The Future of Digital Transformation in Urban Environments


DESIGNSCAPES Symposium at the University of Surrey, England, April 2018

By Munir Abbasi
(University of Surrey) 

Academy of Management Big data and Managing in a Digital Economy conference, Surrey, England

Track 2: Platforms, Ecosystems, Computational Social Science, and Big Data

According to a report by MIT Sloan and Capgemini: “90% of CEOs believe the digital economy will impact their industry, 15% are executing on a digital strategy.”

On 20th April 2018, the DESIGNSCAPES project team organised a Symposium at the University of Surrey on the topic “The Future of Digital Transformation in Urban Environments. The Symposium was part of the flagship Academy of Management Big Data and Managing in a Digital Economy conference, which was organised by the Surrey Business School from the 18th to the 20th of April 2018, at the University of Surrey, Guildford.

The aim of the Symposium was to confront digital innovation urban challenges and bring together lead academics and practitioners active in the area of Digital Transformation in Urban Environments, to discuss ideas and future research towards:  (a) facilitating a better uptake, further enhancement and upscaling of digital transformation to support the growth of sustainable and smart (e.g. circular) economies in urban environments; and (b) exploring and fostering linkages between big data, digital innovation, transformation, strategy and practice.

The Symposium was organised and chaired by Professor Lampros Stergioulas in the form of an expert panel focused on: Co-innovation and open innovation through the application of digital technologies aiming to transform urban environments towards more sustainable futures.Structure of the Symposium: The format of the panel was a 90-minute programme with each speaker given fifteen minutes to speak.

During the sessions, five panelists presented a range of expert topics focusing on: Transforming urban environments (Data-driven innovation and analytics, Innovation Generation Capacity, Innovation processes in cities, design-enabled innovation strategy, import replacement); Business model innovation, and new forms of economy (i.e. digital economy, circular economy, urban economies, bio economy); Digital transformation and analytics; Innovation generation in the urban environment; Smart and Green Cities, opportunities and challenges; Digital circular economies; and Digital transformation in health services through smart apps.

This AOM conference offered an ideal venue to debate the future of digital innovation. During the Symposium, participants had the opportunity to gain insight in visions, technology trends and foresight on future urban living innovation generation and transformation; more importantly, the panelists engaged with the audience in interactive discussion, and participants were able to voice their views, exchange ideas and share issues related to digital-enabled innovation as a path for urban environments to become more sustainable in the future.

The Panel
Chair: Lampros K. Stergioulas, University of Surrey & DESIGNSCAPES
Masoud Fakhimi, University of Surrey
Joseph Cullen, Tavistock Institute, & DESIGNSCAPES project
Navoni Mustafee, University of Exeter
Munir Abbasi, University of Surrey, & DESIGNSCAPES project
Alexandra Penn, Dept. of Sociology, University of Surrey

We are delighted to share a summary of highlights from the Symposium:

Funding opportunities by the DESIGNSCAPES project (Building Capacity for Design enabled Innovation in Urban Environments)

Dr Munir Abbasi, Surrey Business School, The University of Surrey

The Project’s call for urban innovation proposals was disseminated at the Symposium:

The DESIGNSCAPES funding Open call will be published in June 2018 with three deadlines for feasibility studies, prototypes, and full innovations:

Interested applicants are asked to register online. The proposers can initiate the application process here.

The Future of Digital Transformation in Urban Environments: An Example of transformation through analytics for Emergency Department and Urgent Care services

Professor Navonil Mustafee, Exeter Business School, The University of Exeter

The focus of Professor Navonil Mustafee’s talk was on enabling digital transformation in healthcare, through co-creation of solutions with local NHS Trusts, patient groups and the academia.

Prof. Mustafee presented the work of the Health and Care IMPACT Network, a collaboration among health and care organisations and universities in the South West of England, and the pivotal work of the Network in co-developing a platform that makes available waiting times for urgent care centres across Devon and Cornwall. The platform comprises a data and information standard, a Business Intelligence dashboard and an end-user App (also called NHSquicker - available in Android and Apple app stores). The App allows patients needing treatment for urgent conditions at hospital Emergency Departments (A&E) and Minor Injury Units/Urgent Care Centres to use their mobile phones to check live waiting times. Prof. Mustafee concluded by highlighting a specific challenge – how do we ensure adoption of a digital solution such as the NHSquicker app? How (and when) do we measure impact? These are important questions which need to be considered while working towards developing an evidence-base that highlight transformations enabled by digital technology. Adoption and diffusion of technology is arguably more important than the technology itself!

Why urban innovation needs distributed organising networks

Dr Joe Cullen, Tavistock Institute, London

Land, rent and speculation generate use value, surplus value and profit – much more than ‘production’ (Harvey). More and more people can’t consume because they have nothing. They are consumers who cannot consume - Politics of daily life (Castells). Community assets – the ‘Commons’ – can provide these resources at a fraction of the cost. However, the big question is: Who owns the data?

Steering” Complexity: Participatory Design & Management of Complex Human Ecosystems

Dr Alexandra Penn, University of Surrey

In Participatory Systems Mapping, combining stakeholder perspectives with network analysis provides new improved “Thinking Tools.” Stakeholders can collaboratively construct a model of their complex system, its components and drivers and their interdependencies.

To achieve this, we need to address several challenges:

  • Reposition ourselves as learners open to experimentation: accepting that we won’t know everything, designing interventions and policies for maximum learning

  • Models can be used as tools to extend rather than replace thinking.

  • Taking perspective of whole (eco)system management & design, or system gardening

  • Hybrid methods, whole systems design and complexity science

  • Connecting complexity science, sociology, economics, politics and practice.

  • Collectively getting our hands into our complex systems: taking an active and fulfilling role in complex system design & management together


Digital transformation for healthcare and social services: Application of modelling & simulation for sustainable urban planning

Dr Masoud Fakhimi, Surrey Business School, The University of Surrey

The urbanisation trend results in exhaustive energy and natural resource demands across modern cities, thus creating a pressing need to change the urban development and management paradigms. In this regard, the development of sustainable cities should be introduced as a way to support sustainable urban development within a social, economic, environmental context (Triple Bottom-line: Economic, Environmental, Social).

As sustainability is becoming important for urban development, dealing with its challenges are also becoming complex and costly. For every digital innovation success story, there are places with no traction. Even the best digital innovations are being asked to be more productive and environmentally and socially sustainable, and the promise of the “innovation” will demand even more. Computer simulation and modelling (M&S) could be valuable in providing the meanings, understandings and insights necessary for coping with such systems, which are characterised by large scales and high complexity. Modelling for Triple Bottom-line (TBL) analysis is an abstraction of an underlying system of interest that is developed to analyse the system based not only on productivity criteria but also on environmental and social criteria. A case study from healthcare transportation was presented in the panel, showcasing recent research findings from the application of TBL Modelling for analysing sustainable transportation in the city of London.


Digital transformation in urban environment - Current trends and urbanisation (DESIGNSCAPES Project)

Dr Munir Abbasi, Surrey Business School, The University of Surrey

Major Issues and Challenges in Urban Living

Cities are places where large numbers of people live and work; they are hubs of government, innovation, commerce, trade, and transportation. The population living in cities is continuously growing due to migration from rural to urban areas, or international migration between countries seeking the new opportunities. The World’s Cities in 2016  data book shows that there were 512 cities with at least 1 million population globally in 2016. By 2030, a projected 662 cities will have at least 1 million residents. In 2016, 54.5 % (estimated) of the world’s population was living in urban areas while by 2030, urban areas are projected to accommodate 60 % of people globally and one in every three people will be living in cities with at least half a million residents.

UN goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities reports that more than 54% of the world’s population is living in cities and that number is projected to increase to about 5 billion people by 2030 as more than 1 Million people are added every week to the Urban population. The world’s cities occupy just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land, but cities contribute 80% of GDP and account for 60-80 per cent of carbon and 75 per cent of energy consumption. Due to rapid urbanisation, infrastructure and resources are becoming limited, as cities consume more — and as a consequence new problems emerge such as CO2 emission, transport, energy and water shortage, sanitation and sewage, congestions, aging infrastructures, health care, provision of educations, accommodations.  Cities also contribute to social inequalities due to the gap between rich and poor, low income, poverty, unemployment, segregation, crimes, safety and ageing population. Many government and cities have set out smart and sustainable city plans to address these challenges.



Digital Transformation and big data analytics: Big data and the Digital Ecosystem

The existing and emerging digital technologies are disrupting all organisations in both public and private sectors, and the digital disruption is happening much faster than ever. Customers’ and users’ expectations are continuously evolving, and create new values and meanings. In the digital era, users, customers, and citizens can get better information online. Similarly, according to made smarter review UK, "Digital technologies will create new forms of higher-paid employment as many new roles emerge that previously did not exist".

The most recent estimates from the International Data Corporation (IDC) report that the worldwide revenues for big data and business analytics (BDA) will grow from $130.1 billion in 2016 to more than $203 billion in 2020.  Data innovation is happening today because the rapid growth in the ability to source, collect, store, analyse, transform, and share large quantities of information at low cost drives new forms of economic activity and social innovation. Data analytics tools can help organisations streamline their business processes, prevent fraud in financial sectors, as well to improve and expand their lending services. The State of Data Innovation in the EU  shows that Data-driven innovation contributed about €300 billion to Europe’s economy in 2016, and its value will likely more than double by 2020.


Digital Transformation in Urban Environments — a smarter way

The city as a platform for Digital Transformation - covering small-scale living, smart governance, smart mobility, smart people and digital economy - was briefly discussed. The EU policy recommendations in the Blueprint for cities and regions as launch pads for digital transformation emphasise these key points:

  • “Digital transformation doesn't only enable economic growth, but also the improvement of the quality of life for all citizens, a more efficient delivery of services by public administrations, in an environmentally sustainable way.”

  • “Cities are set to become a fundamental tool for the development of public policies and economic growth in the coming years.”  

  • “Cities and regions have the capacity to create a symbiotic ecosystem to nurture the modernisation of businesses, notably through the uptake of new business models, digital technologies and initiatives”.  

Furthermore, the EU’s Blueprint identifies four main attributes:

  • Leadership and collaboration for a smart governance,

  • Digital talent and entrepreneurs,

  • Access to data and technologies, and

  • Key Infrastructures and investments for digital launch-pads.

The EC’s report Big data and B2B digital platforms: The next frontier for Europe's industry and enterprises  presents new opportunities in big data analytics for business performance improvement and creating new values by allowing enterprises to develop new business models, improve including economic and social benefits. It sets out the key challenges of digital transformation and success factors for speeding up the modernisation process.

Smart Governance

City governments need to work on the empowerment of the citizens making cities more democratic, open, transparent, resilient, attractive, and provide places for social networking to promote civic engagement, generating and celebrating creativity, innovation, diversity and culture linked to technology, supporting jobs and skills, improving wellbeing,  and supporting greater public participation in policy processes, to make the city as convenient as possible as a place to live and work – to make it an attractive destination for businesses and talented people. Cities also need to devise policies on smart mobility that support planning and managing journeys to reduce congestion, journey time and cost, smart environments  leading to cleaner and healthier spaces, smart learning, smart healthcare, smart and sustainable energy management and responsive management of resources (while reducing the overall carbon emission impact), smart buildings with low-carbon neighbourhoods and smart citizens and societies, who can effectively generate, own, and share big data spanning a range of urban activities, from energy usage to traffic management and other new services.


Smart mobility

The growing pressure on urban transport systems has increased the demand for new and innovative solutions to increase its efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Although different transport modes are available and car sharing, car rental, underground, rail, bus, bike-sharing, taxi, etc. are available, there is a strong need to use the smart and sustainable transport. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to disrupt the Mobility sector and the transport system and also provide economic and environmental sustainable opportunities for journeys. In the future, new digital technology may allow users to request personal transport using mobile apps, find the nearest vacancy, estimate the travel cost, and request autonomous transport vehicles.


The Economy of Cities

According to Jane Jacobs, the engine of the economy of (large-sized) cities is “import-replacement” - i.e. starting to make the products one has been buying until now. This change, replicated over and over, creates more skilled workers and designers, nurtures new entrepreneurs, improves the trade balance, and promotes investments and jobs, as well as the local culture.