The digital transformation offers a wealth of both challenges and opportunities to city administrations. At European level, the twinning of the digital and green agendas, and legislative initiatives on topics from governance on European data spaces, to the roll out of 5G infrastructures and the debate on AI, are relevant to cities.
But, how should these initiatives relate to the management of a city’s IT services or the implementation of IT projects? What should be the role of the smart city Chief Information Officer in bridging IT and these European digital policy initiatives?
Following the recent Smart City Live 2020, we spoke to Marijn Fraanje, CIO of The Hague.
How should cities work with other levels of government to realise the digital transformation?
I think our challenges lie on different levels. Bigger municipalities have the resources to guide their city in its digital transformation and because of that are in the position to cooperate with other cities and other government levels. Most of the time we forget that the vast majority of the cities don’t have enough financial resources or capacity to act on a similar level as big cities. I do feel that bigger cities should take up more responsibility to help the majority group of smaller municipalities by sharing knowledge and expertise. Organisation of municipalities on a national level will be critical to achieve that. In the Netherlands the VNG (Cooperation Dutch Municipalities) has been taking steps to strengthen municipality cooperation by sharing knowledge, start joint procurements and develop common digital policies. I think that a similar approach can benefit other EU countries as well.
But even if cooperation between municipalities is achieved we need to collaborate on certain topics with our national governments and the European Union. A good example is digital identity which can’t be solved at a local or even national level but needs to be tackled at the EU level in accordance with our principals of open borders and a common market. To realise that, municipalities have to build their alliances with each other, National government and the EU.
Why is it important for the EU to concentrate on developing its own digital ecosystem?
The present COVID crisis has shown how dependent Europe has become on other parts of the world for the import of devices, hardware and software to keep our digital ecosystem running. In an age in which the functioning of our society is increasingly depending on a good functioning digital ecosystem, we can’t afford such a dependency in the long run. I believe Europe needs to rethink its economic strategy and make a conscious choice to go for a strong European IT sector to support the digital transformation of our society. That also gives us the opportunity to model the European IT sector on our European core values: to be transparent, ethical and privacy proof.
What could help drive this transformation forwards and what do you see as the role of cities?
Education on digital skills for everybody is key. Having the skills and abilities to make use of the opportunities in the digital world and be resilient and aware of the threats is essential for every person. It will ensure that everybody can benefit from the digital transformation.
Education on digital skills is still seen as a nice thing to have and not a basic necessity, which it should be. Cities can help in this regard by developing awareness and skill programmes for their citizens and advocating for the educational system to make teaching on digital skills a basic course in the national education curriculum. At the same time cities can help by putting more effort in making their own (digital) city services as user friendly as possible and thereby lower the threshold for everybody to make use of the cities’ digital services.
In relation to the creation of a European IT sector, cities can stimulate economic development by providing the right conditions and environment. Cities can help as well by being a launch customer for new services and products. The Hague, in cooperation with provincial and national government agencies, uses the start-up in residence programme to publish innovation tenders on cities challenges for start-ups. It is a good example of how the combination of the different government levels can use a similar platform to stimulate innovation.