Business > Efficiency

Thinking digital ecosystems in cities

Published 27 August 2015

Shared platforms and digital ecosystems in cities offer the potential to deliver integrated services, while linking data to drive better and more targeted commissioning. It's a bold plan - but the prize of unmatched innovation potential and significant digital growth is huge, says Tom Baker, Smart and Healthier Cities lead, BT Global Services


We're only part of the way through the austerity programme. An ageing population will continue to increase pressure on services and systems; public sector reform is going ahead, with a flagship policy of "radical devolution to the great cities of England" - although what this will mean in totality is too early to say. Technology will play an essential part in the vital transformation needed to ensure services continue to be sustainable. The whole prospect is exciting and frightening in equal measure.

Certain principles will be fundamental. The integration of services, truly built around citizens, must be our starting point. To this end, we must learn to share our data and our ideas. We're all going to have to collaborate more - civil service, local authorities, NHS, academia, IT industry and business must all show a willingness to work together in new ways to bring about large scale change successfully.

Digital city ecosystems, overseen by civic governance and underpinned with a robust network, security, integration and trusted infrastructures will be key. A small number of cities are starting to show real leadership in this area. Big questions remain: what technologies do we need allow joined up commissioning across place and how do you deploy technology to allow lower cost models of care provision to be implemented? How do we reduce barriers to innovation and to markets?

Disruptive platforms

Digital platforms give us the opportunity to break down the silos of information and services that characterise the public sector. They give us a new way to collaborate and they have the potential to provide a jolt of disruption to our thinking. The use of shared platforms in a city or region to deliver integrated services or to link data to drive better and more targeted commissioning offer huge potential and will be essential to ensure sustainability. This agenda will need bold and joined up leadership; the prize for the city that brings together the right elements at the right scale is innovation potential that is unmatched and the opportunity to inject significant growth into its digital sector.

Local heroes

Public service innovation often happens best at local level where the focus on delivery of solutions to improve a place or an individual is front and centre. Devolution offers the chance to think laterally - combine this with the right digital ecosystem and the right city leadership and there is an opportunity to really use new digital solutions and ideas to innovate and to develop sustainable solutions for our cities.

The current model of public service delivery is unsustainable. Communities will become progressively more involved, and there needs to be more of a community and citizen voice in the creation of new service models. Cities are also beginning to understand that they need to play to their strengths. If a university has the best analysis skills and technologies, then involve it; if small digital businesses can offer the creativity and agility needed to address city problems, find a way to work with them.

The creation and nurture of digital ecosystems should be a vital activity within any future city. The creation of opportunity, through engagement with citizens, appropriate data sharing and where possible opening data sets should all be progressed, with cities and partners working as one.

BT is actively working with several consortia to grow digital ecosystems in cities. As part of the MK:Smart team in Milton Keynes, we recently won an award at the TM Forum's Digital Excellence Awards for 'enabling city digital ecosystems'. We can offer the future city a unique set of skills and reach - we can deliver vital connectivity and create market opportunity.

Our network - the bedrock of much of the UK's critical infrastructure - and our security skills are the cornerstone of our business and are complemented by our reach to the home and onto the high street. We can play a key role in support the connectedness of the future city, both physical and virtual whilst at the same time resolving growth constraints and improving quality of life for its citizens. We're committed to open standards and to a role that allows new services to be delivered at scale as well as creating and open environment to enable innovation.

Uncharted waters

It's clear is that we need to create the right solutions and the right platforms for a new style of public service, one that's more personal, more local, often delivered in the home, and an environment where public sector workers are more mobile, where the high street and retailers may have more of a role. The UK's booming digital sector has a role to play, both large and small organisations.

BT is looking to play to its strengths and we're keen to engage with cities or regions that want to think about their digital platforms, their digital ecosystems and the delivery of integrated digital solutions.


Tom Baker is Smart and Healthier Cities lead for BT Global Services

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