I’ve always struggled with the term “smart city.” The word “smart” can mean a million different things. Getting smart with someone isn’t necessarily a good thing — as in a mother admonishing a child: “Don’t get smart with me!” Being a “smart aleck” in school can get someone sent to the principal’s office or beaten up on the playground.

What Does “Smart” Mean, Anyway?

In the early days of my research on cities, I differentiated between “book smart” and “street smart.”

“Street smart” is considered cool. I put new initiatives like sensor-based parking or electronic noses for waste management into the street-smart category; these were the shiny new objects that vendors and decision makers got excited about. The “book smart” initiatives were often the wallflowers and got less attention — particularly from the vendor community. Streamlining back-office processes and upgrading applications were in the book-smart category. It often seemed that the hype of smart cities focused on the sexy new kids on the block, rather than those that required cracking the books — even though the cities themselves knew what they needed, often prioritizing the upgrade or replacement of legacy systems.

Introducing The “Insights-Driven” City

Well, good news: The decade-old “smart city” moniker and its focus on street smarts is yielding its hold. Hail the rise of the insights-driven city, in which city leaders effectively put their data to use:

Insights-driven cities use data insights to understand the needs of citizens, optimize operational processes, and deliver services effectively. These cities recognize that data-derived insights lead to better governance.

My new report, “Insights-Driven Cities Deliver Effective Governance,” applies the Forrester model for insights-driven organizations. It explores how cities and other government organizations have embraced strategies that elevate the role of data and invested in the four supporting pillars of an insights-driven city: people, process, data, and technology.

This report builds on my past research on how cities and other government organizations have leveraged technology and new tech-enabled business models to improve the business of governing. Many of these early reports remain highly relevant today.

Forrester’s “Smart City” Research

And, even further back, we have some classics:

The business of government has indeed changed. Government benefits from its data and the insights derived from it, and others do, too. In fact, we’ve been talking about how government data changes business for quite some time.