Mobility and transit are not only changing how people move around, they are key components of a changing urban landscape. Development of automated vehicles continued over the past year; electric vehicles are helping to tackle climate change; and a wealth of public and private mobility developments in cities have given residents more travel options than ever. Transit is also high on the public sector priority list, with the European Union, for example, pledging billions to green transit and digitalization.
I think of mobility in the most general terms possible. It includes everything from personal cars and public transportation, to taxis, ride-sharing services, bicycles, and scooters. The first opportunity in front of us is not only to improve all these modes individually, but to create a seamless, integrated transit system that meets people’s transportation needs and physically connects them with the services they need. Many have expressed this vision before me, and I agree that it is central to making our urban spaces work for everyone.
Solving our mobility problems also presents a second opportunity: Building the infrastructure and organizational skills and capacity to create effective digital government within our cities. As I see it, the five elements of transforming our mobility systems—digital infrastructure, sustainability, data, partnerships, and resident impact —are the same core elements of digital transformation needed to remake our cities and city governments as we recover from the health and economic effects of COVID-19.
In each case, our focus on mobility can help us build for the future.
Digital infrastructure is at the heart of mobility and digital transformation. Connected vehicles, common cloud-based platforms, and ubiquitous high-speed, low-latency connectivity are all necessary to achieve our mobility goals. To realize the promise of better services and improved operational effectiveness that come with digital government, that infrastructure must be connected to policies that require government agencies to adopt digital platforms and use data effectively. The digital infrastructure necessary to make the most of next-generation mobility solutions is precisely what governments need to adopt across the board.
- How to make it work: Adopt a common, flexible, cloud-based platform for digital infrastructure and ensure all mobility solutions are either built on that platform or can talk to it via an API.
When people think of electric vehicles, sustainability is already at the top of the list. The seriousness of climate change is impossible to overstate and minimizing the environmental impact of our transit systems is an important goal. Beyond the switch to electric, our transit systems will also be made more energy-efficient by improving the overall effectiveness of the system—routing people to travel options that will get them to their destination quickly while reducing waste. Sustainability doesn’t end by reducing emissions. It also means moving to clean digital infrastructure.
- How to make it work: Start by understanding the problem. Microsoft’s sustainability calculator represents a starting place to help organizations assess emissions and move toward a clean-powered future. Our transit systems will be high on the list, followed by digital infrastructure across governments.
Connected vehicles and transit stations bring an unprecedented level of insight into how people move around the city. This is key to understanding how best to deploy government services and improve transit operations. And of course, building citizen trust is critical to the entire effort so governments must adopt common standards to facilitate the use of this data across governments whilst maintaining citizen anonymity and privacy. To earn and maintain citizen trust, the CIO of Estonia, Siim Sikkut explained to us in episode 6 of our podcast Public Sector Future the system used in his country that allows people to see who has accessed their data and even challenge the legitimacy of that access.
And over in London, Govia Thameslink Railway leveraged Microsoft technology to give open access, on GitHub, to many of the Power Apps it developed in response to Covid-19. Additionally, GTR responded to meet passengers needs by sharing these apps with the wider transport industry, this innovative approach to data sharing for the greater good is intended to have global use and promote thought leadership beyond the rail industry. As well as responding to meet passengers needs by sharing these apps with the wider transport industry, this innovative approach to data sharing for the greater good is intended to have global use and promote thought leadership and application beyond the rail industry.
- How to make it work: Assess data sharing laws and regulations across agencies and build a common data strategy, including clear rules for sharing. Engage lawmakers where necessary to push for necessary legal changes. Then, use your digital infrastructure as the common platform to bring it all together.
Private sector companies are leading the way on the next generation of personal mobility and government will undoubtedly need to work closely with private sector partners to help enable a fully connected and interoperable transit system. Because these same companies are devoted to continuous development, these partnerships will also help governments create flexible platforms that can change over time. Todays’ priorities may not be tomorrows. A combination of flexible infrastructure and innovative partners will help the overall system stay up to date and responsive.
Successful partnerships will require constant communication and a willingness to sustain relationships between administrations and changes in leadership. Companies will have to stay open to changing political environments. The payoff will be resilient critical infrastructure that can stand the test of time, an outcome desired across the political spectrum.
- How to make it work: Get creative and find ways to engage with top performing companies that can demonstrate success early and then build on it. Many cities and governments use a challenge-based partnership approach to attract talent from all over the world and identify the right partner(s) without committing to long-term procurements that can take years to pan out.
Residents prize convenience over almost everything else when it comes to their mobility and transit options. Personal cars have often been the most convenient option for people because they leave when you leave, and they go exactly where you want to go. If our transit systems are to achieve their goals, they need to compete based on convenience.
To achieve this, resident voices must be a present and informative part of the process. Data can help guide decision-making based on real-world use of infrastructure. But city residents understand the changing needs of their communities and how the systems are influencing their lives. Cities must establish a consistent channel for feedback and take that feedback seriously. Businesses will also benefit from a well-planned transit system. Although people generally value personal convenience, businesses will focus on cost savings from energy efficiency, business models facilitated by ubiquitous transit, and next-generation of delivery services, including autonomous vehicles.
- How to make it work: Engage people where they are and work with trusted community organizations who can collate and distill community needs and feedback. To earn trust and ongoing citizen engagement, act on feedback given and make sure your plans match resident needs.
Digital government is all about making government work better. Technology can’t always do that by itself. Particularly in the public sector, where law and policy is foundational, technology plays an important enabling role that must be fully supported by political leaders to ensure the technology is put to work to achieve real outcomes.
Across these five important elements, technology will transform government. Mobility systems are a place where they all meet. With mobility already at the forefront of change in our urban spaces, city leaders should pay close attention to how their mobility projects can enable more effective government across the board and act as a model for digital transformation.
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