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July 23, 2013

Microsoft’s New Smart Cities Program Leverages Tech Innovation

Alex Woodie

Microsoft last week launched CityNext, a new “smart cities” agenda to help municipalities use big data, cloud, and mobile technologies to improve the efficiency of existing processes, cut costs, deliver higher environment sustainability, and make information more available to people.

The CityNext program will utilize Microsoft technology, including its Azure cloud, and the its 430,000-strong network of tech experts to create solutions that help cities foster collaboration between citizens and leaders, to improve day-to-day functions, and strengthen emergency services.

Examples of CityNext programs include empowering citizens to communicate with their cities using social media; cross-pollinating information from line of business (LOB) applications with information from social media to create new insights; and giving city staffers the capability to do their work from any device, including PCs, tablets, or smartphones.

The program will also help cities make information more available. For example, “one stop shops” could be developed that enable citizens to look up records, pay taxes, enroll in schools, and pay taxes all at once. It could also enable law enforcement to use sensors and closed circuit TV systems to scan license plates of cars, check for the types of radiation emitted from cards, and extrapolate information on criminal and terrorist suspects from dozens of databases.

So far, eight cities around the world have signed up to be CityNext cities, including Auckland, New Zealand; Barcelona, Spain; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Hainan Province, China; Hamburg, Germany; Manchester, England; Moscow, Russia; Philadelphia, U.S.; and Zhengzhou, China.

The city of Barcelona is working with CityNext partner BISmart to launch a program called the OpenData BCN. The program uses the Azure cloud to aggregate myriad facts about the city, such as population density and total unemployment, into a central hub, where citizens can download it and consume it via the Better City Indicators mobile app. This information helps residents of the city make better decisions about where to start a business and or where to live, Microsoft says.

Microsoft envisions CityNext being used across a variety of departments and utilities in a typical major city, including energy and water deliver; buildings, planning, and infrastructure; transportation; public safety and justice; tourism, recreation, and culture; education; health and social services; and government administration. The potential to use data gathered from sensors is also

Another Microsoft participating in the CityNext program is the cloud software company Socrata. The company makes software that enables cities to publish dashboards with pertinent information about their city. The dashboards, which are hosted on Azure, would give citizens mobile access to certain performance indicators, such as how their leaders are performing in areas such as education, healthcare, and job creation.

“The forward-looking CityNext initiative addresses a once-in-a-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 of Socrata. “Through simple, familiar apps and devices, governments can now engage everyone, everywhere.”

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