Focus on people first—and cities will thrive

10 July 2013 | Orlando Ayala, Chairman, Emerging Markets

Innovation, advancement, connectivity—we often see these words applied to technology. When cities start applying those words to people, that’s when dramatic change begins to happen. It’s when cities begin the transformation to thriving, sustainable cities of the future.

It starts by focusing on people first. That’s how cities unlock vast human potential, enable innovation, and lay the foundation for a connected future—one that builds on shared knowledge, creates opportunities, and gives citizens a chance to not only dream big but do big.  

Change is happening now. Between 1990 and 2010, the world lifted 1 billion people out of extreme poverty—a 50% reduction. Amazing progress, but more must be done over the next 20 years to lift up the remaining 1 billion, many of whom subsist on less than $1.25 per day. Cities must play a lead role in this effort.

  • It’s a great opportunity for cities—and a fascinating era for humankind. This is the first time in history that the pieces are in place to fundamentally empower the people and businesses that can make a city thrive. Cities that get it right will have an edge in attracting talent, strengthening the economy, and creating livable communities that are the envy of the world. To get there, cities must:
  • Transform operations and infrastructure—The importance of information communications technology in tomorrow’s cities cannot be overstated. Reliable access to email, file sharing, web conferencing, and instant messaging through services such as Office 365 will lower costs and remove barriers between citizens and their city. Something as fundamental as unplugging servers and moving to the cloud frees up maintenance time, reduces physical space requirements, and reduces impacts on budgets and the environment. It also promotes real-time interaction and collaboration—an absolute necessity for thriving cities.
  • Engage citizens and businesses—Cities are getting creative in how they drive change. New channels for feedback and action allow citizens to have a role in everything from neighborhood safety to water quality to the health of trees on Main Street. Small businesses are given a chance to tie their identity to the city, so these valuable contributors become economic engines not just for a city but often for an entire region. City leaders and organizations are matching services to needs. People and causes naturally come together to solve incredibly difficult challenges.
  • Accelerate opportunity and innovation—Great cities create innovation ecosystems that bring tech start-ups, entrepreneurs, and universities together through city-created channels. It allows change to happen faster and better, which brings in new investments, makes cities more livable, and attracts new talent to keep the innovation cycle going. It’s important to think outside city limits: extend physical and digital capabilities by creating diagonals and competitive corridors. Enable trains with WIFI and watch what happens when people can work anytime, anywhere. Use cloud services such as Windows Azure to build applications that make it easy for people, businesses, and government to compete with the entire global population.

So, where to begin? Transformation takes time, but here are three steps you can take right now to put people first and lay a foundation for the future:

  1. Move to the cloud. Unplug physical servers to save money, increase worker flexibility, and enable your city and its people to collaborate and drive business competitiveness.
  2. Enable two-way dialogue between your city and its citizens. Use social networks to hear what works and what doesn’t. Don’t just push messages out there, pull citizens into your orbit and hear their concerns.
  3. Put real-time and face-to-face communication in place. Instant feedback from real-time and face-to-face communication, via services such as Lync and OneNote, is a low-cost way to go beyond location and administration restraints to build a foundation for the future. 

A people-first approach to innovation goes beyond deploying next generation infrastructure. We must also unleash the power and intention of governments, businesses, and citizens to create healthier, greener, safer, more successful places to live today and tomorrow. But it doesn't happen overnight. The Microsoft CityNext initiative takes the long view, addressing citizen needs with citywide solutions for mobility, social, big data, and cloud. CityNext enables cities to fully harness this new era of innovation with a people-first strategy.

It’s a transformative undertaking that requires the massive resources of a company like Microsoft. We’re not doing it alone, of course. We’re working with partners, technologists, city leaders, and citizen organizations. We’re all working together to make our cities more livable and more connected, so the people and businesses in them can thrive—economically, environmentally, and socially.

Re-imagine your city’s future. Learn more about Microsoft’s CityNext initiative, Telefónica's communication and collaboration initiative, and Hainan's transformation into an international tourism and software development destination.

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Orlando Ayala
Chairman, Emerging Markets

About the Author

Orlando Ayala | Chairman, Emerging Markets

Ayala is dedicated to helping federal, provincial, and local governments develop the digital infrastructure, educational programs, and human resource potential to turn their particular capabilities into a competitive advantage on an international scale. Read more