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A future beckons in which urban spaces are fully enabled by sensing, automating, and intelligent technologies and data becomes ever more valuable and central to the way we operate and govern our municipalities. Cities are facing choices that will determine our direction of travel within the ‘data economy’ for some time to come.
We are still experiencing the biggest global challenge since the 1940s: the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for years and it has given cities a taste of the future - of a time when frequent rolling crises are the new normal in the face of the linked climate and ecological emergencies.
The urban response to the pandemic highlighted the need for data to support rapid action across the board. It is data that has helped track the progress of the disease and informed whether - and in which circumstances - defensive measures have been effective.
As we re-tune our cities increasingly towards being more resilient, and to benefit from the opportunities brought about by ever increasing innovation, this agile approach will be our best response.
Yet, our capacity to be responsive is impacted by a range of additional factors: the relative size and capacity of cities to resource agile responses independently; the growing demand of cities for data and data-driven innovation and the ensuing ‘data crunch’; and, the increasing complexity of the challenges we face globally.
The urgency of finding pathways to support open and agile decision-making has never been greater, and the benefits never clearer.
So where to begin? Cities at the beginning of the data journey are often confronted with myriad choices: is it carrying out a root and branch review; carving out ‘priority’ data; enabling random innovation to drive direction, or something else?
We now recognise the question is better framed around the need to match priority issues to solutions (and therefore the data required in support).
Being able to learn from other cities, collaborate, benefit from ‘city-sourcing’ – whether this is on skills, legal, procurement or governance – is going to be critical for city readiness to meet global challenges on one hand, and on the other, to address a raft of internal barriers including dealing with ageing legacy systems, lack of internal knowhow and ongoing skilling, and meeting the price of costly upgrades.
The good news is there are now tools and mechanisms in place which allow cities to overcome traditional barriers to entry – and which facilitate more agile approaches that reflect individual city needs. Supported by a strategic approach to data governance, two basic planks can provide a platform for change: cloud-based services; and, the means by which solutions can become interoperable – through what are known as Minimal Interoperability Mechanisms (MIMs).
Urban managers wishing to innovate, need to be able to pick up solutions and try them on for size, adapt, implement or, ultimately, move on to a new innovation that suits better, without significant price tags attached: something which cloud-based solutions with the support of the MIMs, and within an effective decision-making framework, can offer.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the many challenges and opportunities facing cities. One way to begin is to take a single bite - rather than trying to ‘eat the whole elephant’. With this in mind, we suggest that cities wanting to start out on this journey consider some basic steps first that can be summarised in three steps:
- 1.PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION
- 2.DATA REVIEW
- 3.MATCH & PILOT.
This guide provides the pathways to support on this journey and information about how to get started. It includes real, practical examples from cities – an invaluable resource. When you are ready, we would love to include your examples too.