The term ‘smart city’ is usually used to denote an urban area where technology and data are used to improve services for its citizens. These ambitious projects can sometimes falter, particularly when city leaders get caught up in the technology and lose sight of delivering positive impact for people.
“Smart cities begin with people, not technology,” says Jeremy Goldberg, worldwide public sector director of critical infrastructure at Microsoft. “For smart cities to succeed we need to be a little less concerned with adopting technology for technology’s sake and instead focus more on the impact it can have on real people.”
To deliver on the promise of smart cities, and build trust among the people using their services, Goldberg believes that urban leaders need to refocus their priorities on data.
“For smart cities to succeed, they need to meet the needs of city residents and enable a more convenient urban life,” he says. “One way to do this is to understand the way people really live in and use urban spaces so that policies and technologies can be used to have a positive impact.”
However, priorities change from person to person. For example, ‘life-long urbanites’ or those who have lived in a city for a long time, already understand the landscape well, so they want their day-to-day activities to be made as easy and predictable as possible.
“Business leaders, on the other hand, want to be able to reach customers easily and conduct operations without hassle,” says Goldberg. “This can mean everything from solutions to facilitate easier deliveries to better public transit systems that helps people to get around.”
And then there are those who are looking to relocate to the city from elsewhere. “What kinds of things matter to someone who wants to move to a new city?” he asks. “The answers to this question might include access to amenities, easy-to-understand transit and road systems, minimal congestion, and the total cost of living.”
Goldberg also suggests that cities can better meet the needs of their citizens by improving the delivery of their services. “That means both in the direct ways they interact with residents when providing services, and how they improve operational efficiency on the back end,” he explains. “Most residents will only notice those improvements to their interactions with those services, but back-end efficiencies will mean smoother operations and lower costs that lead to better overall governing.”
Data sharing is one way to achieve such efficiencies, says Goldberg. “Improving a government’s ability to collaborate and share information across agencies can reduce duplicative costs and administrative burdens, enhancing and simplifying the experiences of residents.
But how do urban leaders facilitate this data sharing? “Government agencies must adapt policies and practices to actually use the data they collect if they want to improve operations,” says Goldberg. “Elected leaders must commit to an evidence-based approach that relies on insights from the data to guide their priorities and projects.”
At the same time, with personal data driving the transformation of smart cities, urban leaders must prioritise the protection of security and privacy.
“New infrastructure has to support anonymised data collection and analysis to ensure the public trusts that their data is not being used or shared improperly,” says Goldberg.
This is where Microsoft and its partners come in, particularly in terms of service delivery and transparency. “The latter is critical,” says Goldberg. “People need to not just be told that their privacy is being protected, but also to experience it and have some active role in it.”
An example comes from Estonia, which went out of its way to establish trust between the public sector and its citizens when implementing digital services and successfully encouraging people to use them. According to an article published by Estonian World in June 2020 entitled The right mix: how Estonia ensures privacy and access to e-services in the digital age, the country created an e-service environment by coordinating “clear and established legal parameters for personal information privacy, an independent enforcement mechanism for these parameters and one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world”, which “provides a model for nations looking to expand e-governance”.
Goldberg believes that this is a strong example of data privacy rooted in the will of a government to create and maintain this kind of system. “Microsoft can provide public sector partners with the technologies they need to bring this level of transparency to people, but ultimately they need to adopt the policies to ensure they are implemented and used properly.”
Governments must also enhance service delivery if they want to build trust with their citizens. “Many people lack confidence that government institutions will serve them well,” says Goldberg. “And why wouldn’t they? Government agencies have often struggled to provide services, due to inadequate policies, processes, and technologies. And when they do provide them, they often do so slowly with administrative burdens that make using those services difficult.”
“Microsoft can provide technologies on both sides to combat this,” he says. “On the back-end we can make it easier to implement better policies through better software development operations such as GitHub. And on the front end we are providing the infrastructure necessary for more stable resident-facing experiences, such as the cloud.”
The need for greater accessibility and digital inclusion underpins many of our efforts in the tech industry. City life is notoriously fast-paced and challenging, particularly for those struggling financially or socially. “Technology has to elevate the government’s ability to help people,” says Goldberg. “That means it should be used to improve the urban infrastructure they use on a daily basis as well as social services. All too often it’s gone in the opposite direction, creating a digital divide that has prevented the people who need help the most from being able to access that help conveniently, and we need to change that.”
Moreover, cities are man-made environments by their very nature. In many cases, they have been built to accommodate a specific able subset of society. “We need to ask ourselves who is left behind in the modern cities of today, and how we can help,” says Goldberg.
Microsoft is working to address the challenges faced by elderly, visually impaired and physically disabled citizens by being actively involved with the World Economic Forum and its accessibility initiatives. The organisation is also part of The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs, a project which aims to promote the rights of people with disabilities in the digital age.
“Our goal is to be part of the change by enabling transparency, communication and continuity of business and operations,” says Goldberg. “We are investing in strategic technologies and human training to ensure that resident feedback is considered. And we are working to provide a strong technological base that supports these priorities and allows for continued improvement and development.”
We asked a selection of Microsoft partners how their solutions have driven service continuity for smart city leaders during the pandemic. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 168 of the digital edition of the Autumn 2021 issue of Technology Record.
David Masson, director of enterprise security at Darktrace, says: “Darktrace is allowing smart cities to embrace digital transformation with confidence, stopping novel attacks that evade other systems.”
Rashesh Mody, senior vice president of monitoring and control business at AVEVA, says: “Over the lockdown, AVEVA’s ICC systems were Nava Raipur’s digital backbone, providing real-time updates about urban activities for administrators, supporting affected citizens and keeping services humming.”
Elena Lipchenko, regional director of Russia at PayiQ, says: “PayiQ is applying its expertise to offer technologically advanced solutions for the smart cities and more convenient passenger service across the globe.”
Peter Durlach, chief strategy officer at Nuance Communications, says: “With Nuance, the digital, connected society can enter the world of smart cities, confident that their healthcare can keep up.”
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2021 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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