Preparing cities for mass urbanization

25 September 2013 | Joel Cherkis, General Manager, Worldwide Government

More than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities, and that number is expected to rise to 75% by 2050. It’s a sign of great success for the world’s cities, but it’s also a call to arms: cities need to modernize the way they work, and quickly. Otherwise, services and infrastructure will be overwhelmed by the demands of population growth. Worse, cities that don’t modernize might be on the outside looking in, watching businesses, jobs, and citizens go elsewhere.

I see world-class cities around the world rising to the challenge of mass urbanization in fascinating ways. They’re getting rid of dead weight, allowing things like legacy operating systems, redundant software, and outdated hardware to be phased out while sleek devices, apps, and infrastructure take their place.

Here are three areas where cities are getting a lot of bang for the buck when modernizing their operations. If you’re intent on attracting and keeping businesses and citizens, these areas cannot be ignored.

Mobility

Citizens and city employees are used to accessing their information whenever and wherever. Mobility is a fact of modern life, which means it needs to be part of your modernization plan. Not all city governments have embraced mobility in the workplace, and I find that surprising. City employees are like everyone else:  they love their devices and are already bringing them to work. For them to respond quickly to citizen needs, it’s absolutely critical that they have the devices they need to get their work done securely from any location. Desktop machines may be great for your office-bound accountants, but maintenance teams servicing broken-down buses may need to see parts inventories on the spot. What’s the best device for them?

Apps

Everywhere I go—Starbucks, the airport, my office, even when I’m stuck in traffic or waiting for one of my kids’ sporting events to start—I find citizens using devices and apps to be more productive. City workers want to do the same, and every little bit helps. I thought about this when I saw the Inspector App by Microsoft partner Accela. The app enables city inspectors to use their phones to view repair and maintenance schedules, contact customers, check off tasks, email reports, and more, all from the field. They don’t have to drop what they’re doing and go back to the office to complete their work. It’s such a simple thing, but the impacts can be profound. City staff gets more work done in an eight-hour day, which is critical when your workforce has been reduced. Your city’s cost per incident also goes down, and problems in the field are resolved faster for citizens. Everyone wins.

Cloud

My colleague, John Weigelt, blogged recently about the art of sharing services and saving money in the public sector. The cloud is the ultimate resource for this. Within a few years, virtually every city government will have at least some services connected to the cloud. Most cities are already there—for one very compelling reason. It saves them money, so more budget can go toward delivering city services and creating better places to live.

It seems to always come down to that—the economics of running a livable, sustainable city where businesses and people want to locate. If you focus on modernizing operations in a few key areas, your city can evolve as population and demographics change, and continue delivering the services that make your city great. That’s an important quality for any city today—but it’s absolutely crucial for cities in the more-populous future.

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