Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud technology are two of modern business’ biggest disruptors because of the extent to which they integrate company data architecture and logistic management. Though businesses have heavily adopted this technology, it is starting to gain ground on a greater level.

Enter the smart city. Invisibly, amongst skyscrapers and heavy traffic, devices exchange data, creating a detailed and complicated picture of city life. Any aspect of a city’s infrastructure can be monitored, be it water usage, traffic patterns, information systems, and waste management.

If this sounds a bit Orwellian to you, don’t worry—we’re far from installing surveillance on every street corner. Still, individuals have raised concerns about privacy as it relates to smart cities, an expected development when considering the similar controversy surrounding Big Data.

However, it’s hard to, at this juncture, define what a smart city is. Several “flagship cities” have already claimed the title as a result of their integration of IoT technology into the city’s infrastructure. Across the board, most of these cities have similar goals—to better manage factors such as traffic, energy consumption, and crime to create a better environment for their citizens.

Based on the widespread adoption of this technology, it’s hard to set a threshold for what qualifies as a smart city. Most modern cities have monitoring devices tied into their infrastructure in some way, but truly smart cities have cross-platform integration, where multiple facets of management are tied into a single massive network.

Another important way to define smart cities is their potential to benefit citizens. While monitoring city infrastructure may sound like it only benefits local governments, it should be noted that the implementation of citywide networks is ideally completed to improve the lives of those living there.

For instance, Madrid’s smart city initiative, known as the Smarter Madrid Platform, is dedicated to studying social issues and then using technology to help solve these problems. Other than the applications already discussed, Madrid also seeks to assist startup companies throughout the city.

There are certainly ways that a smart city can go wrong. As previously mentioned, privacy concerns may hamper progress, and for good reason. Some smart cities have opted to make all data collected publicly available, and this level of transparency may have to become a standard as the idea develops further.

So where can smart cities go from here?

The ideal is to use technology to create a safer, more automated lifestyle. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but the general consensus seems to be that linking household technology to large scale city technology is the most solid start. Many aspects of life, including personal agendas, power efficiency, and financial management can be improved with cloud networks.

Better communications lead to more efficient offices, which in turn begets employee happiness and encourages new ideas. Waste can be minimized. I could spend an entire post listing the applications of smart city technology, and it would sound like a compilation of science fiction ideas. The result, however, is perhaps not utopian cities of glittering spires, but cities much like our own, albeit with a higher standard of living that civilization has always strived for.