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The Top Private Sector Trends Changing Our Cities

Max Nisen discusses how cities like Boston and Edmonton are successfully applying popular trends from the private sector - on topics such as mobility, engagement, big data and innovation - and changing the way we live.
December 17, 2012, 7am PST | Jessica Hsu
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Better engagement through smartphones, developing Facebook games to spur interaction, utilizing big data - these are just some of the lessons that cities are taking from the private sector and applying locally to improve how their cities operate and serve their citizens, writes Nisen. Public sector innovation was the topic of a recent panel hosted by software company SAP and the Brookings Institution.

"For corporations, the challenge is engaging employees and customers; for cities, it's engaging everyone who lives there," says Nisen. Just like businesses, the most innovative cities are becoming more transparent, engaging people through applications and games, focusing more on leadership, competing globally, and moving towards big data. "I think the opportunity for us in city government is to be much more proactive about how we deliver our services," said Bill Oates, Chief Information Officer for the City of Boston.

Mobile applications like Boston's Citizens Connect not only allow residents to easily submit information, said Oates, but also shows officials "who's reporting and where they are and how quickly we respond." One of the great advantages of using smartphones is that cities are putting big data out there and crowdsourcing ideas and applications from the community. "For us, open is a strategy - it's not open data, it's being open," said Oates. "And we believe that government isn't about providing data, government's about providing results and so that's how we think about this." Other platforms like Facebook games, and a pilot project out of Boston called Community PlanIT, help contribute to the interaction between the city and its citizens in fun and rewarding ways.

Cities are also shifting "from being a hierarchical command-and-control, mission-based organization to an organization where the smart, mature professionals just do things based on leadership principles" said Chris Moore, Chief Information Officer for Edmonton. In addition to changing the culture of their business, innovative cities are also using expertise honed locally and exporting it to other locales.

For example, "Edmonton's power and water corporation EPCOR owns and operates systems in the U.S., and brings its profits back to the city," notes Nisen, and the city is opening an office in Beijing in January to provide consulting services. "When was the last time you heard of a city setting up a separate corporation in another country?" asked Moore. He continued, "The best run cities are cities that want to innovate and share their expertise and turn that into new opportunities."

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Published on Tuesday, December 11, 2012 in Business Insider
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