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Sensors and effective governance makes Santander a smart city

The SmartSantander project in the Spanish city of Santander offers a preview of the possibilities: how open data and the role of citizens can transform a city. The city-run project involves 20,000 sensors that measure traffic flow, parking spaces, noise, pollution, temperature, moisture levels, and other metrics from fixed locations such as buildings, parks, streetlights, and bus stops.1 Santander residents can add to the information flow by downloading the “Pulse of the City” (PoC) app that turns their smartphones into sensors.

But the city realized that merely installing sensors won’t make the city smart. It requires a governance structure and data management process that could effectively use information collected via sensors. The city designed a strategy to identify service areas—economy, finance, energy, environment, water and waste management and mobility—which could be transformed by leveraging data from sensors.

The city council organized workshops with the staff of each identified service area and made them aware of how the data could help improve service delivery, reduce the cost of service delivery, and how and where to get this data.2 The data were all stored in a centralized cloud platform for easy access to city officials.3

The city officials analyze data in real-time to adjust the amount of energy they use, the number of trash pickups needed in a given week, and how much water to sprinkle on the lawns of city parks.4 The citizens can also tap into that data via the PoC app and use it for their daily needs. They can use real-time traffic information to plan their commute and also use the same data to know when the next bus is due.  An asthma patient can plan her day to avoid areas of high pollution, while another citizen can use the app to track the progress on complaint filed for road maintenance.

They have also made the information available to developers to create consumer services. For example, SmartSantanderRA, an augmented reality mobile application, includes information on more than 2,700 beaches, parks, monuments, tourism offices, and other city sites. The user just points her smartphone to a particular building—say, a concert hall—to get a short description about events taking place there and who is performing. The app also allows real-time access to traffic flows, weather reports and forecasts, public bus information, and bike-rental services.5

It is not hard to imagine developers eventually using the data to create an app locating the nearest parking spot. To test it, they could roll it out to residents who have opted to turn their smartphones into sensors and fine-tune it based on user feedback. In this way, citizens play the role of “prosumers” in the SmartSantander project: contribute to the data stream by turning their smartphones into sensors and also as users of services.

[1] SmartSantander, “Santander on FIRE (Future Internet Research & Experimentation),”, accessed on December 7, 2016
[2] Interview with Deloitte Spain project team, December 1, 2016
[3] Mobile World Capital, “The Spanish City of Santander to Become a Global Smart City,” November 11, 2013,
[4] Tod Newcombe, “Santander: The Smartest Smart City,” Governing, May 2014,
[5] SmartSantander, “SmartSantanderRA: Santander Augmented Reality Application,”, accessed on December 2, 2015.
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