Digital Engagement: The Secret Behind Smart Cities

Acquia's Steve Green explains the role of digital experiences in smart cities.

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Steve Green, Acquia, talking at CityDisrupt, Melbourne.

For a city to be a “smart city”, it must be able to connect with “smart citizens”. A cities digital engagement activities can often be seen as a major element in building a modern-day economy.

At CityDisrupt, Melbourne, Steve Green, Digital Experience Architect at Acquia, explored the role of digital experiences in smart cities and explained that smart cities are more desirable because they used digital well and made it simple for citizens.

Using technology essentially reduces the friction of customer interaction with the city through digital properties.

However, while Australia has a lot of potential, they are failing to act upon this. Green argues Australia is “very close to being one of these knowledge capitals” but needs to invest more in digital engagement.

Australia on the World Map

In order to utilise this potential, Australian cities must look to embrace technology such as automation, as this lies at the heart of innovation.

Green explains that Australia is an ill-defined country on the world map of digital transformation.

“The problem for cities in Australia, is that we have barrelling down on us the equivalent of the next industrial revolution which is the automation age.”

By looking at this as a revolution, cities should aim to overhaul their traditional approaches and integrate technology into every aspect of their day-to-day functions to increase speed, efficiency and customer satisfaction.

With the progression of internet capabilities and physical international transport, connecting Australia to the rest of the world is no longer an issue. Green drew upon the example of the new Dreamliner aircrafts marking a progression in the transport industry and making travel for employees easier and more affordable.

“Connectivity to Australia, both in a digital sense and the physical sense is becoming available.”

However, this also proves to be a downfall. While Australia has the resources and educated individuals needed to become a knowledge capital, it is losing them to other countries and smart cities.

Knowledge Capitals Leading the Way

There is a discernible cycle between knowledge workers, innovation and success as a digitally-progressive city.

“The knowledge capital concept really gives a justification of why we want to become a smart city… Smart cities is how we attract the knowledge workers, having the knowledge workers makes us an innovation capital and being an innovation capital gives us the life raft for the next 20-30 years through this transitionary phase.”

When knowledge workers relocate, they take their businesses with them. Therefore, Australia needs to learn how to attract and retain these people.

This can be achieved by organisations accommodating employees’ wants and needs. For example, if Melbourne is a desirable place to live then organisations should look to open offices there to encourage loyalty.

America boasts a few cities that have successfully embraced technology to innovate their city. Green suggests Boston and San Francisco are particularly notable due to their mobile workforce that allows citizens to have the freedom to come and go.

Boston.gov website looks at persona first.

Boston has also reinvented their website, Boston.gov. Through redesigning their site, they have made their information more accessible to customers. They have built the website with personas as their priority, and taking particular care with the user journey.

Los Angeles have similarly targeted their website towards their audience. For example, the page enables existing residents to pay their bills and view city events, and those new to the area can set up new accounts and view parking permits. Since making these changes, their website has seen a 26% uptake in web traffic and a significant 64% uptake in mobile traffic.

By understanding their customer and where they are on their digital journey, these cities can provide a more personalised customer experience which encourages them to stay.

Government Involvement

These digital changes are incremental and must be done with the help of the Government. Therefore, it is important that Governments understand the importance of technology and creating a user-centric experience.

“It is not about change necessarily for change sake. It’s about constantly reimagining the role the Government play in creating new services or changing existing ones,” Green explained.

Common pain-points such as long queues and lengthy forms act as barriers between the citizen and the city. Breaking down this friction and making the citizen’s life easier is what the smart city aims to achieve.

“So this user-centric mindset makes the websites so much easier. That friction of getting from the starting point to the finish point and actually achieving something is so much easier for the visitor.”

As a result, Green suggests that cities and governments should aim to have a start-up mentality that promotes agile project management and emphasises continuous digital transformation.

With the traditional foundations that make up government bodies, this innovative attitude is not always well-received. Although they have access to a plethora of information, Green argues they are reluctant to share this with others which stifles innovation.

“All too often they become gatekeepers of that information rather than curators. Opening that information up and making it available to both other departments and citizens allows them to do the work for you.”

Ultimately, smart cities are not possible without the support of the government, and Green suggests this should not be viewed as a trade secret but rather aim to use open-source web content management platforms such as Drupal.

“Open source has won, it powers everything,” Green stated.

Overall, Green highlights the difficulty of becoming a knowledge capital. To become one, a city must retain their knowledge workers and work alongside the government to improve their digital presence.