With population growth, increasingly congested cities and extreme pressure on public services, how can smart cities make life better for citizens? Salford City Council presents its view of the future.
In 2016, 54.5 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas, according to the United Nations World Cities Report 2016. By 2030, that number is estimated to reach 60 percent. One in three of us, meanwhile, will live in a city with a population of at least half a million inhabitants.
With cities acting as the major hubs for economic growth in the global economy, supplying those inhabitants with clean water, sufficient food, enticing job prospects and air clean enough to breath is a growing challenge.
Salford City Council in the UK is one public sector organization looking to use digital technologies to transform the way cities function, and ensure that quality of life for citizens of Salford does not deteriorate, despite a rising population and the effects of government-led austerity measures and cuts to public services.
During a panel debate this morning at the SAP Innovation Forum, David Hunter, assistant director for ICT and digital transformation at Salford City Council, outlined the council’s plans.
Challenges facing Salford
“Salford has changed dramatically over these last 10 years, and we feel as though there is austerity, but actually at this moment, there’s huge growth in the area,” Hunter told attendees.
“But what we also recognize, and one of our greatest challenges at the moment, is that there is also still huge poverty across the city.”
Hunter noted that public-sector employees in Salford, led by the city mayor, are trying to understand and close this gap without leaving anyone behind.
“From a technology perspective, we’ve got to think to ourselves: ‘What do we do in order to help them support themselves?’,” he said.
From Hunter’s point of view, the answer lies in how the city can get the most out of its data, by using platforms such as SAP’s Hana database, to better understand its citizens, to create “personas” as Hunter calls it and to ensure that interventions occur before people fall into poverty.
“We recognize that the population themselves…have moved into this consumerized digital age, but [are] not necessarily having those real skills and behaviors to be able to fully exploit that. Ensuring that we have developed those skills with our residents is a key aspect of what we’re trying to do. And those are our biggest challenges,” Hunter said.
Partners to answer problems
To tackle these problems, Salford is trying to better connect with its citizens through technology. The council is building public sector platforms alongside partners, to ensure that residents of the city are able to benefit.
One significant partnership, for example, is its collaboration with Liverpool City Council. The two cities are now using a range of tools to simplify and upgrade a shared infrastructure, based on SAP Hana, and provide more user-friendly services for citizens through what Hunter calls a “single center of excellence with SAP.”
“So we’re actually now sharing transformation (with Liverpool), we’re sharing process development, we’re sharing assets in terms of the technology platform. So we have a single technology platform between the two cities – and it then gives us the opportunity to be able to create a managed service provision to other cities,” Hunter said. Salford and Liverpool are already in discussions with several other cities and hope that others will join that partnership over time, he added.
“It allows them to create these smart city platforms and it helps us to deal with issues around access to skills and resources.”
So how have the cities benefited? Can they really call themselves smart cities yet?
“At this moment in time, what we’re doing is combining the platforms around finance and ERP. We’re then moving into the S/4 Hana and we’re looking to roll that out later in the year, and we’re basically trying to get to a situation where we’re exploiting the new technologies emerging from the SAP side,” Hunter said.
“It’s [also] allowing us to develop single processes. So basically rather than us duplicating a lot of the processes we have for payroll, or for doing some kind of invoice management, we’ve now got shared processes, which we can roll out once between those two cities and obviously then be able to market that in a way that other organizations and other cities can then use those same platforms, and those same services.”
Hunter was keen to stress that the collaborations also means that the cities are deploying services a lot quicker and taking those new products and services to market a lot quicker. He also confirmed that the cities would be looking to market the platform commercially.