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June 27, 2016
Smart cities
By: Jen Hawes-Hewitt

Catalysing the Digital Economy

Through the centuries, success for cities has meant adapting to evolving economic realities: transforming from farmland to trade outposts to financial hubs. In the digital age, urban centres will be remoulded by digital and big data.

As cities have grown, their economies have evolved, adapting to new markets, technologies and incentives. Where once ‘New Amsterdam’ and ‘York’ thrived as fur-trading outposts, now New York and Toronto sit at the centre of global trade, services and tourism. The latest re-invention of the urban economy is prompted by big data, which is already changing how people live and work. Residents having long-since embraced the digital age – with now more mobile devices than people on the planet; the time is now ripe for city leaders to do so too.

This is not about technology for technology’s sake, but as an enabler in helping cities respond to real human needs and to deliver ultimately better public service outcomes.

The Future of the Digital City

The data captured by City Hall can be used – in collaboration with the private sector – to improve services, fuel the local entrepreneurial environment and drive growth. To capitalise, cities must evolve to become digital, as well as physical, hubs. That means identifying the real world issues, genuine frustrations of citizens or avoidable inefficiencies of resources. Then addressing these by nurturing their digital economies, releasing data and creating an urban information marketplace. In short, City Hall can act as an information broker, collaborating with experts and the private sector to, transform service provision and improve the lives of citizens. In order to deliver this data-driven future, three key steps will be needed.

Step 1:

First, top- down leadership is required to reshape urban bureaucracies which rely on legacy infrastructure. Cities such as Chicago and San Francisco have appointed Chief Data Officers to find and use data from across the city’s government to better inform how front-line workers operate. If city leadership can find the talent and correct governance arrangements to oversee the digital transformation, they will reap the rewards.

Step 2:

Leaders must also work to break down internal data silos and embed an integrated approach. New York’s DataBridge project involves more than 20 city departments sharing a single database. Combining data in this way can have profound impacts, enabling leaders to better understand the complexity of their cities, and respond to crises such as extreme weather or disease outbreaks.

Step 3:

Finally, cities must collaborate with the private sector and academia to liberate data and solve problems.

Case Study 1:

Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) connects entrepreneurs and government, and acts as a ‘front door’ for innovators.

Case Study 2:

Singapore’s Smart Nation strategy is a cross government commitment to the digital age, it has the ambition to roll out of more than 1,000 sensors, improve cyber security and the foster digital.

Case Study 3:

In London, open data has helped propel the CityMapper app to be adopted by nearly half of the city’s smartphone users.

These solutions require a fertile innovation environment, the right regulatory framework and smart investments in technology infrastructure. In an increasingly urban world, digital technologies and big data will be critical for creating tomorrow’s citizen-centric City Hall. With their residents having long-since done so, the time is ripe for city leaders to move with the times and embrace the digital age. To remain relevant to their constituents’ evolving needs, City Hall needs to operate as an information broker: catalysing their local digital economies and delivering public service for the future.

Find out more about catalysing the Digital Economy.

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