By Gary Wachowicz.

There’s a data-driven transformation underway today, built on the Internet of Things and big data, that promises to transform how city services will be delivered in the near future. In this era of rapid urbanization and decreasing budgets, governments are finding ways to address urban challenges and use big data to drive new possibilities. Cities that are doing this right are able to positively impact citizens’ lives for the better and ensure their cities remain competitive.

Governments today are facing an increasing diversity of data within their organizations. This is being driven by business applications, unstructured social data, connected sensors and devices and much more. The best – and most valuable – scenarios optimize for the right data delivered at the right time to the right person in an organization.

According to Microsoft-sponsored research from IDC, government organizations worldwide stand to gain $206 billion in value from data over the next four years by: 1) combining diverse data streams within organizations, 2) using new data analytics tools, 3) delivering data insights to more people, and 4) doing all of this quickly. We call this the data dividend.

One question we often hear from local government organizations is: How does a modern government get started? Technology has advanced to a place where it’s easier today than even a year ago, as you’ll see below.

Start with one priority area

Cities that are successful begin by using data to tackle a very specific issue. Maybe it’s improving public safety like the city of New York wanted to do. Maybe it’s improving transportation systems like they did in Helsinki, Finland. Or perhaps it’s driving better use of resources such as electricity with a smarter grid as the French town of Issy-les-Moulineaux has done. Municipal governments should look at various scenarios and find out where it makes sense to start based on the city’s circumstances, priorities and capacity. From there, build a plan and a structure to focus on a specific area and set specific goals. You can then build on that area for future success.

Apply data and analytics to processes and resources

Start with the actual, real-world process, facility or resource and think about how better data can augment what’s already there. Cities are already collecting vast quantities of data. Mobile devices and sensors can be used in a variety of ways to collect or distribute data from the field. Using cloud services and analytics together can enable cities to process and identify patterns in data, and define thresholds that trigger machine or human intervention. These are basic frameworks that cities can apply to solve a variety of challenges and inefficiencies.

Make sure data and technologies all speak the same language

If the city’s traffic sensors can’t communicate with its back-end servers, data remains in gridlock. If a valuable database is sitting in a back room somewhere and no one has access to it, it’s a tree falling in the woods. To make data useful, it has to be usable.

The ability to combine different data streams is transforming governments’ capacity to make informed and timely decisions. This helps them operate more efficiently and better serve their citizens. The world is beginning to see that data is the new currency. But to cash it in, cities need to get started.

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Originally posted at Smart Cities Council.