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A vision for building connected communities


Industry voice: Chris Perkins, general manager public sector Microsoft UK, explains how the CityNext vision supports the effort to promote innovation and build technology solutions for smart places

The world is changing rapidly, and individual communities – whether they are big cities, smaller towns or rural areas – need to change to manage all the resultant pressures.

The need for energy-efficiency, good quality housing, better transport systems, public safety, better education and to deal with an ageing population require holistic solutions based on digital technologies. Society has to develop connected communities and smart places.

A series of common challenges and the rapid development of new technology are prompting innovative thinking in the public and private sectors, and this is providing innovative solutions to support the effort. There is no highly prescriptive approach that would work for everyone, but public authorities can benefit from a common vision that they share with partners in harnessing technology.

They can lay the foundations for smart places by using standards and platforms as keystones for the use of technology. This provides the scope for public authorities and their partners – in the digital industry and local communities – to launch their innovation efforts without waiting for the creation of a smart city programme.

Microsoft has provided a UK template for this with its CityNext vision, outlining the common purpose and strategy, along with dozens of examples of innovative solutions from its technology partners.

It is based on five pillars that reflect the overriding priorities in using technology for the public good:

Caring and healthy – If we are to meet the needs of elderly and vulnerable people there have to be smooth transitions between treatment in the NHS and care in the wider community. It is also necessary to empower people by giving them the digital tools that will enable them to remain healthy and live independently for longer.

Educated and aspiring – Students at all levels, right up to adults returning to education and retraining, must be able to benefit from classroom devices and continuous online learning platforms, support by efficient and effective institutions. This will support the widespread development of digital skills and other capabilities that will enable connected communities to thrive.

Safe and secure – Keeping the public safe extends from their physical safety to securing their personal data. It is essential that the public sector builds trust and confidence across communities, that their safety is paramount and the response is coordinated across traditional boundaries.

Sustainable, efficient and green – Buildings, infrastructure and transport systems must function in the most energy-efficient and sustainable way possible, and mobility should extend to all types of transport.

Reimagining local services – Organisations are looking to use technology to transform services, with better, more joined up delivery, supported by robust and flexible admin and finance systems. The future of public services is being reimagined from the ground up, with a strong emphasis on self-service by harnessing the power of digital, data and AI.

These will be underpinned by requirements around the use of technology and data. They include the need for a robust, flexible communications backbone, initially based on high speed fibre but soon to be joined by 5G mobile networks. And the approach will be device-agnostic, allowing individuals and organisations to make their own choices, responding the capabilities of each device and encouraging innovation among manufacturers and their partners.

Need for standards

But this will require standards: to support interoperability between systems, to reinforce cyber security and to ensure the integrity and privacy of citizens’ personal data. A strong incentive for the latter is approaching in the form of the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

Digital identities will also become increasingly important, providing strong authentication of a citizen’s identity, and helping to align a collection of services to the benefit of an individual.

All this can lay the ground for the future exploitation of emerging technologies that provide great opportunities for public services, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data and the array of devices and sensors in the internet of things. These are going to take connected communities to the next level in building smart places that work for the good of all.

It will not emerge from big, detailed programmes, but evolve through a series of integrated solutions and innovations based on the five pillars and the underlying technology and data requirements. The realistic approach for almost every local authority will be to adopt the vision but refrain from developing a big smart city programme.

Instead they will be able to make progress through a series of steps, aiming to deal with the urgent issues today while keeping an eye on what they could achieve in the future. It will be a more cost-effective approach and one that responds to the real needs of communities.

Harnessing technologies

Microsoft CityNext provides the vision to make this possible by harnessing the technologies provided by the company and its partners. The company is known worldwide for tools such as Office 365 for office productivity, Dynamics 365 for CRM and ERP, the Microsoft Azure cloud platform and Power BI for analytics – all of which have a role to play in connected communities.

But its reach extends further through its network of partners, companies with expertise in specific technologies and have a commitment to interoperability and security. They develop solutions to meet the individual challenges, and provide a basis for further innovation, integration and collaboration. They can help to build connected communities and smart places.

There is an immense potential within Microsoft CityNext that no local authority, whether for a big metropolitan area or a small rural district, can afford to ignore. The full detail of the vision and a series of examples of the technology at work are outlined in a white paper that can downloaded from here.


Download the CityNext: Smart Places & Connected Communities vision paper here.



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