Centre for Economic Transformation| CET

An exploration of smart city approaches by international ICT firms


As part of the growing interest in cities to address persistent sustainability issues in society, ‘smart cities’ have increasingly become a ubiquitous phenomenon globally. For multinational enterprises (MNEs), this has provided opportunities to develop and market technological innovations to facilitate the creation of smart cities, given that the deployment of information and communication technology (ICT) is commonly considered to be a central tenet of smart cities.

This paper explores the strategic approaches of three MNEs from the ICT industry (IBM, Cisco, and Accenture) as suppliers of ‘smart city technologies’, rooted in an international business perspective. Based on qualitative data collected from semi-structured interviews and documentation on firm activities related to smart cities, our study offers two contributions.


The empirical analysis provides insight into how MNEs have developed resources and capabilities in the smart city realm from a multitude of smart city engagements globally, and shows how firm-specific strategies and programmes for smart cities (IBM Smarter Cities, Cisco Smart + Connected Communities, and Accenture Intelligent Cities) have facilitated this process.


It provides an actor-centric perspective on the (potential) role of business in the emergence and spread of technological innovations for urban development, helping to address the need for further insights into (smart) cities and stakeholder involvement in sustainability transitions.

Reference van den Buuse, D., & Kolk, A. (2019). An exploration of smart city approaches by international ICT firms. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 142, 220-234. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2018.07.029

Publication date

May 2019


Ans Kolk

Research database