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Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management · Priyanka Chowdhury, MBA '22

MBA Students Tackle Big City Problems with Smart Solutions

Apr 1, 2022

Cityscapeumbraco (3)

MBA '22 student Priyanka Chowdhury reflects on her experience taking the MBA capstone course

At the end of our MBA program, we had the opportunity to learn about the global phenomenon of smart cities. As part of this capstone course, GLOBE, we also worked on projects to develop actionable ideas for building smart infrastructure for cities around Canada, drawing learnings from GLOBE as well as insights from other courses in the program and our past experiences.

As new technology-driven solutions are being increasingly implemented to address various challenges associated with urbanization, the focus of GLOBE on smart infrastructure was very timely. Many global cities are aggressively investing in smart infrastructure with an aim to drive efficiency, reduce carbon footprint and improve quality of life. Canadian cities, however, have largely trailed behind their global peers in smart infrastructure initiatives.

Through a carefully, curated collection of recent research papers and videos as well as engaging sessions with faculty and external speakers, students learned various topics associated with the development of smart infrastructures. These topics included: global trends in urbanization, managing multi-level stakeholders with various interests, the evolution of new technologies and their applications, addressing challenges associated with privacy of personal data and threats from cyber-attacks, financing smart infrastructure projects, as well as the importance of smart infrastructure in building regional and national competitiveness.

Ivey’s Lawrence National Centre invited several external speakers who are leading experts in some of the main topic areas. They included:

  • Steven Robins, Head of Strategy, Canada Infrastructure Bank
    This session considered the role of the recently established Canada Infrastructure Bank and its long-term target of investing $35B over the next 10 years in priority sectors such as public transit, clean power, green infrastructure, broadband, transportation and trade. 
  • Jason Besner, Director, Partnerships and Risk Mitigation, Canada Centre for Cyber Security
    Cyber threats and attaches are one of the biggest risks that infrastructure and in particular, smart infrastructure assets face today as evidenced by recent incidents around the world. Jason provided an overview of the newly established Canadian Centre for Cyber security as well as recent global developments and trends.
  • Chantal Bernier, National Practice Lead, Privacy and Cyber Security, Dentons LLP; and Kristina Verner, Vice-President, Strategic Policy and Innovation, Waterfront Toronto
    Chantal and Kristina highlighted the importance of effectively managing privacy issues in smart city initiatives. They outlined the legal principles that guide privacy matters and discussed the complexities that arise from data collection, use, storage and protection.
  • Matt Sachs, Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder, Peak Power
    This session covered key concepts related to using data to optimize how things work in the built environment.

Key Take-Aways

To illustrate specific lessons learned, guest speakers provided examples of smart infrastructure initiatives from cities around the world, from Waterfront’s Quayside proposal to smart city projects in Barcelona, London and Singapore. Several take-aways emerged throughout the sessions, but three resonated the most:

  • Technology should be seen as a means to an end. Rather than getting all too excited about new technologies and finding ways to incorporate them, the development of smart solutions should begin by understanding the challenges facing a community and then exploring ways in which new technologies can be leveraged to create substantial impact in terms of efficiency, carbon footprint and quality of life.
  • Many smart solutions involve the collection of personal data, which in turn raises concerns on how this data is to be used, and by whom. For such proposals the issues related to privacy, ownership and security of personal data should be put front and centre to gain social acceptance and drive adoption.
  • Efficient and sustainable infrastructure is key to attracting global talent and investments. At a time when many countries are aggressively rolling out smart infrastructure solutions to solve urban challenges, Canada risks losing competitiveness in the global stage if it continues to fall behind in this important initiative.

Some Actionable Ideas

The capstone project tasked students to identify important challenges facing Canadian cities and offer actionable smart solutions. 168 MBA students were put in 24 groups, assigned a focus area to tackle in a Canadian city of their choosing. The focus areas included: 1) Healthcare and nutrition, 2) Resources and environment, 3) Housing and affordability, 4) Mobility & EVs, 5) Skill development and Employment, 6) Security and emergency response, and 7) Social connectedness and civic engagement.

Each report motivated the problem to be solved, described their actionable solution, examined benefits and costs, discussed how to address issues related to privacy and security of personal data, and provide an implementation strategy. Here is a sneak peek at three projects.

Electronic Health Record Standardization in Toronto

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing gaps in healthcare delivery around the world, with Canada’s healthcare system ranking 10th out of 11 western nations. As COVID-19 cases continue to ebb and flow, hospitals in Canada are grappling with staff burnout and service backlogs. The Ontario Hospital Association estimates a backlog of 21 million healthcare services alone. A student group proposed the development of a standardized electronic health record (EHR) system in the city of Toronto, allowing healthcare professionals to access real-time patient information across all hospitals and clinics. Restrictions would be in place to ensure any sensitive data could only be editable by authorized personnel. The system could employ AI models to feed real time data to predict trends to improve hospital utilization and backlogs while prioritizing patients requiring urgent treatments.

Crime Prevention in Waterloo

Over the past few years, Waterloo has experienced an average of 2,500 annual break and enter cases, with damages amounting to around $6000 per case. To date, 80% of cases remain unsolved. In an effort to curb crime, another student group proposed a three-pronged digital approach: sound detection, visual evidence from camera footage and predictive policing to mitigate crimes and improve case resolutions. For example, sound detection can hear the sound of a door or glass being broken; camera footage can record license plate numbers and use facial recognition software; and law enforcement can leverage AI to use historical and geographical data to detect unusual patterns of behaviour. The proposal discussed strategies for citizen engagement, consultation, and buy-in while mitigating personal data and privacy breaches.

Improving Mobility in Halifax

Halifax, Nova Scotia is Canada’s fifth most congested city due to population growth, city planning challenges, and minimal mobility infrastructure.  For most locals, it takes 50% longer to commute to work during rush hour traffic, causing delays for citizens and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by idling cars. In an effort to solve mobility and sustainability issues facing Halifaxians, yet another student group suggested the implementation of  smart traffic systems, which include traffic lights, censors, and cameras. This would improve commute times by 10%-20% by analyzing traffic and synchronizing light changes accordingly while also reducing GHG emissions by 3%. The group also looked at additional mobility concerns, including parking limitations in downtown Halifax. To encourage car-pooling and the use of public transportation, students suggested implementing surge pricing on parking lots and toll bridges. Additionally, upgrading public transportation services to include contactless payments, cell phone chargers, and WIFI would encourage an increased ridership.

An Immersive, Integrative Experience

GLOBE allowed students to gain an awareness and understanding of critical issues facing communities across Canada and the social and economic costs associated with solving them. The sessions, guest speakers, and group project forced students to dig deeper into a global phenomenon, its opportunities and its challenges, and how it can be best applied in the Canadian context to boost productivity, competitiveness, sustainability, and overall quality of life of our citizens. The Capstone course allowed for students to leverage the experiences and skills gained from the entirety of the MBA program by using a holistic and ‘big picture’ approach to problem solving. Further, students tackled their problem statement as a group, leveraging the real-world experiences of each member to create a real-world solution for their city of choice. Finally, the Ivey MBA brings together students from around the world. In our team of seven students, we had representation from at least five different countries, allowing us to broaden our perspectives and look to global examples of smart city solutions in building out our plan.

The LNC is grateful to the Canada Life Research Fund for supporting this work. 

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