By Jesse Berst
The smart cities market took a major step towards mainstream status with an announcement this morning from Smart Cities Council Lead Partner Microsoft. The company is launching a global initiative labeled "CityNext." The company-wide effort will "bring together an ecosystem of partners, solutions, devices and services."
Most large technology companies have a smart cities team or at least a cross-departmental committee. Most people credit IBM and Cisco as the first companies to launch branded initiatives (IBM's Smarter Planet and Cisco's Smart+Connected Communities). Microsoft's initiative is further validation that the smart cities market is a Next Big Thing.
If you read the release below, you will see several important themes that reveal where the market is now and, more importantly, where it is headed next.
An integrating platform. A city is not truly smart until it is sharing costs, code and data between departments. You will notice that Microsoft talks about services to "connect and transform a variety of city functions." What's more, Microsoft is taking steps to more fully coordinate its own internal teams.
Cloud options. Few cities will have the ICT capacity to build a full-blown suite of smart city solutions. You will note that Microsoft and many of its partners are offering cloud versions. Of the many cloud providers, Microsoft is notable for its "hybrid" approach. Customers can decide just how much control they want to keep and how much they are willing to cede to the cloud.
Anytime, anywhere access. Web applications and portals are fine and every city should have them. But if we look forward 10 years, it is clear that mobile devices will be the dominant delivery platform. CityNext includes tools to get started down that path now.
More than "more with less." Doing more with less isn't good enough in this market. More business-as-usual will not get cities where they need to be to compete globally. Instead, Microsoft is talking about "new with less."
More than technology. Microsoft has wisely been investing for years in programs to nurture the people side of the equation, with emphasis on creating skilled workers.
Local partner focus. I saved the most important theme for last. Many cities demand a strong local component before they will sign off on a smart city contract. They understandably want to promote local jobs and economic development. And they understandably want a provider with insight into their unique culture, goals and needs.
As a result, we have seen the same wheels reinvented over and over again by small local companies. By emphasizing its partner network -- certainly one of the world's largest -- Microsoft offers the best of both worlds. Cities can get local insight from Microsoft partners in their part of the world, but also access to best practices and prepackaged solutions from around the globe.
The CityNext announcement is certainly good news for cities -- they now have more choices and better integrated choices. And it's certainly good for Microsoft partners, who will now have Microsoft's powerful marketing machine to plow the ground. And it's certainly good for Microsoft, as a way to signal that it is more than a behind-the-scenes provider of technology to cities; it is a strategic partner as well.
And I'll argue that it is even good news for Microsoft competitors. It provides just that much more validation to the market overall and that much more reinforcement to the key themes that must be communicated to cities for the market to accelerate.
MICROSOFT CITYNEXT - COMING TO A CITY NEAR YOU
Global public sector initiative enables cities to harness a new era of innovation through a people-first approach
July 10, 2013 – Redmond, WA – Today at the Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft announced CityNext, a global initiative empowering cities, businesses and citizens to re-imagine their futures and cultivate vibrant communities. Cities are centers of industrial, economic and entrepreneurial activity that fuel the rest of the world’s success. But cities increasingly encounter compelling forces such as rapid urbanization, modernization mandates, and economic austerity pressures. Microsoft CityNext offers cities a vast and diverse Partner Network of more than 430,000 technology experts across the globe to innovate today and create a better tomorrow. Leveraging a broad portfolio of familiar and secure consumer to business software, devices and services, and Microsoft’s history of successful education and social programs, CityNext is a collective effort enabling cities and their people to accomplish what’s next.
“Cities play a vital role in our lives – both now and in the future. Microsoft’s CityNext initiative puts people first, building on this new era of collaborative technology to engage citizens, business and government leaders in new ways,” said Laura Ipsen, corporate vice president of Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector. “Working with our vast Partner Network, we can scale solutions and services to do New with Less, enabling cities to better compete in the global marketplace, drive citizen engagement and foster economic, social and environmental sustainability.”
TRANFORMING OPERATIONS AND INFRASTRUCTURE
CityNext helps leaders make the most of their existing investments to find new ways to overcome challenges and reach their goals. With the new era of innovation, cities can enable new capabilities using flexible cloud services, empower city employees with enterprise-grade devices and apps, and innovate on their terms with modern solutions and big data platforms. This innovation allows critical information to flow seamlessly between municipal departments and among government, businesses, and citizens, driving efficiencies that let cities put more resources back into the community.
CityNext brings together an ecosystem of partner solutions, devices and services that connect and transform a variety of city functions, including:
- Energy and Water
- Buildings, Planning and Infrastructure
- Public Safety and Justice
- Tourism, Recreation, and Culture
- Health and Social Services
- Government Administration
CityNext customer Barcelona, Spain – long recognized as a digital innovator – has successfully harnessed cloud, data and apps to enhance administrative operations, interact with citizens, and make information transparent. For example, Microsoft and CityNext partner Bismart worked with the Barcelona City Council to launch OpenData BCN, an initiative to make data accessible to the public. The Microsoft Windows Azure cloud platform securely aggregates myriad facts about the city – such as population density and total unemployment – into a central hub. Citizens then download the “Bigov Better City Indicators” app from the Windows 8 app store, and monitor fluctuations in real-time. Barcelonans are now prepared to make better decisions such as where to start a business and where to settle down with their families.
“We’ve been working with Microsoft for many years, and have witnessed tremendous innovation across government, enterprise and citizen services through cloud technology and devices. Yet, even more can be done to engage Barcelonans and enhance citizens’ experiences,” said Xavier Trias, mayor of Barcelona. “We will continue to collaborate closely with Microsoft, and leverage cutting-edge technology, services and programs that will make Barcelona a better place to live, work, visit and thrive.”
ENGAGING CITIZENS AND BUSINESSES
Citizens and businesses expect access to and interaction with city governments through apps and the device of their choice, anytime, anywhere. With Microsoft’s software, device and services platform, cities can deliver personalized services and apps with a people-centric approach, enable real-time dialogue via social media and spur app development and economic growth with open data initiatives, resulting in better-served and engaged constituents.
Microsoft CityNext partner Socrata, a cloud software company leading the shift to data-driven government, is working with Microsoft to bring open data technologies to cities worldwide on the Windows Azure Cloud Platform. For example, Socrata offers governments customizable dashboards. Citizens can access their city’s dashboard through mobile devices or the Internet, and monitor how their leaders are performing in areas such as education, healthcare and job creation. City leaders can engage with citizens in real-time, incorporate public demands into their decision-making processes, and ensure they respond to their communities’ most pressing needs. In turn, governments can bring data and citizen feedback into every decision fostering greater transparency and community participation.
“The forward-looking CityNext initiative addresses a once-in-generation global shift currently taking place in government: opening up government data and using it to enhance citizen services,” said Kevin Merritt, CEO and founder at Socrata. “Through simple, familiar apps and devices, governments can now engage everyone, everywhere. We are already seeing incredible progress and in partnership with Microsoft will enable global leaders to make sound decisions, drive efficiencies and help them meet citizen demands for ubiquitous access to information.”
ACCELERATE INNOVATION AND OPPORTUNITY
Cities will not realize full transformation through technology alone, but also through nurturing the creativity of their most important resource – human capital. Microsoft and partners offer a variety of skills-based programs that prepare students and teachers, foster business development and empower citizens to join a competitive workforce. Around the world, these programs have helped millions of city residents cultivate a brighter future for themselves and their cities. For example, Microsoft programs YouthSpark, BizSpark and IT Academy prepare youth to join a growing workforce, support entrepreneurs’ bold ideas and create skilled workers that help cities compete in the global marketplace.
The journey towards modernizing today is already underway. In fact, Microsoft and CityNext partners work with visionary cities around the world to identify and create what is next for their communities. Led by motivated, forward-looking leaders, a growing number of communities are taking this important step to better serve citizens and realize the potential of tomorrow through cross-functional collaboration that increases efficiencies, reduces costs, and fosters a more sustainable environment.
“Today’s cities know they must tackle urban challenges through coordinated and focused investments that enable collaboration across departments and agencies, leverage existing assets, engage citizens and stakeholders, and tackle long-standing problems,” said Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, director of the Smart Cities Strategies program at IDC. “According to IDC's Smart City Maturity Model, many cities are now in the first stages of implementing smart technology solutions as part of a 10 to 15 year path to realizing full transformation potential. The result of ‘smart city’ initiatives will ultimately enable cities to attract businesses and citizens to build more vibrant city landscapes and competitive economies.”
To learn more about CityNext, please visit: https://www.microsoft.com/citynext.
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.