The Role of eGovernment in Smart City Construction

ByEdwin Diender

March 24, 2020

Edwin Diender

In the first blog post of this series, Visualizing the Universal Framework for Smart City Construction, I introduced the principle of the Rubik’s cube to help visualize the universal framework of smart city construction. The core and center pieces are the intelligent operations center, serving as the brain and nervous system of smart cities. The corner pieces are equivalent to the safe city concept, which forms the cornerstones of the smart city foundation. The support or edge pieces are equivalent to the ecosystems.

Regardless of economic development, people’s basic needs are fairly universal: equal access to education, jobs, healthcare, transportation, clean air and water, sufficient food and water in a safe environment, and so on.

A robust digital infrastructure is the key to unlocking the potential of both society and its people. This infrastructure is the wireframe that holds together the pieces of the cube in which its pieces can move independently without breaking the overall structure.

Governments have a key role to play in building this universal structure. They invest in ICT infrastructure, set the vision of a smart city, and implement eGovernance in a way that best serves residents.

The Role & Responsibilities of Government

Set the Strategic Direction

The primary role of eGovernment starts with a leadership team and a vision: the ambition to move a city or part of a city higher up the value chain. The next step is to develop a consensus with multiple stakeholders to create a mutual understanding of the digital journey, which eventually becomes the travel guide for the digital journey.

Stakeholders in a Smart City Ecosystem

Source: FG-SSC “Technical Report on Stakeholders for Smart Sustainable Cities”, page 22

Develop Regulations

Governments execute the laws and regulations that are conducive to business, entrepreneurship, and disruptive, technology-driven business models. Regulations, such as data privacy, also safeguard the interests of residents and are a crucial facet of city management.

Serve as the Ecosystem Enabler

A key role of governments is to create the ecosystem that allows stakeholders and public-private partnerships to come together on business and smart city projects. Equally, government investment in national ICT infrastructures is essential not just to stimulate the digital economy, but to foster innovation and create a strong foundation for smart cities. With a strong and intelligent ICT infrastructure, a government can establish a climate that attracts inward investment into the city and creates jobs.

The Shift to eGovernance

Digital agendas have been created and established virtually everywhere and most governments I engage with have a roadmap in place. The main issues that keeps cropping up, however, are the legacy systems and preexisting information silos that they’re forced to work with – I often mention that we cannot solve tomorrow’s problems with today’s models and principles. But the most important question tends to be: What do we do and what do we do first?

For governments, the ability to share information across teams and departments is crucial for communication efficiency and productivity. Governance is the means – the operations, the system, activities, and work processes – by which a city is governed. eGovernance is the digital version of that – its digital twin if you like. This could be a digital twin of a physical economy or physical business operations, the benefits of which include simulation models that deliver predictive analytics and the testing and validation of certain scenarios.  

eGovernance is powered by digital solutions that provide services and initiatives for people and business enablement, which in turn empowers governments to create the vision and strategies for smart city development, evolution, and planning.

Governments have started transitioning from manual and paper processes to digital processes for all public services, including taxation, visas, housing, and the registration of residents. Paperless offices, high-performance workplaces and self-service portals provide each government department with a unique system to digitally support its work. But, all these systems are verticalized. They’re information silos, they’re proprietary, they cannot seamlessly integrate with other systems; they simply block progress.

An overlaying cloud architecture can remove barriers between stovepipe government functions and can bridge these silos without necessarily upgrading or replacing existing infrastructure. Departments can access integrated, cross-functional application systems, and staff can transfer access permissions to other departments.

Removing silos can make a once-only model possible for individuals and businesses to access government services.  Re-using information can also guarantee a much more personalized experience for people and would negate the need to contact multiple departments to do things like register a business, renew a driver’s license, apply for residency, or register a birth.

eGovernance bridges information silos and makes them work together without replacement or forklift upgrades. Digital transformation is built on open standards and carried by Business-driven ICT Infrastructure (BDII). With a focus on innovating around customers, BDII is leading the way to the next industrial revolution by deeply integrating ICT infrastructure with software applications, developing innovative infrastructure, and enabling joint innovation with partners.

As the engine of digital transformation, government cloud has a series of benefits:

  • Shares data across departments while enabling service collaboration and diversification.
  • Reduces the cost and complexity  of networking and computing resource duplication when each government agency maintains its own IT resources.
  • Secures information from a growing number of internal and external security threats.
  • Provides scalability to expand or downsize government functions.

Cloud-enabled mining and analysis of huge datasets can reveal insights that can help governments with extremely complex decision-making, especially when AI solutions add precision and insight to analytics. Data mining tools can process structured numeric data in traditional databases or extract relevance from semi-structured and unstructured data such as text, graphics, images, and web data.

IoT and smart sensors have huge potential for making connections everywhere in eGovernment and serving as the source of an incredible amount of data. While the most publicized applications of IoT tend to be in the areas of transportation and health, less obvious applications include wildlife protection, flood monitoring, and earthquake protection.

Digital infrastructure and eGovernment solutions allow smart solutions to be replicated in other scenarios such as transportation, agriculture, healthcare, and education. This in turn can create the universal structure in which each piece can move independently without breaking up the structure and which facilitates and accelerate such processes going forward of smart city construction.

Red tape, bureaucracy, lengthy approval processes, reactiveness – the idea of ‘not being on top off things’ is a common issue today. And with integrated services and combined activities, this will only increase. A digital response is required.

The Changing Role of City Managers

The universal infrastructure is also transforming the role and the way city mayors and their teams currently take and uphold their responsibilities.

My talks and work with individuals in such roles have delivered some very interesting learning points. A few years ago I met with the lord mayor of a city in Germany. He came across more as a city manager than a mayor in the traditional way, and he spoke of his city and daily operations as if it were a business. I found the same with the mayor of a city in Russia and a governor of a state – all were focused on efficiency and excellence in the daily operations of city management.

Their profiles are highly managerial and they present their cities as a productized set of credentials: historical landmarks, top-notch universities, tourist attractions, investment opportunities, international airports, and state-of-the-art infrastructure. But most of all, there’s an eagerness and willingness to drive programs and initiatives through partnerships.

The Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) is an example of an institution that already provides training and certification and an academic track towards CDTO (chief digital transformation officer).  And we’re seeing more of these initiatives arising, not just throughout industry, but also within the educational domain.

For city managers and all stakeholders involved, the game has changed. And so then must the game plan change. We need more holistic views rather than linear. The conversation needs to be about efficiency in daily operations and city management. We cannot solve tomorrow’s problems with solutions of today. And the approaches of today probably don’t match and fit the journey of tomorrow.

Projects do not fit. Programs and initiatives do. Budgets and costs don’t match. Benefits and value do. Funding and financing and best value procurement need to replace public tenders and RFP processes. We don’t talk anymore about selecting technology based on features and functionality comparisons – we talk about Proof of Value, not concept. It’s a journey.

We don’t look at roadmaps, rather we have travel guides. And the way forward is rather simple; we discuss and compare notes and we come to a mutual understanding. This mutual understanding converts into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which we sign off on and that becomes our travel guide going forward.

In my next post I will examine how industry convergence will shape the smart city ecosystem.   

Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.

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Edwin Diender

Chief Digital Transformation Officer & VP, Government & Public Sector Business Dept, Huawei

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