The democratization of smart technology in cities has created a new business model of growth and new relations with the citizenship. From developing just pilot models, we have now achieved real digital transformations within the Public Administration, which now assist more directly and efficiently the new needs of the citizens. We now have at our disposal sensors that can detect, for instance, in how much time the bus will arrive at the bus stop. It is also possible to access certain services offered by the Public Administration from our smartphones, and we can even check public data in the cloud. To sum up, digitalization has turned into the main challenge that cities face in this century.
This digitalization process, that relies on new technologies such as Big Data, the Internet of Things or cloud computing, has triggered a remarkable increase of data and information regarding territory and services, like water or green areas management, public transport and even infrastructures. This adds to the increasing demand of technology coming from the citizenship, which is constantly connected through their mobile devices to access any information immediately, in real time.
Cities need to move towards a holistic model of management, quicker, more agile and that guarantees both sustainability and success regarding digital initiatives
In this context, the Digital Transformation creates a double degree of complexity in the management of cities. On the one hand, they need to manage the volume of information coming from different tech systems, and do so comprehensively in order to be more efficient and offer a global perspective. On the other hand, technology should be simple and accessible itself, in order to be used by anyone, at any level: from the Public Administration to any given citizen. At the end of the day, technology alone cannot push any significant change in management. It is necessary that the information is available at any time and any device so that decisions can be taken optimally. Hence, cities need to move towards a holistic model of management, one that is quicker, more agile, and able to guarantee both sustainability and success regarding digital initiatives.
In order to reach this model, a key factor is betting for localization, or the geographical component, which is present in every feature of a city. The flat or house we live in, Wireless systems, water or electricity supplies, the traffic light system or even the waste management system has a geographical reference, a characteristic the Public Administration needs to handle and be familiar with so as to perform an efficient management of its assets.
Geospatial technology and, especially, smart maps or GIS (Geographical Information Systems) are a very useful tool that simplifies data management, brings information closer to the citizens and, lastly, helps decision making. The Public Administration, companies and citizens can visualize in a map all the geo-referenced information, so that it is possible to establish relations and trends, contributing to a better understanding of the digital development of the city.
Technology alone is not valuable, people are. We are the ones who manage it and translate information into knowledge. This is precisely what GIS achieves
In Spain, there are diverse projects of Digital Transformation in cities through smart maps. Its use allows, for instance, integrating all solutions and information systems under a single tool, accessing data about the status of services and infrastructures in real time in order to monitor them; or that citizens can report any incidence regarding urban furniture remotely using a mobile device.
Six clues about Digital Transformation in cities using smart maps
This year, for the first time, Madrid has held a congress exclusively dedicated to digital transformation processes and focused on the development of smart cities, the Digital Enterprise Show. As a GIS expert, Esri presented the keys of geographical analysis technology in order to drive digitalization in cities:
- The entire city’s information in a single platform. Launching a digital transformation project implies learning how to manage a multiple software that concentrates all the smart systems of the city. On top of the difficulty of spreading the use of all these different systems amongst all users –who should know how to combine them in order to get the big picture– they imply high costs from providers.
On the contrary, smart maps offer the possibility to agglutinate all the data, regardless of its nature, into a single platform. It doesn’t matter how complex the information is, or the number of technological systems that exist or the volume of data managed: smart maps integrate with all kinds of software a city uses to handle its knowledge more intelligently.
- Sharing knowledge with just a click. Geographical Information Systems are designed as a tool for global use that doesn’t require IT knowledge. To cities, this means being able to share information with all municipal technicians involved in transformation projects, regardless of their technical skills. With a simple click, any user of the platform can adjust the visualization of the information layers of the maps and focus on the specific data that is of value for them.
- Customized information, adjusted to each request. Each city has a different project and priorities, according to its reality and level of digitalization. The smart maps platform ArcGIS, from Esri, is both modular and flexible towards potential needs and possibilities of each Public Administration. Cities can enrich the information they have with other valuable data offered by this platform, such as sociodemographic, meteorological, historical data or satellite images. Thus, they can face their projects from a more complete and sustainable angle.
For example, a city that is starting a new urban planning to integrate more green areas will be able to visualize and analyze the most suitable fields, or the kind of plants needed, together with maintenance costs or the optimal design for the water and watering systems, significantly saving resources and time.
- Active and engaged citizens. For years, cities have evolved towards more open Public Administrations, which involve citizens in taking important decisions that impact their quality of life. Smart maps not only allow managing all the information of the city, but also make it accessible quickly and in a way that is intuitive for the citizens, companies and even other Public Administrations to use, so that collaboration and transparency are fostered. Cities evolve better when citizens become more involved with the urban reality, as they share their needs and can even come up with new models and projects to improve common spaces.
With ArcGIS, for instance, one can design mobile apps with which citizens report incidences regarding urban furniture. If they detect a breakdown in a street lamp, they can take a picture, add a detailed note, geo-reference it and send it directly to the City Council, which will then inform this citizen directly once it gets fixed.
- Knowledge at any time and place. Smart maps allow working on the cloud, which facilitates sharing and analyzing information in real time and remotely via mobile devices, be it a Smartphone or a Tablet. Moreover, the knowledge of cities expands, eliminating administrative procedures and enabling the participation of agents involved. In fact, cloud technology drives Open Data with which developers or entrepreneurs can develop their own applications serving the citizenship. With open access to georeferenced information, Public Administrations multiply the potential for improvement of services and assets, thanks to the shared knowledge of the whole city.
- A simple and educated decision-making process. With new technologies, working habits have changed, same in the case of cities. If in the past there use to be time to decide about the implementation of a certain municipal project, now, with new demands, decisions need to be taken almost immediately. Having all the data of a city together within the same platform improves decision-making processes and simplifies them. By accessing trustworthy information about a city in real time and from anywhere, Public Administrations have a bigger control and wider vision about all the municipal assets.
Indeed, the entire city’s information may not be useful if we are not able to understand it, process it and assess it in order to optimize and improve actions. Technology alone is not valuable, people are. We are the ones who manage it and translate information into knowledge. This is precisely what GIS achieves: to integrate all the collective intelligence of a certain city so that educated decisions can be taken faster.
Cities are increasingly using technology or smart maps as tools to develop their digital initiatives. GIS substitute repetitive processes that consume both time and resources, and offer valuable knowledge in order to act efficiently instead. Especially within the growing collaborative urban environment, GIS are the means to reach citizens and make the most of their engagement, thus obtaining a more advanced and sustainable city.
By Christopher Cappelli, Corporate Director at Esri