Creating resilient digital ecosystems

Richard Godfrey discusses the success and savings of the newly launched Digital City Peterborough programme.

Local authorities in the UK are under increasing pressure to deliver more services with reduced budgets. Peterborough City Council recently launched the Digital City Peterborough programme; a combination of a number of factors creating a digital infrastructure across the city. Not only does the initiative support service delivery, but also provides a springboard for the growth of the tech sector, enabling the city to grow in a sustainable way. The programme sees a cutting-edge, digital ecosystem which aims to deliver limitless opportunities and improved prospects for all stakeholders across the city.

The starting point for the programme to ensure that the right digital infrastructure was available across the city. This could be achieved through partnerships with both Cambridgeshire County Council on the BDUK funded Connecting Cambridgeshire programme and CityFibre with their vision of creating a ‘Gigabit City’. Since then, the creation of an ultrafast citywide pure fibre network has come into effect, running on a new wave of gigabit-speed services (40x faster than superfast speeds of 24mbps.) The network already connects 107 public sector sites including council offices, schools, the City Hospital and the Allia Future Business Centre, and is now extending to businesses across the city. The Connecting Cambridgeshire programme ensures that over 90 per cent of residents will have access to fibre-based broadband speeds.

With the infrastructure in place, Digital City Peterborough is set to save the council over £5 million. Utilising the best of breed cloud technologies is improving the efficiency of services and process, ultimately enabling the transformation of the council.

Economic growth by creating the perfect business environment
Peterborough’s gigabit infrastructure positions the city as one of the most digitally advanced in the world, alongside Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo. It offers a perfect business environment to attract private sector investment and boost economic growth.

The fibre network can revolutionise how companies operate, which encourages more businesses to move to and grow their operations in the area. The ultrafast connectivity means users can reliably transfer 10 GB (or a whole TV series) in just over a minute. The network has been so popular that it’s expanding continually, already attracting over 150 private businesses to connect to it in the first year.

As companies move to or broaden their operations in the area, Peterborough is creating the right environment for the tech sector to grow. It’s essential that the city has the necessary skill set to satisfy the demands of a changing worker profile with more software, analytical and technology roles becoming available than ever before.

Digital City Peterborough plans to collaborate with schools, colleges and local businesses to ensure that the right courses are available to students of all ages to meet demand. It is also working with residents and local businesses to offer coding clubs for children and is actively backing private IT apprenticeship schemes through companies such as 3aaa. These programmes will help ensure that Digital City Peterborough continues to prosper by attracting investment and the very best tech expertise through creating the ideal environment for the tech sector.

Encouraging innovation across council services
Peterborough City Council is also leading the way when it comes to delivering cloud-based services, enabled by its gigabit fibre network. As part of the Digital City Peterborough initiative, the council is aiming to become a consumer of technology and moving to a complete Software-as-a-Service model. This innovative technology strategy allows the council to free staff from having to be connected to a corporate network to access systems. Essentially, every member of staff will be able to work from any location and from any device.

IT will never be the limiting factor in future transformation projects again. With the back end tasks being removed, such as managing and maintaining servers and upgrading software, it will move to being a forward facing strategic department, working closely with directorates to achieve business needs. By utilising best of breed cloud technology, the software enables and drives a level of transformation and behaviour change across the organisation.

The utilisation of the newest digital tools also allows the council to completely redesign service delivery from the front end to back office onto a single platform, rather than laying a sticking plaster of new technology over bad practices. With the investment in the infrastructure and the council’s expertise in cloud computing, these services will be made accessible for all companies in the area to improve operational efficiency and grow sustainably, with the council acting as a facilitator or mentor to companies looking for external advice. The new cloud software will, therefore, help act as a new source of innovation to promote better collaboration between Peterborough City Council and the private sector.

Utilising data to deliver efficient services
Peterborough has already been recognised as a digitally forward-thinking initiative, winning Smart City of the Year 2015 and beating the likes of Moscow and Dubai, yet it has further plans to take full advantage of its digital capabilities. This includes making use of emerging technologies and utilising the Internet of Things to collect and analyse vast amounts of data, ultimately achieving a better understanding of the health of the city (as bandwidth and capacity are no longer an issue).

One example is the installation of 25 weather stations in schools. Data gathered by pupils will predominantly be used to educate about the environment.

Digital City Peterborough will also work with them to bring in analytical skills by comparing their schools data to other schools and setting hypotheses to challenge their thinking. This data can subsequently be utilised by the council and other public sector bodies in a number of ways; helping to understand the impact of weather patterns, looking for correlations between crime stats, A&E admissions, social care cases etc., and again building the picture of the health of the city. This enables professionals to look at service redesign based on utilising machine learning, or predictive analysis to reduce demand on services through proactive interventions.

The council is also working with IOT providers in social care, examining how new technology such as sensors, tablets and smart watches can enable residents to live in their own homes for longer in a safe and secure, non-invasive environment.

It is crucial that other local authorities, especially senior management, realise the importance of investing in digital and the opportunities that this opens the council up to. Becoming a digital city is about creating an ecosystem that’s flexible and adaptable enough to tackle any issue, from cuts to government funding, digital trend shifts, or crippling skill shortages. Ensuring the region in question can stay competitive and drive economic growth will create new opportunities for all.

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