Cities have been at the epicentre of the pandemic since the earliest days of COVID-19.  Crowded office buildings, restaurants and public transportation made contact to the virus much more likely. The allure of the urban setting soon became a threat. After months of stayathome orders that emptied their streets, cities are awakening to a new era and a new challenge: how to revive city life and still keep people safe. Perhaps more than ever before, I see new possibilities for urban innovation. 

As we move into a period of co-existence with the virus, cities must continue to focus on resilience and adaptability, with continuous innovation making that a reality. The engine for continuous innovation is technology. Accenture’s Technology Vision 2020 report described this trend as Innovation DNA, where organisations set themselves apart by merging disruptive technology, new capabilities and a fresh approach to collaborative partnerships. While Innovation DNA is unique to each city, there are some common threads. 

The basics of Innovation DNA

Many cities are currently operating in emergency mode as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Others have found a level of co-existence. In either situation, one thing is clear: current operations are not sustainable. Building Innovation DNA will be key to outmanoeuvering this uncertainty and thriving in the new. Here’s how cities can build resilience against future shocks: 

1. Embracing disruptive technologies

When it comes to disruptive technologies, it’s as much the application as it is the technology, that’s key. Truly disruptive technologies are those that respond to current and future human needs. Cities have a unique opportunity to fully and flexibly integrate physical and digital systems to generate everincreasing urban data sets to power their Innovation DNA. For example, as downtown districts embrace more active modes of transport, like walking and cycling, we can use digital twin technology to model the impact on people’s commutes, last mile logistics and public transit.  

2. Building capabilities 

Wherever cities sat on the digital maturity index before COVID-19, most have accelerated quickly as a result of workathome orders. As a result, we’re seeing the expansion of conversational AI and online platforms for citizen engagement. And it’s increasing trust in government. As digital communication becomes the new norm for prevention and emergency citizen support, Innovation DNA must remain focused on people to reinforce this trust. A human centred approach to capability development is foundational, and this also includes ensuring employees are appropriately skilled to support citizens.  

3. Forging new alliances and partnerships 

The pandemic created unlikely urban alliances like the hotel industry housing the homeless and private transport providers delivering medicines. These nimble moves may become the hallmark of the new era. If so, urban service providers must find new ways to continuously work with city agencies to meet citizen needs. Using human-centred design strategies, the urban engine will need to navigate alliances and partnerships to reshape spaces, create reemployment pathways and support communities.  

Beyond the pandemic

COVID-19 has made Innovation DNA more relevant and urgent to cities than before. By identifying the technologies that respond to human needs, cities can start to outmanoeuvre uncertainty. Taking a human-first focus allows for nimble moves to build capabilities and forge alliances. By doing this, cities will find resiliency in the strands of their Innovation DNA, to connect and thrive in the post-COVID era.  

I’d be keen to hear your thoughts.

Stephen Zoegall

Director – Consulting, Cities, Transport and Infrastructure

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