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Making a city smart, efficient and sustainable using digital technology is a formidable task, but one that public and private-sector bodies the world over agree will cause an evolution in the way we live. The UN forecasts that by 2030 there will be more than 5 billion people living in the world’s cities. This will include not only mega-cities well beyond what currently exists, but also many smaller urban centres that will grow quickly to keep up with demand.

Mobile networks will be key to delivering some of the digital services that will help citizens live healthier, safer and more sustainable lives in the near future. The personalization of city services through mobile technology will be at the centre of transforming city-stakeholder interactions. This will be made possible by a ubiquitous communications structure capable of real-time analytics and response, helping with everything from mass transit efficiency to saving money on household bills. Digital can not only have an impact on environmental and financial concerns, but also social issues, such as political engagement and social mobility.

So what does it take to make a city 'digital'? Pawing over countless thought leaders perspectives recently, I came across roughly seven – arguably more – recognized rankings and methods that define 'digital cities’. Rather than going into detail around these distinct definitions, I prefer to emphasize the following five aspects that make a city 'smart' or as we say at SAP "Best Run":

  • Good government: supporting the fundamentals of government for the benefit of society
  • Empowerment: paving the way for high productivity and releasing administrative burden from citizens as public officials and business representatives
  • Stimulate community engagement and openness: easing the way of interacting in the neighborhood and contributing to community activities
  • Driving innovation: delivering government and business services that are directly accessible and consumable in an easy, mobile way
  • Urban resilience: ensuring public security and growth

Reflecting on these aspects, we must remember that in a digital city it is us as individuals who ultimately decide how we are served and what we need, based on our consumption of and demand for services. The public likes easy-to-use applications that help them live richer and more stress-free lives, but have voiced concern over the privacy of their data, which helps shape those applications. In the end, a truly digital city will find a compromise between preserving citizen privacy and using to data to inform the city services that are delivered.

In a free SAP Canada webcast this Thursday (September 29), I will expand on how the fourth industrial revolution is putting cities at the epicenter of this global transformation, introducing citizen services that were not possible just a few years ago. Register today.