I’ve been on the road again, talking to city leaders from all around the world. First, I was in Canada for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference and the Big City Mayors’ Caucus, a meeting of mayors from the nation’s 22 largest cities. Next, I went to Singapore for the World Cities Summit, where I met nearly 100 city leaders. Along the way, I asked each of them the same question: What’s the most important problem you’re trying to solve this year? I heard a lot of different answers, but still, I found some themes. From my ad-hoc survey, here are three things I learned from global city leaders about the challenges they’re facing.
Most cities are focusing on four key functions
Ninety-nine percent of my meetings were about four government tasks: Public safety, public health, transportation, and education. Others are important, but most city leaders are focused on their next moves in those four areas. They were consistent on another point, too. While they may not be sure where to go now, their citizens expect the next steps to come from a neutral third party, not a vendor who may simply want to sell products. Where do you find them? These leaders offered some great guidance: Look to intelligent cities consortia like Smart Cities Council and City Protocol Society for direction, or issue tenders and ask local integrators like PwC, Accenture, Cap Gemini, or Atos for recommendations.
Two technologies are taking center stage in cities
I heard a lot about two technology priorities among cities: The cloud and social analytics. City leaders all seemed to agree that, given the operational costs and budgetary cuts within cities, the easiest and fastest way to make progress is to consolidate your platform to the public, private, or hybrid cloud. Their advice to other cities: You need to have a cloud platform. The best way to pick one is to talk to an integrator about establishing your cloud and choosing workloads that you can benefit from immediately.
City leaders also are pushing into social analytics for things like sentiment analysis. By tuning into social channels, gathering data, and finding ways to do intelligent analysis on it, they’re really listening to the voices of socially active citizens. Why should you? To get a pulse on the topics many of your citizens are talking about—and then adjust how you operate the city based on social analytics.
City leaders are collaborating more than ever
Two more themes emerged in my conversations: Taking a longer-term view of leadership and getting together to learn. What’s happening now is that leaders are saying, “For my city to grow in the 21st century, I need to build on my predecessor’s plans and establish a vision for my successor to carry out.” Taking the long view is a very different kind of legacy—one that these leaders say all should embrace.
I also heard the constant desire for city leaders to come together to learn from each other. Some of the mayors I talked to at the mayors’ caucus in Canada were also in Singapore—talking to more mayors about their cities’ priorities and challenges. Maybe someday reading about each other’s experiences will be enough. But for now, these leaders say it’s still a priority to convene regularly to share and learn.
How do these topics rank in your city’s priorities? While your agenda may be a little (or a lot) different, one thing I found to be universal among city leaders is their drive to make their cities more livable and sustainable for the people who live there—today and in the future. In his closing remarks at the World Cities Summit, Dr. Liu Thai Ker, Chairman of the Center for Livable Cities, said, “The ultimate achievement for a city is to earn unconditional respect from people all over the world.” From the forward-looking mayors I talked to, I think you’re well on your way.
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