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The Digital City – creating public value through data driven design

Good urban planning plays a significant role in the future sustainability of cities around the world. Expanding populations place increased pressure on public infrastructure including roads, public transport, energy, schools and parks.  Urbanisation is one of several mega issues/trends  confronting the world at-large, along with globalisation, digitisation, climate change and ageing populations.  Each issue has its own destiny while at the same time each is influenced and in many respects closely interrelated with the others – eg. globalisation and climate change, digitisation and globalisation, urbanisation and ageing populations.

Urban planning uses a range of digital models to not only project physical locations and designs but to incorporate and predict people’s behaviour and usage of the urban space. Digital models are built to provide an insight into how a landscape, buildings, public services and people can interact and how urban renewal can be realistically created.  A recent example is the ‘fly through’ digital projection that was shown by the Government of the Australian Capital Territory to community members for the upgrade of Constitution Avenue in the City of Canberra, Australia – a major, yet non-descript, historic road that is being reimagined as a vibrant, well designed public open space that is linked to a sustainable and integrated transport network through the city.

This use of digital technology has been changing the way spaces are designed and planned. What hasn’t been fully explored is the possibilities for being able to feed real time data into digital models to further improve planning leading to better social and economic outcomes for a city.

Data from street security cameras, smart bus ticketing, Wi-Fi access points and social media posts with location services could all be utilised via a cloud based computing infrastructure to build a more accurate picture of how people are using the spaces around them and help predict future usage based on existing patterns and growth.

A large amount of data is being generated constantly, all around us, from social media exchanges, mobile devices, every single digital process and even our human behavioural patterns.  A massive percentage of this data has previously never been used, studied, or even really considered, but the possibilities of what we could achieve by collecting and analysing it for the benefit of the urban space are infinite.

As technology becomes more intelligent and disruptive in the corporate sphere, people expect similar from their governments.  The SAP Institute for Digital Government (the Institute) is collaborating with governments around the world to reimagine service delivery, with innovative ways of harnessing the multitudes of data available to create public value. As we build and develop cities, we can embed infrastructure with the intelligence to capture real-time data.   For example we could equip roads, bridges and traffic lights with sensors enabling passenger and vehicle data to be tracked as well as information on mobile phone contacts travelling on the same infrastructure.  Imagine a world where a government service agency could use this data to automatically alert commuters of impending natural disasters, or enable traffic control systems to detect and alter traffic flow to assist emergency vehicles get to a crash site faster; or even help prevent road accidents altogether.

Urban planning and renewal is an area in which digital innovations have huge potential.   At the same time there are risks to be managed such as privacy, data security and the ethics of data usage (eg. do we want our mobile phone details to be tracked in this type of way?).  City planning projects require extensive public engagement and consultation. Data captured representing communities’ concerns and ideas, desired amenities and suggestions for development paired with more effective, automated analysis could facilitate an unprecedented level of open engagement between citizens and government.

Imagine if it were normal for citizens to log their concerns about traffic issues in their neighbourhoods with a simple smartphone app at any time and help inform a variety of government projects in this way. Rather than dribs and drabs of data coming in from various, more clumsy channels, simplification of communications through a connected infrastructure could generate clever real time data and allow governments to address problems more effectively and more quickly. This enhanced engagement process would create more liveable cities with better services and a higher quality of life, which is something we will all benefit from!

The SAP Institute for Digital Government (the Institute) is now operational. For more information the interim Institute website can be accessed at

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Great to see new content for the SAP Institute for Digital Government coming from the BTS team - well done Kylie.