Digital Disruption and The Smart City Challenge

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This year’s Pro-Manchester Business Conference focused on ‘Digital Disruption and The Smart City Challenge’, speakers included representatives from across industry, academia and policy.

Getting the event underway was Mike Blackburn, BT Regional Director who spoke of the rising security challenge to the tech industry and referred to the current challenge as the “cyber arms race”. Mike spelled out the challenge when he said "every month BT block 5 million viruses". Mike also spoke of the need for tech literacy at a younger age which will help to reduce the tech inequality that currently exists.

Mike then joined some familiar faces on a panel between Thomas Renn (MSP), Nick Chrissos (CISCO) & Dave Carter (The University of Manchester). In this session the topic was CityVerve; Nick spoke of the uniqueness of the project and the reasons why it will succeed where others have failed. Dave catalogued the work that has gone before CityVerve in the Greater Manchester region from his time at Manchester City Council and spoke of the work that is now happening within the Manchester Urban Institute. The question to take away from this session was  “how does the project remain sustainable past the 2 year period?”

In what will be one of his last appearances as Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, Sir Howard Bernstein spoke on whether Manchester is equipped to meet the challenge of digital disruption. Sir Howard spoke of making sure Manchester has the best systems in place for dealing with the influx of new technology. The talk concluded with recognition that Manchester needs to have the correct skills system in place to meet the digital demand but that Manchester has some great assets and fantastic people. 

What followed were talks by two futurists; Tom Cheesewright spoke on how to make sure that smart cities were made not for the people but by the people. The analogy of giving a child a Lego car rather than a model car was quite a nice one for what the smart city community should be trying to achieve, it has to be moulded by those that use it rather than fixed. Mike Ryan spoke about the future of work and the threat of technology, even Mcdonalds are using robots to flip burgers! The advice being that we all need to be flexible and make sure we take on as many skills as possible or if you’re good at your job, you should be okay!

The day finished with a fantastic talk by the Head of Technology from Microsoft, James Akrigg. Virtual reality was one of the main points of the talk; the new opportunities possible through the technology can only be shown through the video below. The future is clearly quite scary and yet very exciting! 


There were also many other talks in a jam packed day on autonomous vehicles, artifical intelligence and fintech. The future is an exciting place thanks to the technology that is becoming available.Making sure that this technology is available widely, can create economic growth, sustainability and a healthy population is a one that will trouble policy makers. The bigger question which was also one of the first points of the day is “how do we make sure a smart city is secure?”