#FutureMaker: Julia Thayne

Julia Thayne - Silo buster, infrastructure needs connector and speaker of many “languages”

As Director of Urban Development for our Cities Center of Competence in the Americas, infrastructure needs are connected to everything I do. On a day-to-day basis, I am working directly with city stakeholders to listen to and understand their challenges related to economic opportunity, equity, sustainability, resilience, congestion and even waste management. My team translates how technology fits into multi-faceted solutions to these urban challenges using data, analysis, case studies and best practices as proof points. This means, like many people at Siemens, I wear multiple hats, and speak multiple “languages”—the language of engineering, of municipalities and of politics. By necessity, I’m also a silo-buster—across city departments and across divisions within Siemens. One of my current efforts on the future of autonomous, electric, connected and shared mobility is a good example of this. Just to have a conversation on the topic, I have to bring together transit agencies, mayors’ offices, departments of transportation, utilities, start-ups, designers, non-profits and engineers. And that’s just on the city side of the matter. On the Siemens side, I have to involve our energy management, building technologies, mobility, IoT (Internet of Things), venture capital, government affairs and communications teams. Again, that’s just to talk. It gets even more complicated when we start planning or implementing projects. But we must start talking, and planning, now, because the data are correct: cities and urban regions will experience a major population boom over the next 20 years. I say “we” in that sentence because planning for fast future urbanization will be a process that inherently crosses multiple sectors. It’s also a process that must be inclusive. When it comes to speed of planning, one of my team’s key offerings to cities is a set of tools and calculators that estimate impacts of investments in infrastructure over time. This can help cities prioritize investments in both short- and long-term time frames. My team developed these tools and calculators because we realized that cities sometimes need a technology and manufacturing company, like Siemens, to provide deep expertise quickly. Public-private partnerships begin not with financial transactions, but with exchange of knowledge. Indeed, there is, for all stakeholders, so much to learn and understand about how cities are changing, and Siemens is in a key position to help. We could start using our technology, especially data and analytics platforms like Mindsphere, to provide feedback to cities on how infrastructure projects affect equity, sustainability and resilience, accessibility, and safety. Some of that we could even do today, if we programmed those indicators into our current platforms. Cities are natural proving grounds for new technologies, and for new business models, too.        If I could wave a magic wand, I would make first the foundational infrastructure we need to propel us into the future: A modernized, responsive, distributed electricity grid. A carrier-neutral telecommunications network. Data platforms that allow for sharing and coordination of mapping and mobility information. A waste-management system that incentivizes lower waste per capita.    Can it all be done in time? I’m an eternal optimist, so I’ll say that yes, we can.