ESI ThoughtLab Study Reveals Measurable ROI on Smart City Investments

Improved public safety, health, business productivity, and economic growth are just some of the benefits

October 1, 2019 (Philadelphia, PA) – Today, ESI ThoughtLab unveiled preliminary findings from its 2019 Smart City Research Initiative, Building a Hyperconnected City

The study of 100 worldwide metro centers found that most cities are seeing major economic, financial, and social benefits from their investments in smart technologies, but also greater cyberrisks, if digital innovation is not managed properly.   

According to the study, 38% of cities deploying smart mobility solutions are bolstering customer satisfaction and 32% are improving productivity and delivery times for business. Likewise, 45% of cities deploying smart environmental and energy initiatives are improving citizen health, 44% are reducing pollution, and 43% are stabilizing energy prices. 

The speed of technological change has been brisk. Public Wi-Fi, Internet of Things, cloud, and mobile technology are now pervasive across cities, used by more than 9 out of 10 of them in our studyOther commonly used technologies include biometrics (83% of cities)AI (82%), and Blockchain (66%). Robots and drones, 5G, augmented reality, and distributed computing are promising new technologies, which are still in earlier stages of investment. 

By using these technologies to transform and interconnect their urban ecosystemgovernment leaders aim to deliver a myriad of benefits to their stakeholders. These include creating new business opportunities, filling talent gaps, improving public health, reducing crimeboosting productivity and addressing income inequality. These benefits work together to deliver a virtuous circle of economic prosperity, business growth, and social well-being  

The ROI on smart initiatives 

These same smart programs also generate economic and financial gains that not only cover the cost of investment, but also provide tangible returns. Except for predictive policing, all 62 smart city initiatives studied showed positive investment returnsThe smart city dimensions providing the largest gains include: 

  • Mobility and transportationcurb management (4.5%), congestion charging (4.3%) 
  • Energy and water: dynamic electricity pricing (4.8%), renewable energy (4.3%) 
  • Environment: optimizing waste collection (4.1%), real-time water quality monitoring (3.9%) 
  • Public safety: first aid alerts (5.6%)gunshot sensors (4.8%), real-time crime mapping (4.7%) 
  • Governance:  digital business licensing (5%), digital payments (4.6%) 

However, if not managed effectively, these smart initiatives can also expose urban areas to higher cyber risksFor cities in our survey, the total cost of cyber loss events over the last year averaged $3.4 millionwith 10% suffering losses between $10m and $20m. Over half of the cities said that they were not well prepared for cyberattacksThe biggest vulnerabilities cited were financial and payment systems (54% of cities), IT infrastructure and telecoms (51%), and mobility and transportation (40%). To cope with rising cyber risks, 82% of cities plan to increase their cybersecurity budgets next year39% by more than 10%. 

The study is based on a rigorous benchmarking survey conducted over the summer of 2019 by ESI ThoughtLab and a cross-industry coalition of sponsors, including Deloitte, Oracle, Stantec, Pennoni, Eaton Lighting, NTT Group, Nokia, Cognizant, Visa, and MicrosoftThe sample consisted of 100 worldwide cities engaged in smart city initiatives. Cities varied in size from 123,000 to over 24 million residents and represented a range of income levels, regions, and stages of economic development.    

“Our research shows that hyperconnected cities—ones that use technology to transform and interconnect their urban assetsgenerate demonstrable ROI for their economies, while providing enormous improvements in living and business conditions,” said Lou Celi, CEO of ESI ThoughtLab and director of the study   

Full findings from the study will be released in November at the Smart City Expo World Congress in BarcelonaMore information can be found by visiting: 

For more information, please contact: 

Lou Celi, CEO 
ESI ThoughtLab
Mike Daly, Marketing Director
ESI ThoughtLab


About the research coalition 

ESI ThoughtLab is an innovative research firm providing fresh ideas and actionable insights through rigorous data analysis. We specialize in assessing the impact of technological, economic, and demographic shifts on companies, industries, and cities. ESI ThoughtLab ’s team of seasoned economists and thought leaders have many years of experience in conducting urban analysis.  

Cognizant is multinational corporation that provides IT and business services, including digital, technology, consulting, and operations services. Cognizant’s industry-based, consultative approach helps clients envision, build, and run more innovative and efficient businesses.  

Deloitte provides industry-leading audit, consulting, tax, and advisory services to many of the world’s most admired brands, including nearly 90% of the Fortune 500 and more than 5,000 private and middle market companies. Our people work across the industry sectors that drive and shape today’s marketplace to make an impact that matters — delivering measurable and lasting results that help reinforce public trust in our capital markets, inspire clients to see challenges as opportunities to transform and thrive, and help lead the way toward a stronger economy and a healthy society. Deloitte is proud to be part of the largest global professional services network serving our clients in the markets that are most important to them.  

Eaton Lighting delivers an industry-leading portfolio of innovative lighting solutions for connected buildings, homes, and communities, including reliable indoor and outdoor smart lighting, and control solutions specifically designed to simplify and personalize lighting for consumers, help solve complex business challenges, and leverage data insights to meet customers’ unique needs. Eaton Lighting solutions serve a wide range of customers, including architects, engineers, facility managers, municipal leaders, electrical distributors, and contractors in the commercial, industrial, retail, institutional, residential, utility, and other markets. For more information, visit  

JLL (NYSE: JLL) is a leading professional services firm that specializes in real estate and investment management. Our vision is to reimagine the world of real estate, creating rewarding opportunities and amazing spaces where people can achieve their ambitions. In doing so, we will build a better tomorrow for our clients, our people, and our communities. JLL is a Fortune 500 company with annual revenue of $16.3 billion, operations in over 80 countries and a global workforce of nearly 92,000 as of June 30, 2019. JLL is the brand name, and a registered trademark, of Jones Lang LaSalle Incorporated. For further information, visit 

Microsoft empowers every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. With our diverse partner ecosystem, an extensive portfolio of solutions, and a trusted, secure, and open platform, we are uniquely positioned to help cities innovate now for the Smart City of tomorrow. Visit  

Nokia creates the technology to connect the world. Powered by the research and innovation of Nokia Bell Labs, we serve communications service providers, governments, large enterprises, and consumers, with the industry’s most complete, end-to-end portfolio of products, services, and licensing. We adhere to the highest ethical business standards as we create technology with social purpose, quality, and integrity. Nokia is enabling the infrastructure for 5G and the Internet of Things to transform the human experience. 

NTT is a global technology and business solutions provider helping clients grow their business and improve their competitive market position by delivering fully integrated services, including global networks, cybersecurity, managed IT and applications, cloud and datacenter services combined with business consulting and deep industry expertise. As a top five global technology and business services provider, NTT works with over 80 of the Global Fortune 100 companies and many thousands of other clients and communities to achieve their goals and contribute to a sustainable future. To learn more about NTT’s Smart Platform and how the company is accelerating Smart Cities globally, visit NTT’s website ( and watch the case study on YouTube ( 

Oracle offers a complete suite of integrated applications plus highly automated and secure generation 2 infrastructure featuring the Oracle Autonomous Database. With Oracle, customers can modernize their operations and take advantage of emerging technologies to better engage citizens and serve their communities.  

Pennoni is a consulting engineering firm providing services that help communities and private sector clients alike navigate the ever-changing technological advancements available and learn how best to integrate “smart” solutions into today’s built environment. As part of their involvement in the smart city initiative, they utilize and continue to discover new and innovative methods in the delivery of services for smart, sustainable, and resilient solutions for projects across the globe. Across all market sectors, Pennoni works with project owners, end users, stakeholders, and teaming partners to develop solutions that truly make Pennoni “Partners For What’s Possible.” 

Stantec designs with community in mind. We care about the communities we serve—because they’re our communities too. This allows us to assess what’s needed and connect our expertise, to appreciate nuances, and envision what’s never been considered, to bring together diverse perspectives so we can collaborate toward a shared success. We’re designers, engineers, scientists, and project managers, innovating together at the intersection of community, creativity, and client relationships. Balancing these priorities results in projects that advance the quality of life in communities across the globe. 

Visa is the world’s leader in digital payments. Our mission is to connect the world through the most innovative, reliable and secure payment network  enabling individuals, businesses, and economies to thrive. Our advanced global processing network, VisaNet, provides secure and reliable payments around the world, and is capable of handling more than 65,000 transaction messages a second. The company’s relentless focus on innovation is a catalyst for the rapid growth of connected commerce on any device, and a driving force behind the dream of a cashless future for everyone, everywhere. As the world moves from analog to digital, Visa is applying our brand, products, people, network, and scale to reshape the future of commerce. For more information, visit About Visa, and @VisaNews. 


Click here to download a PDF version of the press release.


ESI ThoughtLab is the thought leadership arm of Econsult Solutions, Inc., a leading economic consultancy headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. ESI ThoughtLab specializes in analyzing the impact of technological, economic, and demographic shifts on industries, cities, and companies. Our in-house team of over 40 thought leadership, economic, and subject matter specialists, along with our global network of experts, excels at creating valuable decision support that sits at the intersection of visionary thinking, analytical excellence, and innovative content formats.


Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a UK private company limited by guarantee (“DTTL”), its network of member firms, and their related entities. DTTL and each of its member firms are legally separate and independent entities. DTTL (also referred to as “Deloitte Global”) does not provide services to clients. In the United States, Deloitte refers to one or more of the US member firms of DTTL, their related entities that operate using the “Deloitte” name in the United States and their respective affiliates. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting. Please see to learn more about our global network of member firms.