility and connected devices.  Solid vendor offerings exist now and more are on the way.

Ruthbea Yesner Clarke is research director of the global Smart Cities Strategies program at IDC. In this program, Ms. Clarke discusses the strategies and execution of relevant Smart City technologies including the non-technology best practice areas, such as governance, innovation, partnerships and business models essential for Smart City development.   Follow her on Twitter @RuthbeaClarke.

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