• Digital Transformation
  • Smart Technology

Digital Government Systems Set the Stage for Smart Cities in Developing Nations

Grant Samms
Mar 02, 2021

Guidehouse Insights

In discussions about smart city technology, certain terms tend to float a little higher than others: sensor, Internet of Things, big data, machine learning, edge computing. Digital government is not typically met with the same fanfare, likely because it has become the expectation in developed nations and is recognized as a fundamental element in any smart city. However, developing countries still have considerable scope to expand digital government and embed it in broader smart city programs.

Systems such as open data platforms and digitized city services have become mainstays in the developed world and are typically met with high citizen approval. An acceleration of deployment in developing regions such as Latin America and Africa is notable as these regions have historically had low engagement with the smart city movement. Increased digital government adoption could set the stage for an acceleration of broad smart city developments in those markets.

Digital Governance Systems Are Increasingly Popular in Developing Nations

Guidehouse Insights has been tracking the increase in digital government projects in developing regions since 2010. When Medellin, Columbia, launched its Medellin Digital platform in 2015, it was part of a municipal makeover based on a foundation of digital government. Medellin invested heavily in digitizing municipal services, including a system called Mi Medellin that collects resident input on city developments. Mi Medellin allows residents to submit ideas and feedback on city projects; injecting direct democracy into the typically murky urban planning process.

In a bid to boost public safety, the city of Rio de Janeiro deployed a digital crime mapping platform that considers both real-time citizen reports and historic data to focus policing. Deployment of this tool allows for better communication and transparency between citizens and police. Rio also implemented a centralized contact system to ease interactions between citizens and city government; an improvement over the 100 distinct numbers previously used.

Famous for its air pollution levels, Mexico City developed an air quality alerts hub to alert residents to bad air days and advise on actions to improve air quality. Cape Town implemented an open data platform in 2017 and backed it with a public Wi-Fi access program. Belo Horizonte in Brazil launched a smart city project in 2018 including a focus on digital transparency and inclusion, while Kigali, Rwanda, has been implementing digital government aspects as part of a smart city plan established in 2013.

Building on the Digital Governance Foundation

Although these centralization and accessibility policies have tangible smart city value in and of themselves, they can also provide a basis for further smart city projects and general economic development. For instance, as data lakes are fed by easier collection methods, cities may be able to work with private partners on ways to monetize the data. Digital government programs can also help cities avoid regulatory missteps by detecting potential infractions early and communicating necessary steps with citizens; avoiding air quality fines by stressing alternative transportation, for instance. Digital government systems make good first steps for developing regions and are an onramp to further smart city developments.