Home/ Opinion / People-first approach to smart cities

Urbanization propels economic growth by advancing employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, making it an important player in the process of inclusion and growth. Urbanization planning should focus on inclusion which is more sustainable, prosperous, and build economically competitive cities—with a simplified approach.

Today, India is at the cusp of an urban explosion with an unabated pace of urbanization, propelled by the continuous influx of people from the rural hinterland, putting unprecedented pressure on urban infrastructure and service delivery mechanisms of various agencies.

It is a proven fact that the engagement and involvement of citizens and businesses play a critical role in making urbanization successful. The best results can be ensured only when citizens and businesses are at the centre of all such sustainable development models. A smart city is a place where everything is immensely efficient yet as humane as possible. It is a place where citizens have fulfilling lives. Thus, the solutions needed must leverage both technology capacity and human capacity by taking a people-first approach.

A smart city can leverage technology to empower citizens, businesses and governments to connect, have an open dialogue and shape the future together by building urban areas that are more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.

Microsoft CityNext is the bridge that is making city transformation possible. Officially launched in 2013, Microsoft CityNext is a company-wide initiative involving our diverse Microsoft Partner Network, all of our products and services and our two-decade history working in cities to help today’s leaders modernize now and for the next generation.

To deliver this, we’ve galvanized around three interconnected ambitions—reinvent productivity and business processes, build the intelligent cloud platform, and create more personal computing. These help cities break down departmental silos, connect disparate functions, improve decision-making, impact operational efficiency, and enable citizen services.

Microsoft CityNext enables cities to operate more efficiently and serve citizens as “One City" across eight critical functions: energy and water; buildings, infrastructure, and planning; transportation; public safety and justice; tourism, recreation, and culture; education; health and social services; and government administration. We’ve identified over 40 solution scenarios in these areas that can address 90% of the challenges faced in these areas.

In Surat, for example, the city’s police department and Surat Traffic Education Trust, a private and public partnership, are using a Microsoft platform to enhance safety by assisting the city police to proactively monitor, analyse and respond to security and crime threats. This has significantly reduced the response time of law enforcing officers, ultimately making the city safer.

Similarly, Seattle decided that conserving energy was the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to meet its growing energy needs. It aimed to reduce downtown power usage by up to 25%. The solution, driven in partnership with Microsoft and Microsoft partner Accenture, was designed to apply predictive analytics to Seattle’s existing building management systems and optimize equipment for energy reduction.

In another instance, Tianjin in China needed to automate highway toll collection and improve traffic flow, so it implemented an electronic toll-collection system. Deployed within three months, the solution has improved traffic flow, and it can collect tolls from a moving vehicle in less than three seconds.

The officials in Buenos Aires, Argentina, needed to support businesses looking to relocate in the city. They worked with Accendo, a local Microsoft partner, to deploy a solution that streamlines processes, reducing the time needed to meet formal requirements by more than 65%, and increases transparency. This eases the way for developments that generate jobs for citizens, boost tax revenues, and revitalize neighbourhoods.

The CityNext initiative helps cities enable self-sustaining cycles of innovation that involve whole institutions and individual citizens alike. Microsoft has long participated in public/private partnerships with governments, non-governmental organizations, and other local stakeholders to enable citizens to realize their full potential. Around the world, these partnerships have helped millions of city residents shape a brighter future for themselves and their local communities.

Smart cities—often defined as those that use information and communication technology, and technology-assisted systems to empower citizens—are the way ahead for India. This reliance on technology underpins the government’s ambitious plan of creating a 100 smart cities. However, I believe that smart cities are more than just the simple aforementioned definition.

Innovations must work in tandem with administ rations to not only enhance the city’s infrastructure, but to equip it with the latest in technology solutions to work optimally for the welfare of citizens, and must capitalize on their demographic advantage because the key strength of any smart city is its people.

The daunting urban challenges notwithstanding, the new advances in technology together with the expertise of the IT industry can advance the Indian government’s smart cities mission to transform cities. We, at Microsoft, are excited to play a meaningful role in this journey to drive economic development, deliver efficient citizen services and bring a change that is impactful for all citizens.

The author is chairman, Microsoft Corporation (India) Pvt. Ltd.

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Updated: 02 Aug 2016, 09:03 AM IST
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