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Designing cities for digital citizens, by Salomon Salinas, Smart Cities lead at Accenture Mobility

Designing cities for digital citizens, by Salomon Salinas, Smart Cities lead at Accenture Mobility

The meteoric success of the Pokemon Go app is extraordinary. It challenged preconceptions about the power of digital technologies and devices, subverting the notion that digital apps keep us indoors tied to our phones. In a fascinating twist, gamers and GPS collided and people started moving, talking, and digitally engaging in their surrounding areas.


The Pokemon Go phenomenon illustrates how the physical and digital worlds are becoming increasingly intertwined. And while it might turn out to be just a passing fad, the relationship between our environment and digital has never been more relevant.


The emergence of smart cities – where smart objects, devices and machines can give us greater awareness and control over our environment – is challenging the very notion of how we plan and manage our public spaces.


Increasingly, cities have been investing in new technology, where embedded sensors are helping workers monitor performance and establish real-time connections to the physical world, allowing them to react faster and more intelligently to changing circumstances. In creating smart cities, digitally-minded governments are focused on being transparent and efficient and ultimately improving citizen services and experiences. Citizenship is being re-designed.


This is not about simply embedding or adding technology products and solutions in public spaces or to public services. It’s about rethinking how cities are experienced by the end users – citizens, businesses, workers, and tourists. It’s about planning with digital citizens in mind as consumers of public services, and meeting their increasingly liquid expectations for a better, digital service that offers what they need, when - or even before – they need it.


Hard to picture? Rio de Janeiro’s 1-Rio contact service is a powerful example of what a human-centred approach can accomplish.


The city released a single phone number to handle all municipal requests, combined with a review of how to improve responses. It also provided a customer service solution between governments and digital citizens.


And it’s been a great success. Average response time to critical requests dropped from 35 hours to just five. The analysis of incoming calls helped the city better identify critical issues and act accordingly – it generated crucial data for planning. When they looked at street lighting, for example, complaints dropped by more than half after data helped identify areas that required action before the lights actually failed.


Similarly, New York City’s 311 programme provided significant benefits by giving its users what they actually want.


With more than 350,000 employees and 120 agencies, New York City offers nearly 4,000 different services to the city’s 8.3 million residents.


To stay connected in ‘the city that never sleeps’, residents need 24/7 access to a wide range of customer services, and that’s where NYC 311 comes in.


The integrated 311 solution provides a single point of entry to city government for all residents, visitors and businesses. Among the many benefits to citizens: 85 per cent of calls are answered in 30 seconds or less. In addition, 85 per cent of 311 customers have their inquiry resolved during their initial call. Ultimately, NYC 311 has also reduced the burden on the city’s 911 emergency call system and eliminated duplication of services.


A smart city is moving and always learning. Data is key. It can hold hidden value, that once analysed can instigate new solutions that a smart city wasn’t even necessarily looking for.


Data, over time, can help us start to predict patterns of civic behaviour. Think about it: if data can predict the information people are likely to request around certain times of the year, cities can then prepare responses in advance with recorded messages to reduce the call handler requirements.

Smart cities operate at their best when a people-centric approach is taken, with the belief that technology should work for and on behalf of the users.


What truly makes a city ‘smart’ isn’t just the technology, but the use of technology to solve the most pressing issues specific to that city. It’s a city that addresses the right pain points and leverages the best opportunities for individuals, businesses and communities.


It doesn’t create digital citizens; it starts with them, and serves them.




Based in Washington DC, Salomon Salinas (Sol) joined Accenture in February 2010. He leads Accenture’s global smart cities team within the Accenture Mobility IoT practice, part of Accenture Digital and its North America sustainability practice. He is a sustainability expert with 22 years of experience across commercial and public sector clients. Sol was as one of the founders of ENERGY STAR, where he served as a director from 1991 to 2005. He then became assistant office director for the EPA Office of International Affairs (OIA), as part of the North America sustainability practice leadership team. He is happily married to his wife Heather and has five children, aged 25 years to 26 months.

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