Big Data’s big moment: Turning data into better places to live

With billions of people around the worldmigrating to our cities, today’s leaders know their governments must transformor their communities will be passed by. To guide this transformation, insteadof being led by it, you must make the most of a crucial resource: your data. Thatmay mean collecting new data through citywide sensors, sharing data across departments,or analyzing all of it using new technologies. The idea is to make connectionsthat have never before been possible. You can then use these insights to createbetter policies, programs, and services. And these will, in turn, make yourcity more livable, competitive, and responsive to its skyrocketing population.

I see a few opportunities for city data in thenot-too-distant future.

1. New revenue sources

What if you could turn all your data intodollars? Already, city transportation departments are using theirtraffic-congestion data to identify clear driving routes in real-time. I canimagine this insight being sold to commuters willing to pay a fee to getacross town faster. Having access to this information would be a reallivability gain for city dwellers and real revenue for cities: In the UK alone,untapped data is estimated at up to £6billion. Withcities under pressure not only to preserve but also increase citizen services,that revenue could be quite a boon. 

2. Huge efficiency gains

I see Big Data helping cities dramatically cutwasted time, money, and natural resources. The city of Seattle, in partnershipwith Microsoft and Accenture, plans to use predictive analytics to cut powerusage by a staggering 25 percent. And in a ground-breaking £24-million project,the city of Glasgow thisyear will develop an integrated city dashboard and MyGlasgow publicwindow to improve the city’s efficiency exponentially and provide a model forthe rest of the UK, and the world.

3. More jobs

To make the most of your data, you need theright people—data scientists—inside your local government and businesses, readyto turn mountains of data into actionable insights. These are new, highlyskilled jobs that pay well—a great opportunity for cities to attract educatedcitizens to join their workforces. Gartner thinks as many as 4million newdata scientists may be needed, just in the next three years.

4.Empowered employees 

Today’s technologies also can empower employeesto become super-data-users who are able to correlate data in new andinspiring ways. Take Microsoft’s Darrell Smith, for example. As Director ofFacilities and Energy, he donned a data scientist hat and spearheaded the EnergySmart Buildings projectat our 125-building headquarters, slashing energy consumption, maintenancetime, and millions of dollars in costs. Just imagine what a city full ofthese super-users could accomplish. 

5. Citizen participants

I see a future full of opportunities for theworld’s citizens to participate in society in interesting new ways. Already wecan do things like shareour health information to improve flu virus tracking and volunteer to keep fire hydrants clear of snow.In Santander, Spain, wheremore than 10,000 sensors were installed, the 180,000 residents are enjoyingfaster city services, and new apps help themparticipate more fully in governing their community. 

I’ve heard that each and every day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data on Earth and that 90 percent of the data in theworld today has been created in the past two years. That tells me that Big Datais just going to get bigger. Clearly, this is data’s big moment. But moreimportantly, it’s your big opportunity to get your city on board, to use Big Datawisely to serve the citizens of your present and future city.

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Joel Cherkis
General Manager, Worldwide Government