In the 19 years I’ve spent working for Manchester City Council, we’ve packed a lot in and CityVerve has been a real highlight.
We embarked on the project with some very ambitious goals on a project that was developed prior to my involvement by colleagues Steve Turner (ex-MCC, now at Arup) and Peter Shearman of Cisco.
Building a pioneering smart city demonstrator was a tough challenge in itself – but at the City Council we also had to balance the needs and skills of our partners, while maintaining the consortium’s focus on the people of Manchester.
Being the Council’s lead on CityVerve for the past two years has been one of the most challenging and exciting things I’ve done in my career.
Both my team and I have learned a huge amount, and I feel that it’s important to share the lessons that came out of the project – for Manchester City Council, and myself personally.
What the project has taught me
From a Council perspective, CityVerve taught us the value of Internet of Things (IoT) technology in improving the way we can design and deliver services for the people who visit, live and work in Manchester.
For us, this was a way of realising our objectives within the Our Manchester Strategy using new IoT solutions and working with an impressive set of public and private sector partners.
IoT has huge potential for a local authority. In our case, it opened up new sets of data and also, through the work of FutureEverything on human centred design and citizen engagement, new conversations with residents about what they wanted.
Now, with data giving us a picture of the citizen experience, we can gain new insights into how people are using our city and its services.
And this of course means we have the opportunity to use data and new insights to develop and design services so they better meet the needs of users.
Our experience of CityVerve has directly informed the Council’s emerging new digital strategy for the city, and the lessons and partnerships developed through CityVerve will play a big part in its development.
On a personal level, my involvement in CityVerve has taught me a huge amount about digital.
It was quite a steep learning curve, but I now feel well equipped to be consulted on digital projects and offer lessons learned and best practice from my work on CityVerve.
This is particularly useful, given that digital projects will continue to be a growing part of the council’s work in years to come.
A reminder of the value of partnerships
The importance of strong partnerships is something we’ve placed at the heart of what we do at Manchester City Council and has been a crucial part of our success, from early regeneration programmes in the 1980s through to CityVerve.
The City Council has a very strong track record of working with various public and private partners, and we were proud to bring this expertise to the table when it came to working on CityVerve.
In fact, much of the consortium was built around the Manchester City Council partnership structure that was already there through Corridor Manchester, our partnership between the Council, University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester Foundation Trust, Bruntwood and Manchester Science Partnerships.
The past two years have definitely reinforced my belief in the power of partnerships, and strong partnerships were especially important as the various members of the CityVerve consortium had expertise in such specific areas – we had to make sure we could bring it all together effectively. We did that and it’s something I am very pleased to have seen through to the end of the project.
CityVerve has also shown me that digital technology has a huge role in facilitating these partnerships.
The Platform of Platforms was a new way for partners to make connections that didn’t exist before and bring new partners to the project through the Open Innovation challenges programme led by Cisco and MSP at Mi-IDEA in the Bright Building.
Some personal highlights
There were so many exciting parts to CityVerve, it’s hard to pick a favourite.
The See.Sense bike trial has a special place in my heart, since I took part as a volunteer trialist. It was great to be involved at a ground level and see another side of the project by collecting data from my cycle commutes using their IoT-enabled bike light.
Working with Sparta Digital on the Buzzin app was another amazing experience. Seeing the streets of Manchester come to life through the app was incredible, and it really highlighted the potential for augmented reality technology to change the way we live in our cities.
Our colleagues at MFT have shown the huge potential of IoT (through the use of smart inhalers) to treat COPD and have a significant impact on the lives of people with the condition.
The work in the Energy and Environment theme, so ably led by Bev Taylor at Bruntwood, has shown great potential for commercialisation and also in delivering the city’s climate change objectives.
But, if I had to choose, my ultimate favourite would be the work we did with Ordnance Survey and Clicks + Links, mapping Manchester in a fully immersive virtual reality experience.
Data visualisation is an area with huge potential for the future, where we can visualise and share how the city is used and gain insights that help inform future projects and services. It also looks amazing and is a great tool to just get people engaged and talking about the art of the possible with IoT, virtual reality, digital and data.
Manchester sets an example for (smart) cities everywhere
CityVerve has been a great opportunity for Manchester to show itself off, and it’s given the City Council a chance to connect with other cities around the world.
Representatives from over 15 different countries – including Australia, Norway and China – have visited Manchester to take a look at what we’ve been doing with CityVerve.
And during the project itself, we were able to collaborate with cities like Glasgow that are engaging in their own smart city projects. This was something I particularly enjoyed, as it brought a new dimension to the consortium.
The main task for us now is to take all that we’ve learned through CityVerve and apply it in our future digital strategy.
This means we’ll be continuing to develop strong partnerships and demonstrate the success of the city of Manchester to the rest of the world.
I’m sad to see the end of CityVerve, but for us at the Council it doesn’t mean the end of taking a more digital approach to providing real world solutions: it’s just another big step on an ongoing journey.