With more than 50% of the world’s population already living in cities, and projections that this number will grow to 70% plus by 2050, the accelerating trend of urbanization raises many challenges and demands for governments.
From September 20-21, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, under the auspices of the Ljubljana Forum 2012 – Future of Cities, a gathering of city leaders, policymakers, financiers and technology providers came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing rapidly growing cities in Southeast Europe and beyond.
Jan Muehlfeit, Microsoft EMEA Chairman, shared his perspective on the opportunity that technology provides to advance the role of cities. As the centre of economic value and innovation, cities have a role in attracting the necessary talent to drive growth. He summarized key factors influencing this growth under three themes:
1. Technology – access to services, delivery of environment
2. Tolerance – rule of law, public safety, taxation, social welfare
3. Talent – education and skills, incentives for start-ups
Other distinguished speakers talked about mega-trends driving the future of cities, as well as energy efficiency and sustainability. There was also much discussion about the broader ecosystem of the always-on and fully-connected city. With many mayors in attendance, the role of leadership, organizational models and governance was also discussed. However, it was interesting to note the common role that IT played as an underpinning and enabler of many of the potential solutions.
I was honoured to have the opportunity to talk briefly about the Microsoft approach to creating a real impact for better cities in one of the panels. Today, most cities have built their citizen services in silos, and consequently, the supporting IT has followed in those silos. As part of the panel I participated in, I was able to show how the Microsoft approach provides a platform and an ecosystem that offers a route to delivering high quality, low-cost and sustainable citizen services in cities, with examples from Madrid, Paris, London, Cape Town and others. In particular, I was able to briefly demonstrate the “Mayors / City Leaders Dashboard” featuring the Windows 8 touch-tile interface on Windows 8 devices (which also works on other slates and smartphones) to give city leaders an intuitive front-end to the KPIs they need to drive the city strategy. This demo was built in association with Microsoft partner Extended Results.
The current financial situation facing cities in Southeast Europe and beyond shows that simply delivering the same with less, or trying to do more with less is not a sustainable long-term strategy. Rather, doing things differently with less makes it possible to meet the demands of the future. While the process may not be easy and will demand foresight, commitment and nerve from city leaders, it will allow cities to leap into the future and provide the necessary infrastructure and environment – especially when linked to modern, integrated, and interoperable platforms and solutions – required to thrive.
There is no doubt that urbanization is inevitable, and will shape how the vast majority of the world’s populations will live in the next 35 years. What is not clear, however, is whether or not this shift will improve the quality of life for citizens. Avoiding a dystopian future will take courageous leadership from city mayors, coupled with a modern IT infrastructure, and a vibrant ecosystem of integrated solutions that deliver essential services in a cost-effective and sustainable way. With the right leadership and smart IT investments, the future of cities is sure to be bright.
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