29 Sep 2021

Using data to power the city of tomorrow

Guest Blog: Jon Payne, Manager – Sales Engineering, InterSystems explores how offices and ultimately towns and cities will be used since the change in work models after the COVID-19 pandemic, as part of techUK's Data Analytics week #DataWeek

The covid-19 pandemic brought about many changes to the way in which we live and work, some of which are expected to stick around. For many businesses, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst to reassess their working models and expectations of employees, with a recent report finding that 89% of European companies plan on having a hybrid workforce. What is being less spoken about is how this change in working habits will have a direct impact on how offices and ultimately towns and cities are used.   

Similarly, large numbers of people have been inspired by the events of the last 18 months to move out of cities in search of bigger living spaces. Together, these events could have a significant impact on the nature of cities as evidenced by the PwC’s UK Economic Outlook report which highlighted that London’s population could fall for the first time in more than 30 years this year.   

As the way we interact with cities like London begins to change, data holds the key to helping organisations and councils to rearchitect these spaces to cater to changing demand and usage, and to develop ‘smart cities’. In doing so, businesses, councils, and individuals can expect to see benefits ranging from enhanced efficiency and cost-savings, to improved wellbeing and a reduced carbon footprint.  

Powering smart cities 

The fundamental building block for smart cities is collecting good quality, granular data. This data should include everything from how many people are located in an area and demand for services, to transport usage patterns and purchasing data. This information will help organisations to understand how spaces are being used to inform decisions such as how many new properties need to be developed, and how much energy should be supplied to an area.  

Additionally, this data can be used for long-term strategic planning. For instance, identifying patterns in transport usage can be used to help inform how to evolve and adapt travel networks in the future and ultimately can help to shape the infrastructure of cities in years to come.  

Obtaining informed consent 

Collecting data in a responsible, controlled, and appropriate way is ultimately the crux of smart city initiatives. However, with large numbers of people hesitant to give up their data, it can also the most challenging aspect. Organisations must be respectful of the individual’s privacy and obtain informed consent, helping them to understand what they will use the data for and just how beneficial sharing their data could be within a smart city environment.  

This can then be supplemented with passive data, collected from the flow of resources in the city, such as water and energy consumption, and the movement of vehicles, which will help them to gain a greater understanding of how cities are being used.  

Armed with this data, councils can make informed decisions around key infrastructure, for example, ensuring that bus timetables align with demand. This in turn will help to reduce the environmental impact of transport networks, prevent overcrowding, and improve the experience of those using the services.  

The smart city revolution 

Already in towns across the UK, councils are using data to plan how to rearchitect and rejuvenate highstreets, which roads to resurface, and which facilities will be of most benefit to the local people. While this is no doubt easier in smaller towns than in cities, it is just the start of the revolution in how cities will be designed and evolved over the next several decades, powered by data.  



Jon Payne, Manager – Sales Engineering, InterSystems 




Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Head of Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID, techUK

Katherine joined techUK in May 2018 and currently leads the Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID programme. 

Prior to techUK, Katherine worked as a Policy Advisor at the Government Digital Service (GDS) supporting the digital transformation of UK Government.

Whilst working at the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) Katherine led AMRC’s policy work on patient data, consent and opt-out.    

Katherine has a BSc degree in Biology from the University of Nottingham.

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