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The smarter city is here - and it's Norwich

ITProPortal spoke to Tom Baker, CIO of Norfolk County Council (NCC), about what the council has been doing to transform and improve public services in Norfolk through the power of new technology. The NCC has teamed up with HP to turn Norfolk into a pioneering test case in the march towards smarter cities.

Here's what he had to say.

"The Local Government Association predicts there to be a £14 billion black hole in local government finances by 2019," Baker told us, "and if you add to that the £25 billion worth of spending cuts outlined by George Osborne, it's quite a grim scenario. Norfolk County Council's share of those cuts is £189 million – so it's pretty eye-watering sums of money."

"It's a pretty big thing to keep public services going in an area of over a million people."

People might think that isn't the time for the council to be embarking on ambitious new technological projects, but Baker disagrees.

"Now is absolutely the right time," he said. "There's a huge momentum behind joined up, smarter public services. For the past few years I've been around the whole smarter cities movement, and data and information and evidence is right at the heart of doing things smartly. It's about using our money better."

In fact, the initiative is predicted to help the council save £10 million from its IT budget over the next five years.

Current public sector systems simply aren't delivering a return on investment, according to Baker.

"You have to be sharing data in the right way, safely, securely and legally. But we struggle right across the public sector to do these things at this point."

"You might have heard of the Public Service Network, which is fine, but it's still very much a network of networks at the moment. Without the trust and identity technologies overlaid on that, it can't really live up to its full potential."

The scheme is already drawing a new generation of digital talent to East Anglia, according to Baker.

"300 developers turned up to our last meeting. There's a burgeoning and exciting environment in Norwich – it's a bit different."

So could Norwich be a new tech hub?

"We could see the Silicon Broads," Baker joked, "or maybe just the Big Data Broads. There's a huge raft of opportunities to use big data to enhance the community."

There are also plans to expand the scheme to emergency services.

"The police and fire services want to understand where vulnerable people are – whether they're people living in a flood plain, or whatever – they want to make sure people are protected. A lot of it is based around prevention these days, and that's where big data comes in."

This investment is the start of a 5-year investment in Norwich's digital infrastructure, but Baker is optimistic.

"5 years is a long time, and we signed the contract 8 weeks ago. But there's lots of good startup stuff happening. But what does good look like for the future? In some way, we want this project to tell us. What we want is integrated public services. We want a better life for the people we serve. It's a huge opportunity."

Image: Flickr (jacqueline.poggi; MiqsPix)