A digitalised city

The concept of digitalising your company data is well known, and most businesses are already on that journey. But how about digitalising an entire city? Again, it all comes down to the data.

Johannesburg, 11 Jul 2019
Read time 4min 50sec
Wayne Borcher, COO, tdglobal
Wayne Borcher, COO, tdglobal

Digitalisation is a non-negotiable for business survival today, but what you do with the data is the true differentiator. Wayne Borcher, COO of tdglobal, says the primary driver of digitalising a city’s occupants is to improve customer-centricity and provide them with services on-demand.

With technology evolving at a faster pace than ever before, world-class cities need to ensure they’re keeping up with global trends and standards. Imagine bringing together the needs of an entire city, its residents and the people employed within its environs, in a single application that can be downloaded onto residents’ and employees’ smartphones. It certainly makes sense; apps have become an indispensable part of our daily lives, with research showing that people spend an average of 30 hours per month using mobile apps.

Borcher says: “The goal is to enable people to do everything they might ever need to, directly from their mobile phones and all integrated into one application. From booking a boardroom at the building they work in, to ordering food, reporting a pothole and even paying their utility bills. They are also given access to content, services and information about the city in which they live and work.”

People are already able to do all of these things separately on their smart devices, but this means they end up with a lot of apps on their phones. Not only does having a single platform for all people who live and work in the city simplify things for the user, it also provides an opportunity to collect data about the people in the city.

He explains the rationale behind developing an application specifically for a geographical region: “Regardless of their size, residential or business estates have managers or managing agents who are responsible for dealing with issues of all kinds, from stray pets to plumbing problems. The reporting of these issues is usually via a phone call or e-mail. The downside of this is that there’s no way to track and monitor the progress of your report.

“This is a fundamental problem that most businesses face: everything ends up on an Excel spreadsheet and there’s no such thing as real-time updates, only after the fact report-backs.”

How much simpler to develop an app that allows city residents and employees to log issues, which are pinned to the relevant geographical location, shared with relevant third parties if required, with regular updates as the complaint is progressed.

Combine that with information about points of interest and events within the city, the ability to make bookings of tables at restaurants or meeting rooms at local businesses, or even a dentist appointment, and you’re starting to build an engaged community of people that interact on the app.

Just as with any other app on your phone, regular updates can be issued with new functionality, such as properties for sale or rent in the area or listings of all local businesses.

Borcher says: “The aim is to keep the end-user’s experience a journey so that the app never becomes obsolete. You need to constantly be adding new features and capabilities, even partnering with third-party providers to add new services. Allowing people to purchase prepaid electricity or pay their municipal accounts makes the app that much more useful to residents. You could even enable access control to areas within the community. The aim is to enable people to do everything that they might want to do through one mobile platform.”

It’s all about making life quick, easy and simple for residents and employees within the community. Aggregating all third-party service providers and all digital activity into a single platform so that the stakeholders, citizens and employees have a single port of call. The app aims to streamline communication and workflow between residents and management teams.

All things security related can also be included, such as requesting a security escort or reporting sightings of snakes, together with geo-tagging capabilities. As new trends emerge, new functionality can be added. Things like biometric access and facial recognition are all changing the way things are done and it’s vital to keep abreast of these and other technology innovations.

“We’re taking the whole on-demand concept and applying it to a city. People want immediate satisfaction and to be able to do things on their phone using an app. It’s much like Uber; you need a lift somewhere but not necessarily a car. You want a cup of coffee but not a coffee maker. This need for instant gratification is driving mobile platforms such as this one.

“The integration of all of these capabilities creates a smarter and more convenient experience for the user. People want to interact with other people, customers and businesses in a different way today, and we have to accommodate that.”

Several smaller estates in an area could be grouped together in a virtual city if they share an app that enables people to communicate with one another. Today, most people don’t know their neighbours. Apps like this bring back that sense of community, providing a digital space in which people can chat to one another and ask for advice or assistance. Social is digital in today’s world.

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