How Proof of Concept Saves Money on the Smart City Journey

A proof of concept process helped the mid-size city of Belfort, France, test drive smart city solutions, saving money and improving bus transportation.

Data and technology can provide cities insights and the ability to reduce costs and improve operations, along with numerous other dividends to residents. But it's a costly endeavor. By 2023, the smart city technology market could be worth $27.5 billion annually, up from it's current $12.1 billion, according to the firm Navigant Research.

But through a proof of concept, cities can test drive smart city solutions -- at relatively no cost.

Such was the case when technology firms Tata Consultancy Services and Gfi Informatique provided consulting, software and analyses services that leveraged existing technology to help Belfort, France, a mid-sized city of 50,000 people. The team worked with the city's board of public transportation to improve urban bus transportation and optimize its operations to control costs.

"Cities are sitting on a treasure trove of insights from their own trusted data sources, and only need to unlock the insights to make cost-effective improvements to city services," said Senthil Gunasekaran, head of corporate development and strategic alliances at TCS.

The proof of concept provided Belfort with real time data to make decisions that can improve service for its 100 buses traveling five routes. As a result, the city is on its way to saving up to €250,000 annually, said Gunasekaran.

"By undergoing a proof of concept, cities are able to place more emphasis on strategy and less on immediate installation of sensors or other Internet of Things technologies, giving a more cost-efficient process," he said.

How They Did It

Previously Belfort was only able to utilize its data to see when and where passengers boarded a bus, said Gunasekaran. They also did not know how many people used which bus routes.

Like most cities, Belfort's bus ticketing system can track when passengers board buses, but not when and where they depart. However, departure data is critical to understanding how bus routes are used, Gunasekaran explained.

"Before the proof of concept, Belfort knew when passengers boarded a bus, but had no indication to where their departure point was. Thanks to the proof of concept, Belfort now knows when and where about approximately 20 percent of the passengers have departed a bus," he said.

The team also took advantage of existing sensors in Belfort's bus network, such as GPS devices, to measure the speed on different route sections between each stop on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. They were able to identify which congestion points, which gave city officials the ability to make evidence-based changes for the first time.

Belfort is now able to establish new scenarios to improve transportation schedules and routes. Officials are exploring ways digital technology can:

  • Adjust the frequency of buses along particular routes
  • Project the savings resulting from new road construction projects
  • Find ways of reducing bus system costs

Without adding hardware, or overhauling infrastructure, the proof of concept process provided helpful data insights. It also cost Belfort nothing.

We understand that becoming a smart city is a journey. Proof of concept as a first step, would allow cities to pilot smart city technology without the need to make investments into technology and infrastructure prior to understanding the ROI outcome. In the case of Belfort, the city was able to gain an in-depth look into how it can leverage historic data sources never-before captured or analyzed together without installing a single sensor," said Gunasekaran.

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