BitDepth#920 - January 21

Microsoft introduces CityNext, which marries the social engagement of Facebook and Twitter with the power of Open Data's ability to improve governance.
City scaled technology
Barbara Perry, Industry Managing Director of Microsoft International’s Worldwide Public Sector Team, introduces the CityNext concept at the Chamber of Commerce in West Moorings. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Microsoft is best known for its consumer facing products, the operating system Windows and its software for business productivity, Office.
Far less well known are its enterprise scale frameworks, which tend to be the province of the super nerdy backrooms of IT departments and the entrepreneurial developer community that is at the heart of so much of the company’s success.

Few have ever heard of
Microsoft Dynamics for instance, but it’s a software platform that thousands of developers depend on to create unique products to meet business needs.
It isn’t often that the company builds a product designed for general use using that development framework, but Dynamics is at the heart of a new product for leveraging digital technologies into city scale software called CityNext.

“The core of the solution is Microsoft Dynamics CRM,” acknowledged Frances Correia, Country Manager of Microsoft Trinidad & Tobago, Eastern & Southern Caribbean.
“The new Microsoft Dynamics CRM on-line offers provides a new look and feel that has been customized to provide additional user requested features and easier access to enter information and gain insights from the data.”
“This release of CRM also includes workflows specifically developed for [the] public sector to provide a basis for customization.”

At a press briefing called to introduce a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Microsoft and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (for a Student Social initiative of the Ministry of Education to be developed using the CityNext framework), Barbara Perry demonstrated a proof of concept that showed how a public dashboard for New York might work.

The demo showed how critical and timely information for a city’s residents delivered in an attractive and accessible format might be presented on an ongoing basis while also gathering the large datasets that are critical to effective planning for both government and business.

Microsoft’s dedicated website for the project, the company describes a software solution that’s designed to address the “extreme pressure to modernize aging infrastructure and provide more services to citizens while coping with economic austerity and dwindling financial resources.”
A few cities have signed up to test the system and see how it might work for them. Microsoft points to Barcelona, which has been running a pilot of the project to see what happens when the digital rubber meets the highly unpredictable road of citizen participation.

Currently, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, which had several representatives at the December meeting, is in discussions with Microsoft Trinidad and Tobago under the MOU, which is firmly focused on the project for the Ministry of Tertiary Education and Skills Training.

But CityNext speaks directly to larger opportunities for creating a trove of data that liberates information about public utility supplies and the flow of generalised citizen and governance information that helps not just government, but businesses and NGOs as well, to plan more effective implementation of products and services.

Open Data initiatives are being more widely embraced internationally and CityNext offers an opportunity for T&T to embrace the movement with a solution that several local developers are already able to adapt and deploy.
But doing that means lifting the wholly unnecessary veil that obscures the public view of useful information like traffic patterns, water and electricity use and other raw information that was once thought too technical for the average citizen, but now can be crunched and examined by anyone proficient with Excel.

That will also mean that the Government and the people will be working from the same basic datasets, and it takes a lot of willingness to set teeth to words like transparency and accountability to make that happen.
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