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Viewpoint: Breaking out of our city silos.

Janet Miller

Earlier this month I finished reading The Silo Effect by the Financial Times journalist, Gillian Tett. It champions bringing together the “hard” aspects of the business world and the “soft” topic of human behaviour. This got me thinking about how silos operate not only in business but also our cities.

It strikes me that in many cases we’re letting silos inhibit us from driving forward the development of our cities to benefit the end user.

It’s this lack of a joined up and collaborative approach across domains such as education, transport and industry, that may stifle our ability to create productive and truly intelligent cities. In fact, the digital revolution means that we have the opportunity to act now to create new connections within and between cities if we are to meet the complex demographic, economic and climate opportunities and challenges that are just around the corner.

Organisations that are on a mission to dissolve silos and encourage greater collaboration and idea sharing see significant effects, not only on their bottom line but also in their resilience and ability to solve problems.

With this in mind, there must be a thing or two our cities can learn from this approach as well. As we move further and further towards a fast paced, 24 hour society, we need to make sure our public and private services are increasingly intelligent, integrated and agile to respond to these needs and create globally competitive urban places.

Let’s take a live example in the UK today. As the devolution agenda rolls out from Whitehall and the wheels of the Northern Powerhouse are now set into motion to boost business, drive economic growth and increase productivity, we simply have to think and plan across broader horizons. In these early stages of the Northern Powerhouse development, cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Hull, will be moving ahead to create their own plans.

But to generate a truly successful Northern Powerhouse in a connected way, they also need to be looking at their respective interfaces and the opportunities to share talent and best practice if they want to maximise the improvements to transport systems and connectivity, to create interdependent energy infrastructure and make better use of public spaces. In the long term, by finding solutions together and not as competitors, and fostering stronger partnerships with the private sector, these cities will provide better services for the end user and create a globally competitive region of the UK.

I’m not suggesting that breaking down silos in how we manage and deliver services across our cities is the answer to all the complex challenges they face, but I do believe it is a good place to start. Only in this way will we begin to stimulate greater integration and collaboration for the greater good. Joining up the varying aspects of city life from the timetables of metro systems, opening hours of coffee shops and booking an appointment at the dentist, will have the power to unlock cities that are better aligned to the needs of citizens today and in the future.

  • Janet Miller is Atkins cities director

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