The success, and the issues, of Moscows digitization

Moscow Digitization

In 2010, the city of Moscow stepped up in its digital efforts. Backed by the government, the city launched its Information City Service, to inform and guide an ambitious digitization period. As a result of this, last year Moscow won the prestigious World Smart City Awards international competition for its entry titled “City as a service platform: new concept of public services for 12.5 mln citizens”. What is the success of Moscows digitization. What issues do they have? And what can other cities learn from this? 

Under the leadership of Andrei Belozerov, Deputy Head of the Department of Information Technology, the city has established a unique centralized platform allowing its residents to use over 200 mobile and online services 24 hours a day. Moscow residents use the services over 350 million times annually. This infrastructure is open for outsider developers who can also create their own services using the Open Data website and city systems’ application programming interfaces (APIs). Mr. Belozerov explained the success of Moscows digitization in an interview to Alec Scroxton of Computer Weekly. Mr. Belozerov was appointed to lead this project by the Russian government in 2011.

IT-systems centralized in one organization

Unlike many other big cities, in Moscow all critical aspects of city life are centralized under one organization. Even healthcare and education are centralized, while in many cities these systems are organized in a decentral way.

“We have a responsibility for every IT system in the city,” Belozerov tells Computer Weekly. “I think it is very important. It is much cheaper for Moscow to have centralized IT because we can plan better, we can integrate business processes and systems more easily.”

While other, decentralized cities have to invest lots of time, money and effort to unify systems, companies, departments and people, Mr. Belozeros organizes the systems of almost a million public sector employees, including teachers, doctors and so on. A great way to speed things up, especially with their annual budget of 500 million dollars. But there is a downside as well. If things go wrong, they go wrong citywide.

Moscows Information City Programma is divided into three parts, Belozerov told Computer Weekly.

  • Smart infrastructure; it’s about datacentres, networks, connectivity to schools, hospitals, Wi-Fi in parks and on the Moscow metro and so on.
  • Citizen services: including citizen engagement projects, a public services portal, mobile applications.
  • Smart City Government, business processes, internal email, etcetera.”

Public services through online portal

Since ten years, public services are available through an online portal, including a single sign on for citizens between federal and regional public services.

“This single sign-on works not only on the web but across any channel,” says Belozerov to Alec Scroxton. “We now have about 10 applications, mobile parking, mobile health, mobile education, mobile services, mobile voting and so on and all those apps are created on the city mobile platform and the single sign-on works on the app.”

Challenge: mental barriers for digitization

According to Mr. Belozerov, the largest challenge was to change te mindsets of the public sector workforce. With in this workforce, the inevitable resistance to change had to be overcome.

Lots of efforts were put in the training and education of the public workforce to get them ready for the digital world. Next to this lots of efforts had to be put in overcoming mental barriers to digitization of the citizens and to encourage citizen engagement. Especially for elder people, who may not even possess a smartphone. To tackle this, Moscow has established 127 multifunctional public service centres at the district level where citizens can access public services. Originally these centres were set up to cut down on bureaucracy, but now incorporate training services to enable people to get up to speed on how to use their devices, surf the internet, and access public services online, according to Computer Weekly.

The challenges of Moscows Information Systems Department

Moscow has a very well thought and impressive city strategy, with a clear mission for the Information Systems Department. “The department provides quality customer service that enables all City employees to be more efficient by promoting the effective use of current technology through coordinated planning, acquisition and support services. The department is dedicated to providing reliable and secure access to communication and computing systems for all City operations, while being responsive, flexible and proactive. ”

In the strategy the issues below are addressed, which will surely be applicable to other major cities as well:

  • Insufficient Capacity to Maintain Service Demands. Over the last five years City departments have become more reliant on technology, evidenced by the growth in helpdesk requests (300% increase), phone calls (25% increase), supported workstations (35% increase) and number of servers (285% increase).
  • Growing Difficulty of Staying Current with Evolving Security Challenges. Cyber-attacks are increasing in quantity, complexity and severity and a successful attack against the City could result in a complete shutdown of all City computer systems.
  • Inadequate Policies and Master Plan to Guide Technology Services. The City does not have formalized policies or plans that govern the use of technology. Departments have many standard technology practices but they are neither consistent nor enforced, resulting in changing priorities and employees lacking understanding of IS decisions
  • Lack of Mobility Plan, Protocols and Management. The lack of a plan and policy framework inhibits the City’s ability to improve efficiency, limits productivity and reduces program effectiveness.

The steps to digitize the city and its people

But Moscow is stepping up its activities hard in more areas, being for instance:

  • Heavy investments in digitizing the education system. Schools are being digitized with interactive whiteboard, learning methodes through gamification etc.
  • A special Smart City Laboratory should kickstart Belozerov programmes around artificial intelligence (AI), neural networks, augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), and blockchain in the coming years.
  • Last but not least, Moscow is establishing itself as a place where tech startups and companies working on smart city technology can flourish. The local tech startup scene is developing rapidly, cashing in on government policy to favour local suppliers and the lower costs caused by the weak national currency.

*) Featured Image: Thomas Depenbusch (cc)

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