Public service: Citizen-centered design defines truly ‘smart’ cities

Every city wants to improve public service performance, engage citizens and unleash economic growth. But no city will achieve those outcomes through technology alone.

In the Industrial Age, cities knew their role: help create infrastructure, production facilities and marketplaces for industrial goods and services. In the Information Age, many are still defining and differentiating themselves.

Seventy percent of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050. These urban centers are competing intensely for global investments and best talent. 1 Meanwhile, the digitally enabled information economy is leveling the geographic playing field, reducing traditional advantages for port cities and trading hubs.

In the race to build strong urban information economies, some municipal leaders are buying into a “Smart Cities” vision. Accenture believes that if such a vision makes technology the goal, a city may be “smart” but still unable to attract the quantity and caliber of residents it needs to thrive. Accenture believes technology should be the means of delivery, not the objective. Cities that prioritize technology are unlikely to maximize the value of their “smart initiatives” and may struggle to move from pilot to scale.

Forward-thinking cities are taking a step back—thinking carefully about what citizens want and investing in novel and more effective ways of delivering those outcomes. They’re putting people—not technology—at the center of public service strategies and investments and following the lead of other consumer-driven industries.

Such industries have demonstrated the power of dissecting and addressing consumer needs. Now cities are adopting some of their techniques: in-depth market research, citizen experience laboratories and pilot programs for finding problems and fine-tuning performance before launching products or services at scale.

With its Smart Nation vision, Singapore aims to be a city where people live meaningful, fulfilled lives enabled by technology. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has stated that Smart Nation isn’t about using technology in a piecemeal way; it’s about taking a thoughtful, systematic approach, and building a platform that everyone can contribute to. Singapore’s Housing and Development Board (HDB) is piloting monitoring and alert sensors to support safety and quality of life for the elderly. Installed in HDB apartments, the sensors will monitor for unusual activity and notify relatives or neighbors.

In Dubai, the Smart Government Program has launched a Customer Experience Lab to support direct engagement with citizens. The lab is channeling customer feedback to government entities—enabling better understanding and segmentation of citizens and public service design based on citizen, not government, needs.

Officials in Copenhagen are exploring how to combine public and private data to create innovative new solutions. Building upon established strength in clean technology and a progressive national digital government agenda, Copenhagen’s vision is to derive significant insights by blending large quantities of data on traffic, energy, housing, waste, weather and other factors that shape quality of life. These insights will likely inform highly effective, citizen-centric design of new public services.

As your city nurtures its urban information economy, are you focusing on the latest technology—or tuning in to citizens’ priorities and delivering public service for the future?

1 Source: OECD, OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction - Key Facts and Figures, 2014