Smart cities: Technology central to improving public services

Written by Bas Verkerk on 12 October 2015 in Opinion
Opinion

To keep with the times, the EU must promote eGovernment, writes Bas Verkerk.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have long been hailed as a miracle cure for many problems facing by member states. If implemented correctly they could promote growth, increase efficiency and improve the quality and accessibility of government services. The development and implementation of ICT for eGovernment is of particular interest.

The idea is to use ICT to allow eGovernment to deliver more efficient government and enhance knowledge sharing, capacity building and sustainable development. 

However, in a number of member states the focus remains on making these services available, rather than providing transparency or good governance. This leaves room for development in areas such as user centricity, speed and service delivery.


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How much eGovernment is used varies greatly between member states. In my own city of Delft, we pride ourselves on an approach that focuses on bringing together resources, people and systems to take on the long-term challenges to become a forward-thinking, resilient city.
This brings me to the concept of a 'smart city'. In our view, smart cities should focus on long term challenges rather than short-term solutions. 

In Delft's smart city, we analysed the challenges of trying to become an energy-neutral, climate-proof city with a knowledge economy that creates jobs on all levels. We also studied a number of governance issues.

Is the action to be taken a question for government or for society? Are there already policy instruments in place to address these questions? Who is the end-receiver of the smart city solutions: is it our universities, our companies, industries or citizens?

The Delft University of Technology is currently conducting thorough research into government (de)centralisation, eGovernance and rethinking the role and size of public administration. 

Research has unequivocally demonstrated the relevance of eGovernment and how it can influence and shape government strategies. Clearly, the overall goal of this is to deliver better governance to all target groups.

Supporting eGovernment is not only of national and local interest, it is also something that the European Union is actively pursuing. The digital single market is one of the most promising areas of EU policy - experts estimate efficiency gains amounting to €260bn per year. 

It also opens up the possibilities of improving the economy with the help of eCommerce, enabling improved administrative and financial compliance for businesses and therefore empowering citizens through eGovernment.

The European Commission is actively supporting the introduction of eGovernment at both national and European levels. The aim is to develop effective cross-border eGovernment services that will encourage interaction between government bodies, citizens and businesses regardless of their country of origin.

This includes developing conditions that promote the use of systems across member states. Of course, it is not only a question of introducing technology to the work of government bodies - this is already the case in a majority of member states!

Rather, it boils down to rethinking established processes and changing organisational behaviour. Only then is it possible to enable citizens, businesses and organisations to benefit from improved public services. 

One of the Commission's main objectives is to increase the use of eGovernment services. The Commission is targeting usage rates for eGovernment services at 50 per cent of citizens and 80 per cent of businesses.

ICT systems are now at the heart of government processes, but work is still needed to ensure they continue improving the delivery of government services.

Like many organisations and government bodies across Europe, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the Committee of the Regions is doing its best to leverage the possibilities offered by eGovernment to citizens, businesses and even national and local governments.

As part of the European Week of Cities and Regions, the EU Open Days, my group is holding a workshop on eGovernment and how ICT solutions can deliver good governance.

The workshop will explore successful case studies where ICT has enhanced good governance, empowered citizens and proved to be an effective platform to generate benefits in the form of new employment, better health and education. 

In the 21st century, the only way to remain up to speed is to provide public services anytime, anywhere and on any device. 

In short, by engendering enhanced participation and transparency, eGovernment becomes a tool for good governance.

 

About the author

Bas Verkerk is Mayor of Delft and a speaker at the Open Days conference

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