Smart cities for smart consumers: Celebrating World Standards Day

14 October 2017

To mark World Standards Day 2017, we explored the vital role that standards can play in ensuring that modern cities are safer, cleaner and ‘smarter’ places to live.

A quick look at stats tells you everything you need to know about why cities are so important to our civilisation. According to the World Bank, almost 55% of the world's population lives in cities. By 2050, a further 2.5 billion people will be living in cities across the globe.

Cities are complex environments and the consumption patterns and choices of the billions of city dwellers reflects this. Travelling to work on busy transport systems, choosing from the vast array of restaurants, shops and bars, finding a place to live that is safe and secure. The chaotic nature of the modern city can often leave people searching for some sort of routine and order, or trusted, reliable products and services. In this sense, standards can be can be an integral tool for making our cities safer and more accessible for everyone.


As digital technology and data drives the growth of our global economy and society, there is a need for cities to get ‘smarter’ so they can respond and cater to people’s needs. But what does a smart city mean, and what does it look like for consumers?

Across the globe, we are seeing innovative and inspirational examples of how technology is helping cities to reach their full potential –

  • Smarter transport: Using the data it collects from Londoner's journey searches, a widely used journey planning app is launching a new bus service to cover gaps in the city’s transport system. By making bus services more responsive, they hope to solve some of the urgent congestion problems that Londoners face on a daily basis.
  • Smarter sharing: In Singapore, BlockPooling – a social network that enables people to share belongings and services – is helping to strengthen communities and connect consumers to the city’s sharing economy. Using the ‘Lend and Borrow’ function, users can find other people in their local area who wish to share or borrow items.
  • Smarter sustainability: Digital mapping technology in Rio De Janeiro is facilitating local communities to clean up their neighbourhood. A project aimed to empower young people in the city is hiring staff to update a GIS map which highlights ‘hotspots’ where waste is accumulating and notifies local authorities to clear it up.


Alongside the many benefits that smarter cities can offer consumers, it is also important to be aware of the risks that can come with digital technology.

A major area of concern is the volume and scale of information about people, devices and systems that is collected every day in a smart, connected city. Privacy by design standards could help make sure that this data is properly handled and stored and that people have confidence that information about them and their behaviour won’t be used against them, or shared or sold with others. 

Security standards are critical, as despite being located in their own culture and jurisdiction, each smart city will be itself part of a global network with global risks of data and systems failures and attacks.

Making sure city technology starts with consumers interests and needs is also crucial. Member research in our 2016 IoT report on smart networks showed what happens when the technical solution runs ahead of the consumer need:

a connected parking system in Nairobi still requires people to print out receipt, and no provision for linking up to available spaces. The parking scheme focuses on the success of improving revenue collection, as opposed to making whole system improvements for all stakeholders”.

Making sure everyone is able and willing to use the smart systems in a city is also important, and standards on inclusion and accessibility can play a crucial role in ensuring consumers can trust the services they use.

The more widespread smart systems are, the harder it is to opt out, or the bigger the detriment if you do opt out. Our research found that there is already evidence of smart systems designed for mass public use, using push factors to ensure participation - as opposed to the pull of convenience. The smart card system in London for example, makes walk-up paper tickets on the underground up to 50% more expensive, and indeed for many inner-city bus journeys simply removes any options to pay by cash on board.

Standards are key

As cities grow, national standards can be adapted to suit the needs and circumstances of any city and its population. By using them effectively, they can help to ensure that our products and services are safer, buildings are more efficient, our energy is more accessible and urban transport systems are more intelligent. As cities continue to become hubs for the digital economy, standards can also foster innovation and support communication technologies that adhere to fairer and more secure exchange of information and data.

For consumers, transforming cities into more reliable, safe and empowering places, is an essential part of daily life. This World Standards Day will be an excellent opportunity for us all to consider how we can use standards to “make our cities smarter, step by step”.