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

30 October 2013 | Joel Cherkis, General Manager, Worldwide Government

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

I see a few opportunities for city data in the not-too-distant future.

1. New revenue sources

What if you could turn all your data into dollars? Already, city transportation departments are using their traffic-congestion data to identify clear driving routes in real-time. I can imagine this insight being sold to commuters willing to pay a fee to get across town faster. Having access to this information would be a real livability gain for city dwellers and real revenue for cities: In the UK alone, untapped data is estimated at up to £6 billion. With cities 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 cut wasted time, money, and natural resources. The city of Seattle, in partnership with Microsoft and Accenture, plans to use predictive analytics to cut power usage by a staggering 25 percent. And in a ground-breaking £24-million project, the city of Glasgow this year will develop an integrated city dashboard and MyGlasgow public window to improve the city’s efficiency exponentially and provide a model for the rest of the UK, and the world.

3. More jobs

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

4. Empowered employees 

Today’s technologies also can empower employees to become super-data-users who are able to correlate data in new and inspiring ways. Take Microsoft’s Darrell Smith, for example. As Director of Facilities and Energy, he donned a data scientist hat and spearheaded the Energy Smart Buildings project at our 125-building headquarters, slashing energy consumption, maintenance time, and millions of dollars in costs. Just imagine what a city full of these super-users could accomplish. 

5. Citizen participants

I see a future full of opportunities for the world’s citizens to participate in society in interesting new ways. Already we can do things like share our health information to improve flu virus tracking and volunteer to keep fire hydrants clear of snow. In Santander, Spain, where more than 10,000 sensors were installed, the 180,000 residents are enjoying faster city services, and new apps help them participate 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 the world today has been created in the past two years. That tells me that Big Data is just going to get bigger. Clearly, this is data’s big moment. But more importantly, it’s your big opportunity to get your city on board, to use Big Data wisely to serve the citizens of your present and future city.

Have a comment or opinion on this post? Let me know @Microsoft_Gov. Or e-mail us at ongovernment@microsoft.com.

Joel Cherkis
General Manager, Worldwide Government

About the Author

Joel Cherkis | General Manager, Worldwide Government

Joel leads a team of business development and technology professionals supporting policy decisions and the delivery of relevant and scalable technology solutions into public sector markets around the world. Read more