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Microsoft announces major new global initiative to develop 'smart cities'

Microsoft has announced CityNext, a global initiative intended to build "smart cities" around the world.

During this week's Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, Redmond revealed plans to use cloud technology, mobile devices, data analytics, and social networks to help cities become more prosperous, despite struggles with urban decay and budget demands.

"Microsoft's CityNext initiative puts people first and builds on this new era of collaborative technology to engage citizens, business and government leaders in new ways," Laura Ipsen, corporate vice president of Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector, said in a statement.

In theory, this system can be put to use in emergency situations. When critical information is allowed to flow seamlessly between government, businesses, and citizens, people will more readily get the resources they need to be prepared. New York City, for instance, would likely have benefited from such a programme last autumn, during Hurricane Sandy.

CityNext aims to connect functions like energy, water, infrastructure, transportation, public safety, tourism, recreation, education, health and social services, and government administrations.

"Working with our vast Microsoft Partner Network, we can scale solutions and services to do 'New with Less,' enabling cities to better compete in the global marketplace, drive citizen engagement, and foster economic, social and environmental sustainability," Ipsen said.

An early CityNext customer, Barcelona is running a sort-of pilot programme, which boasts the successful harnessing of the cloud, data and apps to enhance operations and make information transparent.

Using the vast Microsoft programme, city residents can download a Windows mobile app to monitor real-time fluctuations in population density, unemployment rates, and other local data, to help make decisions about where to start a business or where to settle down with a family.

"We've been working with Microsoft for many years and have witnessed tremendous innovation across government, enterprise and citizen services through cloud technology and devices," Barcelona Mayor Xavier Trias said. "Yet, even more can be done to engage Barcelonians and enhance citizens' experiences."

Redmond's grand plans to build intelligent cities, running on big data tools and cloud-powered enterprise apps, cannot be completed overnight. Several cities, though, are already on their way to modernisation, including Auckland, New Zealand; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Hainan Province and Zhengzhou in China; Hamburg, Germany; Moscow, Russia; and Philadelphia, USA.

Microsoft has this week also unveiled a major restructuring, which is intended to make the company a more cohesive and collaborative unit.

Take a look at CityNext in action in Microsoft's video above.