Three trends city mayors must know

Advice on how Mayors can implement ambitious visions for their cities.

Successful Mayors across the region are embracing technology as a part of their city strategies. Whether a city wants to become a trading hub, attract entrepreneurs or improve infrastructure, their long-term visions are underpinned by technology. There are numerous new terms and tools that have come up, however. Stefan Sjöström, Vice President for the Public Sector, Asia at Microsoft, tells GI the three key trends Mayors need to know. 1. Hyperscale Hyperscale is a technology that lets cities cope with huge volumes of data. “You are talking about millions of servers in an environment, where you have access to enormous capacity”, Sjöström says. For instance, cities can hold online polls with citizens voting from their computers and mobile phones. Mayors can get feedback from hundreds of thousands of citizens on their policies, and not just the ones that turn up at townhall meetings. They can understand what citizens want because they are telling them, rather than having to speculate on the fact. “If you get a broader acceptance from people participating in the community on what is important to them, you can respond much quicker,” he says Apps and polls can give Mayors access to massive amounts of data, and with hyperscale they can focus on their strategic goals, without having to worry about strain on the infrastructure. “In the past, people could crash servers very easily because you get too much traffic. It can be a good thing - you want that traffic - but the server can't cope with it. When you get access to hyperscale, you know that there is no ceiling to the workload you can load on the system,” he adds. 2. Machine learning With access to more data, computers can analyse it and make predictions. And the larger the amount of data, the more accurate these predictions become. “This is where we move into the world of machine learning. Where we have access to much more data, we can improve the quality of decision making and improve the speed of decision making,” says Sjöström. For Mayors, this is a tool that can help them anticipate problems as they arise. This helps them allocate their resources and plan policies better, allowing them to jump ahead of the curve and compete with other cities. “The intelligence and the predictive analytics allows people to leapfrog and provide a level playing field for people to catch up,“ he adds. It can help Mayors clean up their cities, for instance. When you have more data on where garbage is being left on the streets or facilities are being vandalised with graffiti, machine learning can help predict when and where it is going to happen. It would allow Mayors to reach out to those specific communities and raise awareness on cleanliness because they now have the evidence on where it is likely to happen. “You can load your resources and where it can drive the quickest impact. It is about agility and being able to respond to problems,” Sjöström says. 3. Public-private partnerships Partnerships with businesses and citizens can help cities solve problems faster, he adds, complementing the use of machine learning and other data tools. Local entrepreneurs and citizens are closest to the challenges cities face, and working with them can reveal new innovations that officials may not have thought of otherwise, says Sjöström. Mayors can spearhead hackathons and competitions to award people for finding and delivering the best solutions for their city. When working with businesses and citizens, Mayors should be clear about the problem that they want to address to get the best results. “The clearer they are in outlining the problem areas and the problem statement, the quicker and easier you are going to get private equity to come in and solve problems,” he says. “With public private partnerships, if you state what the problems are, small, innovative, humble, fast-moving and agile organisations can address the problems,” he adds. The alternative is to have lengthy, tedious tender processes during which new innovative ideas are lost. It helps solve a problem for the community, while the business risk is borne by the company, and not by the city. “What better way for taxpayers to get involved, than by having private engagement, participating in the process or solving problems faster, quicker, and at a lower cost? There is only goodness with private public partnerships.” Sjöström says. These are three areas that Mayors with ambitious visions for their cities should keep in mind. They give cities the opportunity to jump obstacles and focus on their goals.