By Bernhard Grubelnig, Senior Director Presales Shared Services EMEA. EMC
Cities are getting smart. But how smart can a city really be? How can a city hall deliver intelligent services to its citizens? Many people are talking about how e-government needs to evolve into hybrid government. But what does this mean?
I was invited to speak at this year’s Major Cities of Europe event in Hamburg and presented the solutions offered by EMC and our partner Bechtle AG in the field of smart cities. This blog post is therefore about clever cities, intelligent (and less intelligent) city council members, attractive ideas and how IT can play a pivotal role in the cities of the future.
For many, Hamburg is the most attractive city in Germany. After Rotterdam, its large port is the most important trans-shipment center for all types of goods in Europe. Some 10 million TEUs, or 20-foot standard containers, are handled here every year. Incidentally, Shanghai handles three times as many.
Hamburg also has a special place in the world of media and publishing, and the city is host to a range of large publishing houses and newspaper publishers. More than 70,000 people work here with or for the media industry. There is no other place in Germany where such a large number of people all work in this industry.
And, last but not least, it is impossible not to mention the amazing leisure activities that this Hanseatic city has to offer, including restaurants, musicals, theaters and the famous Reeperbahn street.
The Port of Hamburg: No. 2 in Europe
This city’s refreshing mix of old and new, business and leisure, European and international could very well be the reason why Major Cities of Europe‘s ICT User Group decided to meet here at the start of June this year.
The event featured a tightly packed three-day program for people wanting to find out about best practices for smart cities, presented by people working in the field on a daily basis: IT managers from major cities in Europe.
From E-Government to Hybrid Government
One of the major topics this year for the 300 or so participants from all over Europe was hybrid government. In this field, the challenges for city administrations are very similar to those faced by businesses: How can you oversee and manage both your customers or citizens and the services you provide through the widest range of channels possible?
A UN study revealed that around half of EU citizens (46%) go online to find a job, submit their tax returns or get in touch with their city administration. But that leaves 54% that do not.
As a result, managers of smart cities have to offer hybrid channels to ensure that their citizens have the best possible access to services. As US cities have shown, the telephone is still one of the most popular means of communicating with city administrations, even if the telephone is not always considered a cornerstone of modern e-government.
When implementing IT facilities within an e-government or smart city strategy, the challenges faced from an IT infrastructure point of view are similar: How can a public administration manage IT efficiently and cost-effectively (as taxes will inevitably be invested in these systems) while at the same time ensuring the security of collected data? For quite some time now, EMC has offered Federation Hybrid Cloud as an ideal solution. The offer is an ideal mix of onsite and offsite operation, private and public cloud technology, and an overlying management platform. A hybrid cloud solution in 28 days? You’re welcome!
Open Data: Do What You Want!
Many cities around the world, if not all, are struggling with the same issues: The coffers are empty, the citizens making more and more demands, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for in-house IT personnel to handle the increasing workload.
But several cities have spotted a silver lining. The magic words are “open data”!
City administrations share data for free and without restrictions on their portals and hope that innovative businesses, startups and individuals will leverage this data to develop apps for the smart city. A good example? Here is the data catalog for the city of Vienna in Austria. No fewer than 271 data packets and streams in various formats are available here, from real-time data about Vienna urban transport routes to the water quality of the natural swimming areas in Vienna. There is an abundance of data, available via APIs or in XML or Excel format.
How can this data be made useful to citizens? Today, Pivotal, EMC Federation’s Big Data and Data Analytics arm, has shown what can be done in an open data project for London in the UK. On this website, you can see a demo predicting the expected length of traffic jams and disruptions. All this is possible with the help of London’s open data, which will even provide you with a dataset containing the location of all public restrooms, among other things, if the traffic jam is a bit long. Weather information is also available from Weather Underground. That will certainly be helpful for your next vacation in London.
Best Practices for Smart Cities: 80,000 Geotagged Trees in Florence, Italy
As mentioned in the introduction, the MCE conference was brought to life by use cases from individual cities. The experiences from Florence were particularly thought-provoking. The city has about 370,000 inhabitants and is a real smart city pioneer. Not only do the authorities provide their citizens and visitors with almost 1,500 free Wi-Fi hot spots, they have also taken the lead in the field of open data: Do you want to know which types of trees can be found in which parks in Florence? No problem! The city has geotagged no fewer than 80,000 trees and linked them to corresponding data. You can read more about the project in this presentation.
Of course, there are also examples of cities that are not yet up-to-speed with the top-ranking cities. This is sometimes due to limited financial resources in terms of IT, but is more often than not due to mental barriers that city council members and administrators are having difficulties overcoming. How else could you explain that, for example, a certain European city has given itself the target to respond to any citizen making a request via a specific app within 12 (!) working days. Really? More than two weeks to reply to a citizen’s request? It is not surprising that citizens are not lining up to use such an app.
Do Smart City Services Have to Be Attractive?
Finally, here is another interesting observation made during one of several panel discussions: How attractive do the hybrid channels of a smart city (apps, portals, etc.) have to be? The somewhat questionable opinion was that these services “have to be used by citizens anyway” and that cities “are not businesses.” For that reason, smart city apps do not need to be attractive.
An ideal venue for the Major Cities of Europe Conference 2015: The Hanseatic city of Hamburg
As we are IT decision-makers and providers, we should set the bar higher for ourselves too. Of course cities are not businesses and of course they are not profit-oriented. However, with a well-designed IT strategy, city administrations can better handle citizens’ demands. Do I want citizens to submit their requests in person and on paper or via electronic forms? Do I want my colleagues in the city administration to manage back office activities or provide a real service to citizens? And finally, do I want my city to be a hive of innovation and a melting pot of ideas where its citizens feel good and want to participate creatively in urban life?
With IT infrastructure from EMC, specialists from Pivotal for big data analytics and with the help of security specialists from RSA to protect collected data, we are more than happy to help cities and municipalities find an answer to these questions.
So there is one question that remains: What is a city’s IQ? But that’s a tough one. Maybe we can use the following equation to try and calculate it:
I look forward to suggestions, criticism and lively discussions!