Over the past ten years or more, smart city concepts have gained a lot of momentum. As a result, cities have acquired the capacity to add digital intelligence to existing urban systems, making it possible to increase efficiency.

The Smart Cities report recently released by McKinsey outlines the importance of dozens of digital applications currently changing the way cities work. The study found that cities could use these smart applications to improve quality of life indicators by 10–30 percent.

The report points out three levels of smartness important to make a city smart. First is the availability of a critical mass of technological devices followed by the presence of networks which allows communication between devices and access to data. Finally, adoption by city residents of the smart technologies without which they are rendered of little use.

While examining the potential of smart city technologies with respect to some of the most common urban problems, the study found that these tools could save 30–300 lives each year in a city of 5 million, reduce crime rates by 30–40%, cut daily commute time by 15–30 minutes and save 25–80 litres of water saved per person per day.

In addition, they could reduce fatalities by 8–10 percent, accelerate emergency response times by 20–35 percent, shave the average commute by 15–20 percent, lower the disease burden by 8–15 percent, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10–15 percent, among other positive outcomes.

Smartphones have in recent years become the keys to the city, putting instant information about transit, traffic, health services, safety alerts, and community news into millions of ordinary hands.

The report collected responses from 50 cities around the world. The data shows that wealthier urban areas are generally transforming faster by using these technologies even though public awareness lacks in many areas on usage of the applications that have been implemented.

In the coming years, the use of smart applications in cities could disrupt some industries while creating massive opportunity in new ways.

By leveraging advanced technologies in the areas of mobility and security, healthcare, energy and water, waste management, economic development and housing, and community engagement, smart applications will improve key areas in the daily routines of most city residents.

These include time, health, safety, cost of living, jobs, environment and social connectivity. The report estimates that 70 per cent of sustainable development goals can be advanced by making cities smart.

The key is to use data and technology to make better decisions in key areas affecting the lives of city residents to deliver better quality of life. As cities become more complex, smart applications will continue to grow in relevance.