CityNext shows smart city future

Microsoft’s CityNext initiative aims to develop smart solutions with partners and government to tackle the challenges facing metropolitan environments

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CityNext shows smart city future CityNext is Microsoft’s initiative to connect its technologies and partners to develop smart city solutions, says Macri.
By  Mark Sutton Published  May 7, 2015

The drive to develop smart cities is well under way in the region, but turning the vision into reality in smart cities requires a large degree of collaboration between government entities, technology and product suppliers, utility and telecoms providers, commercial partners and the end user of the smart services. To co-ordinate efforts, and develop solutions that can be utilised in cities around the world, there are a number of efforts by industry stakeholders, including Microsoft CityNext.

Microsoft CityNext is an initiative that is intended to address the challenges of urbanisation and city growth, through the development of smart city solutions, explained Joe Macri, vice president, EMEA Public Sector Microsoft. CityNext was launched around two years ago, in response to both geo-political changes and technology advances, Macri said. “Today over 50% of people live in cities — that is forecast to grow to 70% by the year 2050. Urbanisation has been a huge social change, cities now account for about 80% of the world’s GDP, and about 80% of the world’s resources are being consumed in cities.

“From a technology point of view, the big change has been around four areas — mobile computing, social computing, business insight, and cloud. The technology landscape is shifting, society is shifting, so we took a decision about three years ago, and launched it about two years. It is an initiative about how we empower citizens, governments and businesses to just be more and do more. It is about empowering them.”

In the various technology areas, Microsoft is focused on meeting the growing demand for mobility and delivering a consistent mobile experience across all platforms. For social, Microsoft is looking at enterprise social tools, and how government departments can be better connected.

“In a government context, the big thing that we are focused on is how we help government workers communicate, collaborate and connect across departments, because at the moment they are very siloed,” Macri said.

CityNext is broadly split into four different areas of government focus, including education, healthcare, public safety/national security and central and local government, and four horizontal platforms, city infrastructure, transport, energy and tourism. Macri said that while every city is unique, they have a lot of common issues mainly around these issues.

The company has already worked closely with governments on education in the region, Samer Abu-Ltaif, regional general manager, Microsoft Gulf, pointed out, and has also been involved with moving government services to e-services, and now to mobile services.

“Our strategic engagement with the governments here ranges from providing them with state of the art infrastructure, which is basically a foundation for them to innovate. We are proud of our association there in enabling them to have a solid, available, reliable and scalable infrastructure. Microsoft has played a fundamental role in number of organisations in federal and local government in the region,” Abu-Ltaif said. “Dubai has invited us to be part of the strategic partnership council which they have created for Smart Dubai. We are evaluating how we can add value to the holistic view that they are building.”

Macri noted that CityNext is very much intended to be a partner-led program, with Microsoft collaborating with partners such as ISVs and systems integrators to develop solutions for city challenges. In the UAE, LINK Development recently held a showcase for the governments of Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah to highlight the potential of CityNext solutions.

The program is also international in scope, with Microsoft currently working with Bismart, the company which provided big data business intelligence and reporting to the City of Barcelona, to develop similar BI dashboards for Dubai Smart Government. After a visit to Microsoft headquarters in the US, Macri said, DSG is working on a concept to create personal personal dashboards for visitors, citizens and residents of dubai, as well as developing Government dashboards for its own decision makers.

The overall aim with CityNext is to co-ordinate between partners, governments and technologies to deliver smart solutions and services, Macri said. “It is an initiative that brings everything together. Governments are sitting there saying ‘more and more of my citizens want to live in the city rather than rural, how do I provide better, personalised and integrated services [to them]’. We are taking the work that we have done over many years, and fine tuning it, and at the same time as the technology is changing, from client-server computing to mobile first, cloud first computing.”

Abu-Ltaif added: “When it comes to smart cities, there is a realisation and acknowledgement that it is going to be a collective effort, it is not only on the government itself, technology players will have a role, the private sector will have a role, and connecting all these dots, that is what is going to emerge.

“We are working with a number of entities here that contribute a lot to the government agenda around the creation of smart cities, from airlines, to transport, to oil and gas, to banking. We are in a unique position as Microsoft to be a partner and to add value where we can make a difference.”

Citynext initiatives from around the world

District Smart Grid

The district of Issy-les-Moulineaux, in Paris, is served by France’s first district smart grid. Implemented by a consortium of local businesses, utilities, telecoms and commercial partners including Microsoft, the IssyGrid provides real time monitoring and reporting of energy usage to citizens via smartphone. IssyGrid collects energy consumption data and processes it in real time using Windows Azure. The consortium analyses the data using Microsoft SQL 2012 data management software, and then passes that data to citizens, so that individuals are aware of their energy consumption. The project has cut energy consumption in the district by 10-20%.

Internet of Things

Transport for London (TfL) the government agency responsible for public and private transport in the UK capital, worked with telent Technology Services, CGI and Microsoft to integrate cloud-connected sensors into the city’s Underground network so that transit officials can spot problems in real time from one set of central control panels, instead of monitoring disconnected sets of archaic devices.

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