How AWS picked the 2016 winning cities of ‘City on a Cloud’

Regular readers of this website will know that we are big fans of awards, particularly for city governments, and in support of innovation. Indeed, we have often covered them in the past. It should, therefore, be no surprise to see that we are taking an interest in Amazon Web Services’ City on a Cloud award, in its third year in 2016.

Back in June last year, the company announced that there were 16 winners of this innovation challenge. These winners were across three categories, ‘Best Practices’, ‘Dream Big’ and ‘Partners in Innovation’. The ‘Dream Big’ category is very much about innovative use of cloud technology. ‘Best Practices’ might be described as ‘doing the ordinary extraordinarily well with the use of cloud’. ‘Partners in Innovation’ recognises the contribution of private sector organisations who use Amazon Web Services to help city governments to solve local problems and challenges. This is a way to recognise those often unsung organisations that do a lot of the work in support of local government, via outsourcing and consultancy contracts.

What is City on a Cloud?

AWS’ City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge recognises and celebrates local and regional governments that use AWS cloud services to deliver better and more innovative services for their residents. Only paying users of AWS cloud services are eligible to enter. Winners of the award receive AWS credits to help them either start new cloud projects, or deliver more with the existing projects. Entrants had to pick the most suitable category for themselves, and could submit more than one entry, provided they were about different projects.

Selecting finalists

For the first round of judging, to select the finalists, the judges were looking for three elements in the Best Practices category:

  • The solution proposed had to support expansion of services for citizens or functions of local government over what was currently available;
  • It had to use and integrate AWS Paid Services; and
  • It had to offer significant benefits to the local community, in terms of cost savings and other measurable benefits to citizens.

The ‘Dream Big’ category was similar; it looked at soundness of technological solution, implementation plans, and the likely impact of the solution for the local community. The judges also recognised two different sizes of city for both these categories: ‘small and medium’, with populations of up to 250,000, and ‘large’, with populations of over 250,000.

The ‘Partners in Innovation’ category was slightly different. The judges were looking for a unique application. They considered the number and type of users of the application, the application’s applicability and availability to governments of different size and scope and in different regions, and the application’s availability on the AWS Marketplace within 2016.

Deciding the winners

A slightly different set of criteria were used to choose between the finalists, and select the winners. In the ‘Best Practices’ category, judges were asked to look at the uniqueness of the approach to the problem being solved and the measurable impact of that approach for citizens. In effect, it measured both the innovativeness of the solution, and also its impact. The ‘Dream Big’ category looked at the scope of the problem, and the completeness of the solution—after all, if you are going to ‘dream big’, you need to look at a wide scope.

In both these categories, a key question was whether the approach was easily applicable to other locations. In other words, would the approach help others to solve the same or similar problems?

The ‘Partners in Innovation’ category looked at the usefulness and innovativeness of the application, and its ease of use. Again, it seems that AWS is rightly focused on whether others will also be able to benefit from these innovations.

 ‘To infinity and beyond…’

The City on a Cloud award is open to entries from a wide range of countries and states. However, the 2016 judges could perhaps be considered somewhat US-centric, with all those listed being US-based. This might explain why the majority of the winners were also US-based, with the honourable exception of the city of Peterborough in the UK. There was also a special award for Singapore’s Land Authority for ‘Cloud Innovation Leadership’ for its OneMap project using open government GIS, hosted on AWS’ cloud.

We hope these non-US winners will encourage others from outside the US to submit entries in future, and broaden the natural scope of the City on a Cloud award.

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