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Future City: a testbed of smarter working in Glasgow

Source: Public Sector Executive Jan/Feb 2013

Pippa Gardner, project manager of the Technology Strategy Board’s Future Cities Demonstrator at Glasgow City Council, talks to PSE about winning £24m to transform the way the city works.

Glasgow has won the Technology Strategy Board’s (TSB) Future Cities Demonstrator competition, and will receive £24m to create a city-wide testbed for new technology.

The main theme behind their proposal is data: as much of it as possible, used as transparently as possible. Huge amounts of data will be connected together for the first time, and used by the private, public and third sectors to increase economic prosperity, quality of life and improve the city environment.

Out of 30 cities that developed proposals, Glasgow impressed with the level of partnership in place, the quality and strength of their national and international research, and demonstrable commitment to servicewide change. The 18-month timescale of the demonstrator also fits in well with the Commonwealth Games in 2014, which the city will host.

PSE spoke to project manager Pippa Gardner, whose excitement about the bid was contagious.

Bringing it all together

Gardner highlighted over £2bn of infrastructure investment currently ongoing or planned within Glasgow, about £500m of which is directly related to the Games. This investment covers multiple areas including transport, energy and health and means that the funding from the TSB will be used to bring all these improvements together, harmonising the way separate sectors and services work to maximise the benefi ts for the city and its residents.

She said: “We’re putting in a lot of the critical infrastructure, so the TSB money will not be used for that – it will be used for that technology layer, to bring it all together.

“That’s a strength – your money won’t go on bricks and mortar, we’ve done that. It really will all be spent on the technology layer and engagement across the board.”

Achieving buy-in from all providers, commissioners and investors was a key strength of Glasgow’s bid, Gardner said. Presenting a united front in this way offered a glimpse of the potential such partners could have working towards a single goal.

“There are a couple of things that we really leveraged. One was the strength of the public, private and academic partnerships that already exist within Glasgow.”

She described strong partnerships in place with Sustainable Glasgow, the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow City Council and private sector organisations including IBM, Siemens and Scottish Power, amongst others. These certainly attracted the TSB, she said, and refl ected the message behind the competition of ‘smart cities’.

“Other people were at the table, industry was at the table and ready and keen to do quite a lot.

“Academic research in this fi eld is immense but the people who weren’t really ‘playing’ yet were the local authorities – and you can’t have a smart city without having the local authorities.

“[The TSB] really did engage local authorities very quickly and in a powerful way, to come to the table.”

Bursting with data

Gardner had one word to sum up the sheer amount of data that will be fed into the project: “massive!”

An initial data audit with Strathclyde University as part of the feasibility proposal identifi ed over 200 datasets.

She said: “There is so much data currently available.”

Part of the demonstrator aims to increase and connect these different streams of data, as well as making it more transparent to the wider public. This could allow partners to consider how public service provision could be redesigned, or managed in a more effective way, to truly deliver a city for the future. The more information people have access to, the more potential becomes available.

Data will be brought into the operation centre from CCTV and traffi c management; public safety and transport, in a much more coordinated and integrated way.

“One quite exciting aspect for me is the whole openness part of it,” Gardner said. “We want to make, where possible, as much data available to SMEs or individual developers, to develop apps that you and I haven’t even thought of yet. Different people connecting different datasets.”

She described a project in Dublin that has integrated a large amount of transport data, with some impressive outcomes. Individual SMEs and private sector organisations can make use of data provided by the council to build apps and new technology to reduce failure in the system and increase the speed of processing applications.

“Sharing that data made the whole process much quicker. A lot of people were able to piggyback on that, planners and builders, and it just shows where you make data available in that way, that was about to save the council thousands through nothing they’ve done, apart from a wraparound layer.”

Unlimited potential?

Gardner said of the project’s potential impact: “We don’t even know yet. This is one of the most exciting parts of the demonstrator. I don’t mean we’ve got free rein to just try absolutely everything and get some bits right and some bits wrong.

“But that is our job: to demonstrate what works and what doesn’t – that gives us a bit more freedom. We’re not saying ‘we know this will work’. If we knew it would work, every council would be doing it. We don’t know the outcomes yet, so let’s get on and give it a shot.”

There was significant appetite for innovation in the private sector, she said, which could serve to bring the typically more risk-averse public sector with them.

Glasgow has been “inundated” with ideas from companies wanting to get involved with the demonstrator, to try out new technologies and working patterns in the testbed. Gardner added: “That will hopefully give confi dence to others.”

The city’s proposal tried to build in the exact economic impact of their ideas, to capture the inward investment that may be possible through new innovation. However, Gardner admitted: “We didn’t know those answers. It is so unknown on this scale in the UK.”

Identifying these savings is therefore part of the city’s challenge as it takes the TSB’s funding forward.

Providing economic justification

The TSB highlighted three main areas for improvement through the demonstrator: economy; quality of life; and the environment of the city. Whilst all are equally vital to the development of Glasgow’s proposal, Gardner said that the most tangible of these is the economic impact.

That could provide the most lessons for other cities, as local authorities have to be able to justify any spending of public funds, particularly against “other worthy causes” such as social work and education.

Gardner said: “You have to have a strong economic argument at the beginning to make sure that [spending] would be viable. We’ve got £24m ring-fenced for this. If it was council tax money or from other pots, it would be diffi cult to justify without the evidence.”

Other councils will therefore be eager to see what difference various projects in the Future Cities project make, and whether this is something that can be translated to other areas.

“I think the economic impact is the one we really don’t know.

“It will be the big learning from this that others will be able to leverage and say ‘Well they did that, spent that and they’ve attracted inward investment of a multiplier of ten’ or whatever – it’s going to win arguments in the future. It’s exciting!”

The bid

The TSB called for bids that sought to optimise the integration of multiple systems in a novel way, combining recent or current investment and with potential for further development. The results of the demonstrator will be widely disseminated to ensure as many cities as possible benefit from the research and innovation.

Glasgow’s proposal involved combining several streams of information live into one dashboard, which will then manage operations across the city.

The ‘intelligent operations platform’ will collect organise, validate, integrate and analyse this data for real-time decision making over a number of key aims: transport, safety, energy efficiency and health.

Observations will also be made available to citizens themselves, via the ‘MyGlasgow’ smartphone app.

The £24m grant must be spent in full by the end of the financial year 2013-14, but ongoing monitoring will be conducted and data analysed by the Future Cities Catapult to capture the total value of the demonstrator.

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