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Microsoft unveils CityNext initiative

Rebecca Lambert speaks to Microsoft’s Laura Ipsen about the company’s new CityNext initiative, which centres on a people-first approach to city innovation.

On 10 July 2013, Laura Ipsen, corporate vice president of Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft, announced the launch of Microsoft CityNext on stage at the company’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Houston, US.

Microsoft CityNext is a global initiative designed to enable city leaders to effectively harness technology to build a foundation for sustained innovation. Grounded in a partnership approach, the initiative is designed help cities effectively leverage Microsoft’s devices and services platform and city-specific solutions from Microsoft’s vast partner network to transform their future. The aim is to create an environment where governments, businesses and citizens collaborate to shape the future of their cities. “Through Microsoft CityNext, we are working to harness the potential of all city residents to create healthier, greener and more prosperous communities,” says Ipsen.

It’s worth noting that the initiative does not mark Microsoft’s first foray into working with cities. “We are highly engaged in this space and have a footprint in almost every city in the world,” said Ipsen. “But cities have been on what I call the ‘daily diet of austerity’ and they’re having to find ways of doing more with less and new with less. Their citizens are demanding new services and competition between cities for resources continues to grow. This calls for a new generation of solutions and services that drive citizen engagement and foster economic, social and environmental sustainability.”

As Ipsen highlights: “For the first time in history, over 50 per cent of the world’s populations live in cities. The United Nations estimates that over 9.6 billion people will live on the planet by 2050 and over 70 per cent of that population will live in cities. What does that mean for the quality of life for everyone, urban or rural, and the future supply and demand for resources like energy, water and land?

“As the world becomes more urban and cities grow to millions of citizens, what will be needed to ensure they are smart and sustainable?” she added. “Cities are the economic engines of nations and they need to not only survive, but to also reimagine their futures to be sustainable, innovative and competitive – and what’s next. Microsoft’s CityNext initiative puts people first and builds on the new era of collaborative technologies to engage citizens, business and government leaders in new ways.

“While technology can create and even accelerate opportunities, we also know that citizens and businesses need to be engaged for the innovation necessary to keeping cities competitive,” said Ipsen. There are no easy answers to the complex challenges cities face which is why CityNext goes beyond ‘technology capacity’ to ‘human capacity’ by having a people first approach to innovation – empowering citizens, businesses and governments to connect, have an open dialogue and shape their future together.

Microsoft CityNext helps leaders make the most of their existing investments to find new ways of overcoming challenges and reaching their goals

Laura Ipsen, Microsoft
 
As Microsoft pushes ahead with its transformation into becoming a devices and services company, it is well positioned to meet cities’ ongoing needs. “We have a strong platform and the power of more than 600,000 technology experts from the vast and diverse Microsoft Partner Network to support us,” said Ipsen. “Not only is this a collaboration between cities and their citizens, it’s also a collaboration between Microsoft and our partners to accelerate their innovative solutions through our platform, cloud and devices, scaling them to meet the needs of any size city and then replicating them globally.

“Microsoft CityNext helps leaders make the most of their existing investments to find new ways of overcoming challenges and reaching their goals,” added Ipsen. “Cities can gain new capabilities using flexible cloud services, empower city employees with enterprise-grade devices and apps, and innovate on their terms with modern solutions and big data platforms. This innovation can allow critical information to flow seamlessly between departments and among government, businesses and citizens, driving efficiencies enabling cities to put more resources back into the community.”

Drawing insight from many years of working with city leaders worldwide, Microsoft has identified more than 40 solution areas across eight key city domains – energy and water; buildings, planning and infrastructure; transportation; public safety and justice; tourism, recreation and culture; education; health and social services; and government administration – that can help address 90 per cent of the challenges cities face today. Solutions in these domains cover everything from water and wastewater management, street lighting, traffic management and surveillance systems, to tourism portals, education analytics, social benefits and administration, and city financial management.

The strategy for implementing these solutions across the domains is anchored around three key pillars: transforming operations and infrastructure; engaging citizens and businesses; and accelerating innovation and opportunity. “Firstly, we want cities to understand that transformation does not need to start from scratch,” said Ipsen. “It’s an evolution, not a revolution, and new solutions should build upon and work with a city’s existing and potentially diverse investments.”

The second pillar is around better engaging citizens and businesses. “In this new world of online, real-time information, we can use social media, new applications with Windows 8 and our innovative apps to provide rich, personalised experiences that result in better-served, more engaged citizens and businesses,” said Ipsen.

The third pillar is about driving the acceleration of innovation and opportunities. At the end of the day, what do cities really want? They want economic growth and jobs. “We have a deep track record of delivering in this space,” said Ipsen. “Probably one of the best examples of that is our Partners in Learning programme. It’s a platform for helping educators effectively use IT to improve learning outcomes and enable their students with 21st century skills. So far, the programme has reached more than 12 million teachers, school leaders and hundreds of millions of students – it’s another effective collaboration.”

Visionary cities
Already, several visionary cities have stepped forward to embark with Microsoft and its CityNext partners on this journey to address their most pressing issues in a modern and innovative manner. Led by motivated, forward-looking leaders, these cities are taking an important step to better serve citizens and realise their true potential through cross-functional collaboration that increases efficiencies, reduces costs and fosters a more sustainable environment.

The city of Barcelona, which has a long-established global reputation for innovation, has been working with Microsoft and its partners to successfully harness cloud, data and apps to enhance administrative operations, improve interactions with citizens and make information transparent.

Due to their proven scalability and security, cloud services and devices from Microsoft support a number of key initiatives that the Barcelona City Council has implemented – both directly and in collaboration with Microsoft partners. These services and devices include an enhanced virtual desktop infrastructure for field employees supported by the Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 operating systems, which enables efficiency and greater productivity. Microsoft Office 365 has also been deployed for use by the city’s police and firefighters and a Microsoft Dynamics CRM implementation supports the city’s strategic and comprehensive Citizen Care and Engagement initiative. Meanwhile, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Microsoft SQL Server 2012 are just some of the technologies used in the city’s open data initiative called OpenData BCN.

“Barcelona has a reputation as a hub of technological innovation and is a great example of a city that is using technology to ensure it is competitive in the future,” said Ipsen. “Through cloud technology, Barcelona has improved services for citizens, increased city employees’ productivity and supported innovation – all in the face of economic austerity.”

The UK public body Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is another shining example of city innovation. It worked with Microsoft partner Black Marble to come up with a cost-effective way of making city transport data publicly available. Using Windows Azure to store and access all of the city region’s transport data as well as the Microsoft Visual Studio 2012 development system to create a single data model across all TfGM data sources, Black Marble completed TfGM’s real-time open data information system in just six weeks, and more than 100 developers have already jumped on board to develop apps. With new transportation apps available for Greater Manchester, citizens and visitors are able to travel around the city region faster and more easily.

“Microsoft CityNext takes a people-centric approach, working with local partners to make citizens’ lives better,” said Ipsen. “Greater Manchester is a fine example of this in action – working with a thriving developer community to find solutions to the challenges the city was facing in its transport system.”

Microsoft is also extremely proud of its involvement in France’s first smart-grid neighbourhood. IssyGrid is a demonstration project, which set out to reduce energy use in the French town of Issy-les-Moulineaux. It is run by a consortium of corporate partners and local utilities that consider energy conservation an opportunity for businesses to solve. About 200 test homes and four commercial buildings in the community have been outfitted with energy consumption monitoring devices, with the goal of ultimately expanding the programme to the entire town of 5,000 residents and 10,000 business employees.

IssyGrid collects energy consumption data and process it in real time by using Windows Azure. The consortium analyses the data by using Microsoft SQL Server 2012 data management software. IssyGrid then provides this data to citizens so that they can see how they are using electricity. This enables them to take specific conservation actions, such as turning off the television or lowering the temperature by two degrees.

“IssyGrid is a great example of how cloud data analytics have been used for energy conservation, one of the most pressing issues facing cities today,” said Ipsen. “By providing citizens with real-time data on their energy usage, IssyGrid has given them the information to take specific actions to conserve energy by up to 20 per cent. Local utilities can also take advantage of features such as smart public lighting, which adapts street light levels to road traffic and natural light in real time. This is a wonderful case in point of how one city is proactively working to solve a 21st century urban challenge.”

Ipsen believes that as awareness spreads of the benefits of working with Microsoft and its partners on CityNext projects, more and more cities will jump on board the initiative to enable self-sustaining cycles of innovation, opportunity and progress for years to come. “To quote John F. Kennedy, ‘We will neglect our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the nation,’” said Ipsen. “I truly believe that when people in a city come together to collaborate and innovate, adding the right technology solutions can liberate resources and solve some of the toughest challenges their cities face. We truly believe that Microsoft CityNext amplifies the great work already taking place in cities around the world and will accelerate new opportunities for city leaders, businesses and citizens to make a real impact for a better tomorrow in their communities.”

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2013 issue of Touch

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