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Microsoft gets into the smarter city game

More than half of the world’s population lives in towns and cities, and the number of urban dwellers is expected to swell to almost 5 billion by 2030, according to some estimates. As a result, city officials worldwide are turning to smarter technology to help them deliver citizen services more efficiently as well as to promote economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Seeking to tap into this era of “the smarter city,” Microsoft has launched a new initiative called CityNext, which includes an ecosystem of partner solutions designed to help cities choose the right combination of cloud technology, mobile devices, data analytics and social networks to tackle the challenges of urbanization, according to a Microsoft release.

CityNext offers a diverse, global Microsoft Partner Network of more than 430,000 technology experts that can help transform city functions, such as building planning and infrastructure, education, energy and water, government administration, health and social services, public safety and justice, transportation and tourism, recreation and culture.

For example, CityNext can assist city leaders with emergency response planning and smart-building projects that monitor and reduce energy consumption. In fact, Microsoft, Accenture and the City of Seattle recently launched an energy management pilot powered by Microsoft Azure cloud platforms across five buildings in Seattle’s downtown business core, the company said in a recent blog

“The platform aggregates and analyzes millions of points of data within buildings and energy systems in real-time, identifies issues, instantly estimates the cost savings of fixing them and alerts engineers to fix the problem,” writes Microsoft official Bill Mitchel. “The cloud solution will collect data from the myriad systems in those buildings and use data analytics to provide a prescriptive approach to how the building management systems can be tuned to improve energy efficiency.” 

The center of the pilot is the Accenture Smart Building & Energy Solutions working in conjunction with Microsoft Azure cloud technology. Microsoft is looking to implement these types of solutions via CityNext working with cities that include Auckland, New Zealand; Barcelona; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Hainan Province, China; Hamburg, Germany; Manchester, England; Moscow; Philadelphia; and Zhengzhou, China.

Barcelona, for example, has harnessed cloud computing, data and apps to improve administrative operations. Microsoft and CityNext partner BISmart worked with the Barcelona City Council to launch OpenData BCN, an initiative to make data accessible to the public. Using the Windows Azure cloud, the OpenData BCN platform aggregates facts about the city, such as population density and total unemployment, into a secure central hub. Citizens then can download Microsoft’s bigov Better City Indicators app, giving them information for decisions such as where to start a business and where to settle down with their families, Microsoft officials said.

While Microsoft launches its initiative for cities, IBM is an established player in smart-city technology – including cloud-based and data analytic solutions – to improve city operations and transform their societies.

For instance, Miami-Dade County officials are collecting and analyzing data from across 35 municipalities to help them make decisions about managing water resources, reducing traffic jams and fighting crime. IBM’s Intelligent Operations Center, styled as an executive dashboard, will let city and county leaders scoop up information from one department and share it with others, thereby improving access to pertinent and time-sensitive information, Miami-Dade officials said.

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, according to IDC’s Smart City Maturity Model. “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.

“The result of ‘smart city’ initiatives will ultimately enable cities to attract businesses and citizens to build more vibrant city landscapes and competitive economies,” Yesner Clarke said.

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