How Big Data Helps Build Smart Cities

Smart cities face serious challenges prior to widespread acceptance, but their integrated use of Big Data, IoT, and other technologies to solve contemporary urban issues should eventually lead to their adoption.

How is the smart city concept being implemented?

So far, the Songdo model has been followed all around the world. The model is simple: the government ropes in a software and technology provider and then extends all support. In the case of Songdo, Cisco was the principal agency. All around the world, large companies such as the IBM and Cisco are working with civic planning bodies and universities to develop data-based systems for waste management, transport, law enforcement, and energy. Public money is being used to fund such projects. For example, in Glasgow, Scotland, the government has offered £24 million to implement technology to make the city smarter, more sustainable and safer.

The critics’ perspective and other challenges

Obviously, the critics do not think that the smart city and big data combine is going to work. Some even go to the extent of saying that Smart City is just a buzzword. Even if we do not consider these extreme opinions, the concept has extremely steep challenges to overcome.

• Building a smart city needs huge funds. Way back in 2000, the Songdo city needed $35 billion, so the cost has compounded fast. Given the expenses, developing and poor countries, which already struggle to provide basic amenities to its citizens, may never be able to implement smart cities.

• Data confidentiality and security is going to be a huge issue. It will be a tough task for the governments to maintain the balance between implementation of the smart city projects and assuring citizens of their data privacy.

• Social issues could arise, especially in the developing and poor countries. Since many will be unable to afford the expensive sensors and other stuff, there are apprehensions that the economically backward sections will become enclaves of the elite. This, to some, could lead to social apartheid. India, which has just identified 100 cities to convert them to smart cities, seems to be a case of social apartheid. According to Laveesh Bhandari, an economist, I am describing the unfeasibility and undesirability of a thoughtless smart-city vision, When you invest so much without thinking about services and low-cost housing and governance, then you will end up creating enclaves that keep out the poor.


Clearly, big data can make enormous contributions to the development of smart cities. However, the smart city vision faces huge challenges before it comes to fruition. It appears that availability of funds, data confidentiality and social issues are the biggest challenges. For smart cities to become a global phenomenon, the issue of affordability in third world countries needs to be addressed first. Given the cost, it is clear that the vision is still at a nascent stage and it may take several years before it becomes a global phenomenon. It has to be an inclusive concept.

Bio: Kaushik Pal ( has 16 years of experience as a technical architect and software consultant in enterprise application and product development. He has interest in new technology and innovation area along with technical writing. His main focuses are on web architecture, web technologies, java/j2ee, Open source, big data and semantic technologies.