Creating smarter cities: delivering smarter services

On September 13-15 2011 the Smart Cities project held a three-day conference in Brussels to explore how cities can develop and deliver better e-services to citizens and businesses. The conference brought together a wide range of cities, universities, governments and consultants, with more than 200 participants from 16 countries listening to the best strategies and practices for cities to develop their e-government and e-services to deliver personalized and user-oriented services.

The Smart Cities project was set up in 2009 to focus on improving the delivery of e-government at the city level. It has worked to identify which e-services services work best and why, and to facilitate the transfer of successful e-Government approaches across national and regional borders. At the European level, the project has worked to support the creation and growth of communities of practice across the North Sea Region, and to build organisational commitment and capacity for inter-regional government service sharing.

The conference started with a focus on the policy perspectives on e-government, reviewing how society and technology were changing and what the future of service delivery might be, the impact of the financial crisis on how cities would need to organise themselves and deliver services in the future, thoughts on the role of technology in e-government – an enabler, rather than the raison d’être – and the importance of focusing on the need for a systemic focus on improving city and municipal e-services.
Subsequent sessions focused on concrete actions that all cities could take to improve services that built on the lessons learned during the Smart Cities project. While all cities claim to want to be smart, there are a number of different ways in which they can be smart, and the project showed a self-assessment tool for cities to use to identify their ambitions and to put their achievements in context.

The need to systematically review business processes and systems was set out, as these are the foundations of successful e-service delivery. Understanding your citizens is key to delivering good and relevant services, and the event saw the public launch of the European Service List and the European Function Lists []. This set of analytic tools showed attendees how they could use data and this toolset to better understand their communities and to design more relevant services for their citizens. Attendees felt these tools had real transnational potential to help cities across Europe better understand what services their citizens want and where and how they should be delivered.

While the vast majority of e-government programmes and projects focus on national and regional services, it is the cities and municipalities across Europe that provides the e-government systems and solutions that citizens use every day. Speakers emphasised the need for governments to focus on this aspect of e-government and for the need for a renewed focus by all parts of governments on e-government at this level to deliver the ambitions of Malmo, the Citadel Statement and the Digital Local Agenda.

As service channels continue to develop and expand, cities need to proactively manage their delivery channels and ensure that they deliver the same high standard of service using whatever channel the citizen wants to use. Developing robust organisational approaches and integrated systems is key to providing 21st century services.