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Since 2015, France’s 11th-largest urban area has been developing an intelligent, empirical and agile data management strategy to improve its citizens’ lives and its use of resources.

Data collected by the 1,500 sensors across the city are processed and compiled in a central hypervisor.

Data collected by the 1,500 sensors across the city are processed and compiled in a central hypervisor.

Aix en Provence is often hailed as a pioneering city in terms of data management. This city of 145,000 people (and 10 times that across the metropolitan area) launched its smart city programme in 2015, one of those rare regional projects to actually reach completion, building and growing gradually and thoughtfully over time.

The city owes this success to a pragmatic methodological approach supported by a pool of partners around Netsystem for consulting, some twenty startups for innovation, and Axians for integration. And also to a significant budget commitment. In 2022, the smart city budget topped €600,000, largely thanks to the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The city hopes to pass the million-euro mark in 2023..

Aix en Provence opted for an agile approach, deploying a broad-based data platform to better manage the region.

The smart city project in Aix began with a long design phase, with close to 20 projects completed between 2015 and 2018. Five application areas were ultimately selected: smart lighting, air quality, waste, pedestrian flow monitoring and safety. A second stage followed from 2019 to 2021 for POC testing and making the necessary adjustments. The third phase began in 2022: the transition to full-scale project.

Empirical and agile approach

This step-by-step progress would not have been possible without a business model based on framework contracts. As Cláudia Cristóvão, International Business Development Manager at Axians, explains, “The city of Aix en Provence opted for an open-ended budget to facilitate an increase in power and pragmatic rollout of use cases based on lessons learned. We are by definition in experimental territory, where tightly circumscribed planning models and highly specific budget allocations quickly prove unworkable. By moving forward step by step, we were able to make readjustments and reverse some choices that ultimately proved unsuitable”.

This is why, after 18 months of studies, the solution initially selected for the supervision platform was eventually replaced with an alternative from PTC. Another empirical move was the rollout of a private LoRa network across the city’s 18,600 hectares. For the purposes of measuring pedestrian flows, Wi-Fi was dropped in favour of people-counting cameras.

Above all, this agile approach made it possible to integrate new application areas with the five initially selected. The first covered lighting, with 500 connected on-street electrical cabinets. The city also placed sensors in parking areas for better management of parking spaces for people with reduced mobility, and installed equipment for heat island detection and intelligent watering of green spaces. Multipurpose sensors were configured to measure noise levels in the streets for safety.

1,500 sensors by the end of 2022

More than 1,000 sensors are currently distributed across the city, with another 500 being installed by the end of 2022. All the data processed from this intelligent network and around a hundred different indicators is transmitted to the central hypervisor.

Here too, the use of a single platform controlled by the city is a strategic choice. Axians project manager Christophe Meunier says, “It’s the best solution if we want to allow connection of all the data sources and integrate new custom-designed use cases. The city also wanted to ensure effective interfacing with its different services, to help them take ownership of the data and applications”.

For example, the local police can check the noise level in a given street if they receive a report or complaint from a resident. Similarly, the company responsible for redevelopment will use the flow data in managing urban design.