Digital Birmingham - connected, smart and people-centric city
Smarter cities of all sizes are capitalizing on new technologies and insights to transform their systems and operations to offer a better service for citizens. I am delighted to introduce Raj Mack, Head of Digital Birmingham, who joins us today as a guest blogger to share his vision on the subject in relation to the city of Birmingham.
As technology comes to increasingly touch every facet of our lives, the race is on to create digitally-connected cities that can flourish and function in ways that attract investment, generate employment and promote sustainability. Birmingham is no different and is being challenged to find new ways to deliver better services and manage its resources more effectively, amidst population growth and financial constraints.
Digital Birmingham – the city council team’s responsible for transforming how technologies are used – has worked with partners, including health, police, transport and education decision makers to look at how a smart city approach could help Birmingham tackle its local challenges. Subsequently, the Birmingham Smart City Commission was established that outlined our vision, and from here, we developed Birmingham’s smart city roadmap that provided a framework to support the delivery of integrated public services around healthcare, safety, housing and the environment over the next three to five years. This covers everything from mobile payments for transport and affordable wi-fi access to remote and on-demand healthcare consultations as well as new digital skills for citizens and businesses.
Future proofing our city
Atos was integral in helping us to establish this roadmap. Part of this work came down to future proofing: we’re excited about what our city can achieve today, but we need to ensure we have the digital infrastructure in place to support developments in 10, 50 or even 100 years’ time. Atos Consulting helped us to create a set of guiding principles for new developments, designed to ensure a digital-first strategy for future commercial, residential and public sector construction projects. The guidelines encourage developers to include the appropriate digital architecture that will support a mix of technologies and add more value to the property to enable, for example, high-speed internet access from the onset. This blueprint has served as a basis for the British Standards Institute UK as a standard to build on for smart cities around planning and development processes.
We are well underway on our journey to a smarter Birmingham and as part of this we have a number of points to address.
We need to reduce carbon emissions, provide citizens and businesses with the digital skills they’ll need for the future and ensure people from all walks of life have access to new services like free wi-fi and integrated travel options to ease congestion. Scalability is also something we need to address: we can cost out projects today, but we must be able to make the business case for how we will achieve a return on investment in future.
We currently have 39 actions listed in our roadmap that are helping us to address these challenges. We’ve already installed public wi-fi hot spots across the city centre. These provide internet access in high footfall areas, such as the central German Christmas market last month, and we’ve seen huge wifi uptake since launching in 2013. We’re also making free wi-fi available in 200 public buildings, like community centres, libraries and leisure centres to provide internet access for everyone.
These are just some of the projects we’re working on as we continue our journey to make Birmingham a smart city. Look out for my next post which will explore a day in the life of a Birmingham resident in 2020… About Raj Mack
Raj is the Head of Digital Birmingham, a citywide organisation that aims to accelerate digital technologies across Birmingham and the wider LEP area to support business growth opportunities and improving the quality of life of its citizens. Digital Birmingham is the driving force behind the Smart City agenda, already the City of Birmingham has established a Smart City Commission, published its Vision Statement and is working towards the development of its action plans and roadmap. Originally qualified as a Chartered Public Finance Accountant, and after working in policy and strategy, Raj moved into project and program management, and is now taking the lead for the City Council on digital infrastructure and innovation, influencing at a local, national and European level on smart cities strategies and policies from infrastructure to service redesign.