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Edinburgh’s Transformation: From Ancient City to Smart City


While Edinburgh boasts a rich history as an ancient city, it has consistently positioned itself as a pioneer of innovation.

Often referred to as the ‘Athens of the North,’ Edinburgh has established the groundwork for enhanced efficiency, cost reduction, and improved services through the integration of cutting-edge technologies as an integral component of its Digital and Smart City strategy.

Edinburgh joins other destinations, like Singapore, San Francisco, Paris and London in using smart technologies to tackle challenges arising from climate change and population growth. 

Marking the completion of the first phase of the Council’s Smart City Operations at the City Chambers (Tuesday 3 October), attendees heard how projects borne in Edinburgh are creating better digital inclusion for residents as well as helping council services to be delivered more effectively.

“I’ve long been a champion of Edinburgh’s ambitions of becoming a world-leading Smart City – a digitally inclusive, data-rich, and sustainable Capital with services that are easily accessible by all our residents. So, I’m delighted that we’ve delivered a foundational platform to drive insights around how the city is operating, which we will build on into the future! 

“From our trailblazing Operations Centre launched at the end of 2022 which allows us to analyse events and traffic in real time, to the 11,000 smart sensors we’ve installed in waste bins to make sure our collections are efficient, the first phase of our project towards becoming a Smart City is complete. It has seen us adopt cutting-edge low-carbon technology and it’s already helping to keep the city moving and our communities safe, also supporting all schools and young people with digital devices.

“We’ve also completed the roll out of 1500 environmental sensors to help us monitor and address issues in our council homes. Phase two of our Smart City project is expected to expand this to all 20,000 of our homes and will also look at sourcing air and water quality sensors, which should help us to monitor our environment. We’ll also be looking into technology to help us address environmental issues like fly tipping.

“The whole operation is helping us to improve services and make them more sustainable and fit for the future, drastically stepping up our capabilities as a Council.”

Unveiling a plaque recognising delivery of the projects and part funding by the European Regional Development Fund, as part of Edinburgh’s participation in the ‘Scotland’s 8th City – the Smart City’ programme, Council Leader Cammy Day

Delivery of the Smart City Operations Centre is the latest success born out of the partnership between the City of Edinburgh Council and CGI, the primary provider of end-to-end managed IT services for the Council. Earlier this year, as part of ongoing work to lower the digital divide in the Scottish capital, CGI and Edinburgh completed the implementation of Edinburgh Learns for Life, a unique digital solution which enables equality of access to digital learning in schools and educational establishments. 

The deployment to 23 secondary schools, 90 primary schools, 11 special educational schools, and 102 early years centres across the city included more than 44,000 digital devices being handed out to pupils and school staff, meaning all schoolchildren from P6 to S6 now have their own devices.

“I am delighted that Edinburgh is now officially a Smart City through the Scottish capital’s continuing long-term partnership with CGI. Together we will further develop Edinburgh’s use of innovative technology, analytics and data to ensure the city continues to lead the way globally in Smart City evolution. This will enhance Edinburgh’s ambitions to be a greener, fairer and more prosperous and vibrant city for every one of its 518,000 citizens.”

Tara McGeehan, President, CGI UK and Australia

What is a Smart City?

A smart city is an urban area that uses different types of ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) sensors to collect data, and then uses insights gained from them to manage assets, resources, and services to improve operations across the city.

Edinburgh’s Smart City aims

Since 2019, the aim in Edinburgh has been to use smart city technology to make Edinburgh a better place to live, visit and work. To do that, the Council has introduced innovative and forward-thinking technologies to help solve the challenges that the city faces.

The intention is the ability to better manage public resources, become more sustainable and deliver effective services. A range of projects are complete or underway that are using smart technologies:

A new Smart City Operations Centre

Harnessing high-tech to help keep the city safe and moving, the new centre will position Edinburgh as a leader in the UK for smart security and surveillance tools.

It has been delivered in partnership with IT service and solutions provider North as part of a £2.6m contract, funded by the Council and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 2014-2020 programme known as ‘Scotland’s 8th City – the Smart City’.

Replacing an outdated control centre which was no longer fit for purpose, the new smart Operations Centre will receive real-time data from the CCTV network 24/7. This will integrate other technologies which will help to improve traffic flow, transport infrastructure and city planning – subsequently improving the city’s collective carbon footprint.

Given the accessibility to real-time data, advanced analytics will drastically help the Council and partners respond to emergencies and manage large-scale events like Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and August Festivals. This has been delivered by North as part of the council’s partnership with CGI, and part funded through the ERDF programme.

You can find more information about this project on the council’s Smart City operations page.

11,000 Smart Waste Sensors to improve understanding of collections

Over the last year, the council has installed 11,000 smart bin sensors in litter and communal bins throughout the city. The data from the sensors will collect a wide range of information, such as how full bins are and which bins are used most often.

This will allow waste services to respond more quickly and operate more efficient waste collection routes. As a result, this will help the council to save fuel and energy, and make better use of resources. This has been delivered as part of the Council’s partnership with CGI, and was partly funded by the Council and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 2014-2020 programme known as ‘Scotland’s 8th City – the Smart City’.

You can find more information about this project on the council’s Smart Waste page.

1500 Smart Housing Sensors to pick up issues of damp early

As part of the council’s commitment to providing warm and healthy homes, the council is trialling humidity, temperature and CO2 sensors in 500 council properties.

The sensors, which have just been installed, should allow housing repair officers to find issues faster and fix them before they impact tenants.

This will prove particularly important as the Council actions a damp and improvement plan, to better monitor, communicate and respond to issues of dampness in tenants’ homes, which is a major priority for the city. This project has been delivered as part of the Council’s partnership with CGI and was partly funded by the Council and a grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 2014-2020 programme known as ‘Scotland’s 8th City – the Smart City’.

An Intelligent Infrastructure system to keep tabs on traffic and air quality

An Intelligent Infrastructure project will introduce a digital Urban Traffic Management and control system (UTMC) to monitor traffic and environmental conditions around the city. It is hoped that this will contribute towards the council’s understanding and abilities around clearing congestion and improving air quality.

The system will continuously receive data from a range of sources, such as journey time, traffic flow and air quality, and act autonomously to make changes to traffic signal timings on the road network to improve traffic flow.

It is already helping the council manage traffic flow disruptions produced by large events such as International Rugby at Murrayfield, as well as catering for diverted and altered traffic patterns due to roadworks or incidents on the trunk road network, such as the City Bypass or M8. Journey time monitoring will be provided using data from 10 major arterial routes in the city, alongside real-time data, to Traffic Scotland to manage responses to disruptions on the trunk road network.

In the next phase of the council’s smart city project, there are plans to install Air quality monitoring sensors across 10 locations, measuring levels of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Particulate Matter (PM2.5 and PM10), with the opportunity of alerts when any areas experience poor air quality. This project has been delivered by the Council, and part funded through a grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 2014-2020 programme known as ‘Scotland’s 8th City – the Smart City’.

Digital devices for every child

The council has rolled out personal digital devices for every school pupil from P6 to S6 as part of an ambitious and inclusive education strategy, ‘Edinburgh Learns for Life’.

The programme has seen 27,500 new iPads issued to pupils/teachers, refreshed iPads for up to 12,000 pupils/teachers and expanded connectivity thanks to additional wireless access points in schools.

As well as the personal distribution to pupils, additional iPads have been handed out to P1 to P5 year groups so they can be shared for learning. The rollout for the Empowered Learning programme has been delivered by CGI and funded thanks to a £17.6m investment from the Council’s budget.

Ongoing CGI delivery partnership

The council has realised savings of £45m since its partnership with digital solutions provider CGI began in 2015, with an additional £11m saved in 2018, and an extension agreed last year until 2029 is expected to realise a further £12m.

In addition to the Smart City projects already mentioned, the ambitious partnership focuses on:

  • Responding to the needs of a post-Covid Capital city by driving forward digital transformation
  • Increasing digital security to protect the Council’s network and data
  • Reducing the Council’s carbon footprint by reducing paper and print, reducing waste, and reusing or recycling equipment
  • Enhancing options for remote working for Council employees
  • Taking advantage of global trends such as moving to cloud-based services to reduce costs.

Further details on the council’s work with CGI is available on the council’s website.

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