Building the ‘data dividend’ for citizens

23 June 2014 | Gary Wachowicz, Industry Managing Director, Worldwide Public Sector

In cities worldwide, a transformation is occurring, driven by the ability to pull insights from data. Whether it’s government administration, public safety, buildings, transportation, or tourism, cities are finding new ways to connect IT systems and free up data to improve services across nearly every city function.

The stakes are huge. According to Microsoft-sponsored research from IDC, government organizations worldwide stand to gain $206 billion in value over the next four years by connecting data streams, using new analytics tools, and delivering insights to more people. So what can modern cities do to become “smart cities” and tap into this data dividend?

The mega-trends in technology that make it possible are cloud, mobile and embedded devices, social media, and analytics. Unifying these technologies through an open platform that works cohesively from end to end is crucial. Cities should look for a secure cloud platform, powerful and modern analytics software, familiar productivity tools, and technologies that can work with the same data from the moment it is collected by sensors or mobile devices, all the way to desktop, laptop, and tablet computers used by city employees.

Once the data is open and available, almost any city operation can be improved. Here are four areas where cities can tap their data to make a big impact.

Citizen services

The Singapore Public Utilities Board/National Water Agency (PUB) worked with Microsoft to develop the MyWaters app for Windows Phone and Windows 8 to deliver water-related information before natural disasters such as flash floods or rising sea levels catch them off guard. Singaporeans can check the app for information about key drains and canals during storms, and get real-time updates and images from CCTVs on road situations during heavy downpours. Users can also view and share photos from PUB’s Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters sites; learn water conservation tips; and provide feedback on water-related issues so the agency can better respond during emergencies. The app has provided citizens with seamless, up-to-date information while providing a great channel for the agency to interact with users.

Public safety

This is another area where cities can offer innovative, affordable solutions that help improve the lives of citizens. Incorporating mobile devices and social media can help modernize a city’s 911 systems and ensure a fast, coordinated response when seconds matter. The City of New York Police Department (NYPD) has taken it a step further with its Domain Awareness System, a solution that aggregates and analyzes public safety data in real time, providing NYPD investigators and analysts with a comprehensive view of potential threats and criminal activity.


Transportation is one of the most important drivers for social and economic development, so it’s not surprising that this is another big area where cities around the world are investing in technology. Using expanded data analysis capabilities, the Helsinki (Finland) Bus Transportation Company has reduced fuel consumption, increased customer satisfaction, and is even using sensor data to proactively identify vehicles that are developing mechanical problems for maintenance.

Buildings and infrastructure

A city’s physical assets, such as its buildings and infrastructure, can also be improved using data from business systems, data stores, audio-video camera feeds, sensors, and even social media applications. Recently the City of Seattle implemented a smart building solution that is designed to increase energy efficiency in large commercial buildings across the downtown corridor. The solution has been piloted in an initial set of buildings totaling approximately 2 million square feet, and the goal of the project is to reduce downtown energy use by 25 percent.

Efficient, healthy cities are competitive cities, able to attract more citizens, businesses and tourists, and build robust, stable commerce. In this era of rapid urbanization and decreasing budgets, governments must find ways to address urban challenges and build new capabilities with less. Using technology to build a new data dividend for citizens just makes sense.

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Gary Wachowicz
Industry Managing Director, Worldwide Public Sector

About the Author

Gary Wachowicz | Industry Managing Director, Worldwide Public Sector

Gary provides global strategic support to government agencies, and works with Microsoft partners and their government customers to optimize agency operations and citizen services. Read more