Digital Transformation in Cities

The World Bank indicates that for the first time ever, the majority of the world’s population live in a city, and this proportion continues to grow. One hundred years ago, 2 out of every 10 people lived in an urban area. By 2050 it’s projected that 7 out of 10 people will live in a city. In addition to being vital for our future, cities are the hubs of action—business, trade, technology, innovation, but what does this migration of people to cities mean for citizen government services, traffic congestion, emergency response, health services, and energy consumption?

At the sixth annual Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona (which is the next stop on our Empowerment Tour) we’ll discuss such topics. With 14,000 delegates representing over 440 cities worldwide, Smart City Expo World Congress is the world-leading smart city event. Our answer to several of the challenges facing cities today is through our Microsoft CityNext initiative, which aims to empower more sustainable, prosperous, and economically competitive cities.

The innovation required to meet this goal will come during this fourth industrial revolution – we’ll witness how artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and biotech advances delivered through cloud solutions can change our lives and shape the lives of future generations. But we will also take the responsibility to understand that the benefits of these advanced technologies remain elusive for many citizens in the world and that the “digital divide” is rapidly spreading. Today, 60% of the world’s citizens are excluded from the benefits of a digital economy. There is an incredible opportunity for all of us to do more.

Given our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, we are committed to helping citizens and governments the world over make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, as outlined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #11.

People gathered around computersConsider these examples:

The city of Surat has experienced rapid population growth, leading to a shortage of staffing in its police force. To provide a safer community for its citizens, the Surat City Police Department started the “Safe City Project,” an initiative striving to reduce the city’s crime rate using modern technology. The department created a datacenter to monitor street activities by tapping into state and national surveillance grids. Crime rate has lowered by 27% in surveillance zones.

Some of the city’s other technology successes include:

  • Implementing an e-application solution to improve the tracking of citizen requests
  • Automating water treatment plant management to optimize water usage
  • Creating a vehicle tracking system for door-to-door garbage collection
  • Adding continuously updated arrival time displays at all city bus stops
  • Introducing computer software training in all schools
  • Generating 36 percent of the city’s energy from renewable sources

Singapore city viewSingapore is running a large “Smart Nation” project aimed at Digital Transformation across the areas of Health, Living, Mobility, and Services; in a country that already has a strong digital footprint. Like many Governments, although most services are already digital, there are silos and barriers to inclusion for everyone (barriers such as digital literacy and access). While Singapore continues to work on education and access, they are also partnering with Microsoft on how a new “Conversation as a Platform” approach might break down even more barriers to service access. Our shared vision is to move to a day where any individual can access any service using their native language, from their phone, in as natural a way as visiting a service center. Using machine learning and data analytics, the vision includes building advanced chatbots to also answer more complex queries and requests without any manual intervention.

Glasgow, Scotland city viewGlasgow, Scotland transformed itself into a smart city of the future by building an open big-data platform on Microsoft Azure. This platform enables citizens to crowdsource traffic information and find real-time updates on everything from the current population of rats in the city to the availability of open bicycle racks. Further, using Power BI, the city is better able to analyze where resources should be allocated and businesses can better spot opportunities for growth.

Microsoft partners help cities provide the end-to-end software, devices and services capabilities that meet a range of needs from consumer-related demands of citizens to the mission-critical, enterprise demands of city operations.

At Smart City Expo, Microsoft will bring delegations of customers from around the world and over 50 partners will demonstrate innovative solutions to help cities digitally transform, enabling them to:

  • Engage with citizens through mobile services to better connect governments, businesses, and people.
  • Empower city employees to better collaborate across departments and increase productivity and efficiency.
  • Optimize city operations and infrastructure by connecting systems, data, and people across departments to make information more accessible and services more affordable.
  • Transform by harnessing the cloud and data explosion for actionable analysis and deep insights to innovate and design new digital services that benefit society, provide transparency, and encourage citizen participation.

I look forward to meeting you at the 2016 Smart City Expo World Congress.

Toni Townes-Whitley


Future Decoded

The United Kingdom (UK) remains one of the world’s foremost tech and start-up economies. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, (WEF) the UK ranks 8th out of 143 in effectiveness for digital technology. However, as we see globally, the UK is not without its challenges, particularly as it relates to education and health. Based on a recently published and Microsoft-sponsored Economist Intelligence Unit study, 16-25-year-olds in the UK account for 40% of all those out of work, thus reducing their revenue contribution to the economy. And globally, more people are living longer with multiple medical conditions that require costly treatments, placing an increased burden on national healthcare systems.

At FutureDecoded in London this week I’ll be discussing how leaders across the world recognize that we’re in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution that is changing our current systems of production, distribution, and consumption. Never has there been a time when technology had the potential to impact the world more than today. And with this change comes enormous opportunity and the potential to change nearly every facet of life for the better. Yet, for a substantial part of the world, the benefits of these advanced technologies are elusive. Referencing back to the WEF, even in the most advanced economies, only certain segments of the population are benefitting from this digital economy. Many are left behind because of age, limited digital literacy, lack of access, or remoteness.

At Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, and ensure that people all over the world have the tools, education, and technology to help transform their lives for the better. We are committed to helping public sector agencies remove the barriers to adoption through innovative technology and programs that have lasting impact.

FutureDecoded is part of our Empowerment Tour which has the goal of bringing our Digital Transformation through a Cloud for Global Good message and solutions to various business and public sector leaders around the world. During my Keynote and sessions, we plan to talk with leaders and showcase best practices for how technology can be a powerful enabler to solve many of the challenges facing businesses and agencies today as they focus on the future of our planet and its people. Specifically, I’ll be focusing on key UN Sustainable Development Goals that are relevant to the UK and where we believe ICT can rapidly accelerate progress, including #3 Good Health and Well-Being, #4 Education, #8 Economic Growth and #9 Industry Innovation and Infrastructure.

Good Health and Well-Being

Let me share one story with you that relates to how we want to empower countries to address critical health and well-being gaps, and harnessing technology to drive down variations in quality of care.

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) offers the blood service for England and the organ donation and transplant service for the whole of the UK. Completely reliant on volunteers registering to become donors, the service found that their systems were being overwhelmed when high profile celebrities helped with their recruitment campaigns and they needed a more agile, responsive system to manage demand and interact with their donors.

Watch Watch

Working in conjunction with Microsoft, NHSBT has harnessed Azure to develop an online booking service, plus an app for mobile devices, that accelerates the donor registration process from around a month under the previous system to a matter of hours. These innovations have had the added bonus of appealing to a younger demographic which has increased donor numbers substantially, while significantly cutting infrastructure costs for the organization. NHSBT can often see traffic to their site increase 100-fold in a very short timeframe during recruitment campaigns and they have been thrilled at the agility that they now have with Azure to cope in this situation. They are delighted with the roll out of their new services: online donor registration and booking services, customer management system and the back end systems; all of which are enabling staff to focus on improving lives with the NHSBT services.

Technology is a powerful agent of change for solving many of the challenges facing countries today as they move toward sustainable growth and development models made possible through Digital Transformation.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter as we make more Empowerment Tour stops throughout the year and help our governments and business leaders digitally transform.