While EU Open Days 2013 discuss the 2020 strategy, Microsoft shares a glimpse of EU 2060

    Microsof CityNext: 7-8 October 2013, An official side event of the 11th European Week of Regions and Cities

Microsof CityNext: 7-8 October 2013, An official side event of the 11th European Week of Regions and Cities

As we move towards the middle of October, the most important annual events in Brussels start taking place one after the other. Last week it was the turn of the 11th European Week of Regions and Cities under the annual open dialogue forum series called Open Days 2013. The event offered the opportunity to EU Institutions and various representatives from European regions and cities to exchange views and insights on the 2014-2020 cohesion policy, as part of the EU 2020 strategy. Moreover, European regions and cities had the chance to present the actual results of the 2007-2013 EU funded programmes.

The workshops of the event had the following themes:

1. Managing change 2014-2020: Workshops presented and discussed innovative approaches to the implementation of the 2014-2020 thematic priorities. Practitioners, academics, EU institutions and regional experts shared their experience on the new elements in the implementation of the 2014-2020 programmes (e.g. integrated territorial investment, the joint action plans, governance issues, features of the new performance framework, financial instruments, simplified cost options, etc.).

2. Synergies and cooperation: Identifying how to cooperate, coordinate and ensure synergies between different EU national and regional policies and sources of funding were discussed. This includes synergies between cohesion policy objectives. Approaches to cooperation such as the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation and macro-regional strategies were presented, as well as examples of sound cooperation between national, regional and city administrations and expert institutions.

3. Challenges and solutions: Every European region and city is facing challenges that it finds hard to deal with on its own. But solutions to improve people’s quality of life exist throughout Europe and elsewhere. They were shared and adapted to different regional and urban contexts. Workshops aimed at presenting practical solutions to common regional and urban challenges, e.g.: SMEs’ access to credit and to the global markets, youth unemployment, demographic challenges, waste, water and natural risks management, congestion, pollution or high energy consumption.

Microsoft launches CityNext in Europe

While European mayors from Brno to Sparta were discussing about unemployment and new motorways last week at the European Quarter, one of the most important players in the IT industry was pointing towards a new direction only a kilometer farther, at Avenue des Nerviens. On the occasion of the 11th European Week of Regions and Cities Microsoft invited last Monday and Tuesday representatives from the European Commission, municipalities of European cities and the press to present them its new Business to Government programme, CityNext, that had been launched earlier last July in Texas. The European Sting accepted the invitation and attended the event last Tuesday to discover how the IT giant envisages the society of the future.

Microsoft with CityNext aims to bring on the table of the discussion a key enabler of the modernization of the European Society. Urbanization is a phenomenon that out modern society is facing for a long time and is expected to grow significantly in the future as people more and more gather in cities for employment, education and to enjoy higher standards of living. It is true that there are several axes in Urban and Regional Policy and that is Transport, Environment, Employment, Education. The EU is already allocating the European taxpayers’ money to all those important aspects of the society. However, there is only a small fraction of those funds that is spent on the key enabler of our modern society, that is Information & Communication Technologies (ICT). It is a fact that ICT is a relatively new, yet exponentially growing, market in Europe and beyond. As always, policy regulations follow new trends in technology. Particularly at the case of the EU, more than often regulators struggle to keep up with the frenetic pace of global technological innovation and there are several examples of that, from the Data Protection Directive that dates back to the era where Internet was a lab project to the lack of LTE (4G) in European mobile networks.

In a society where currently ICT is a majour part of our daily lives, from the Internet access on our computer, to our emails and photos on the Cloud and our accounts in social media, how is it possible to envisage the modern European society without considering ICT as the base of almost every aspect of city management? We think that this was the main question that Microsoft wanted to address during its CityNext event last week. Also, the question above is probably the idea that led to the creation of CityNext business case by the American IT player. The event was the right channel to effectively launch it in Brussels.

The Pillars of CityNext

As it is always interesting to learn about new technological evolutions and trends right from the source, it is important to describe here briefly the main properties of CityNext. Microsoft provides ICT solutions in software packages that allegedly can facilitate the lives of city leaders, businesses and citizens in the following city management pillars: Education, Health & Services, Government Administration, Public Safety & Justice, Buildings, Infrastructure and Planning, Tourism, Recreation and Culture, Energy and Water and finally Transportation. For Education Microsoft CityNext offers online educational interactive platforms that engage the students better than the paper based educational material and also provides analytics on the performance of teachers and students, something essential for city leaders. Moreover, Health in the modern society can be significantly enhanced through Cloud and Mobile technologies where access to medical information for the patient and the doctor is facilitated together with modern intervention technologies. In addition, CityNext allegedly provides new digital modern solutions of Government Administration including city dashboards, citizen services, tax and revenue, document and records management, social analytics, and open data.

What is more, Microsoft commits to a secure better Public Safety & Justice in the modern European society with CityNext using cloud computing based technology to enable organizations to visualize a common picture, share intelligence, and accelerate investigation-led lifecycles. Futhermore, the IT giant claims that CityNext will enable cities to take tourism, recreation and culture to the next level by making city portals “one-stop” spots for exploring recreation and culture. CityNext programme is also supposed to facilitate the city management system of energy and water with real time and historical analysis of consumption data, smart-grid solutions, and social media tools that can cut the cost of energy management and increase the citizen’s engagement. Last but not least, CityNext is claimed to enhance significantly the transportation management system, contributing to development and growth.

During the event of last Tuesday at Microsoft’s EU Headquarters in Brussels, where Eddy Hartog, Head of Unit International at DG Connect, participated, we were presented with various “success stories” of the eCity example that CityNext introduces. Microsoft partners and city representatives showed to the attendees how ICT technology can make communities in Poland, Chech Republic, Slovenia, FYROM, Spain and UK more sustainable for city management, businesses and citizens. As Mr Hartog put it last week, the success of modern societies will be judged upon two things: “Joining and Sharing”.

Exclusive interview with Joel Cherkis

During the event we had also the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with Joel Cherkis, Worldwide Government Industry General Manager for Microsoft. His answers to our questions gave us some insightful ideas about CityNext programme and its potential for the European modern society. Mr Cherkis emphasized on the urbanization as a challenging reality of our times that creates the need for a “better usage of resources”. According to Mr Cherkis, CityNext can be an excellent tool for the city leaders of Europe to manage better and in a more sustainable way our cities. The eCity of the future for Microsoft’s top executive should be based upon common infrastructure and common visual interface. Furthermore he explained to us that CityNext envisages a set of eCity applications and infrastructure addressed to three publics: city leaders, citizens and private sector.

In our question about the level of safety of data exchanged within CityNext, Mr Cherkis recognized that “Nothing is Bulletproof”. He ascertained us though that Microsoft is showing a lot of attention and effort to maintain the safety standards as high as possible, while he told us that the safety responsibility is mainly up to the group that is handling the data e.g. municipality. Later we asked Microsoft’s executive whether CityNext is addressed mainly to the Western developed part of the world or it is also targeting to enhance public management in developing countries as well. Mr Cherkis was clear in his answer. He told us that Microsoft has partners in more than 100 cities all over the world, out of which 14 showcases are based in Africa e.g. Capetown. He interestingly sees CityNext as a key enabler of sustainable government management in the developing world. Last, but not least, in our final question on whether the EU regulation is sophisticated enough to support and help eCity initiatives like CityNext, he rather diplomatically answered us that the EU Policy has been very supportive but there is still a lot of work to be done.

EU 2020 or EU 2060?

Stimulated by Mr Cherkis’ view that there is still work to be done in the EU towards the eCity direction, the European Sting is wondering: How easy will it be to pass on the stimulating idea of the technological future of the European society to our policy makers, whose twitter account is only managed by communication professionals? Let’s say that the Sting believes that it will not be a piece of cake. Microsoft’s CityNext is one of those cases were a programme or product basically invents a market. A market that does not even exist yet is forced to be under the EU Policy radar and hence it is too hard to grasp and comprehend in detail. Even in cases of mature markets we have today obsolete or mistaken policies. One can imagine what happens in the case of CityNext and CityNext competitor programmes.

It is more than clear that in the case of “eCity” and “mCity”, the industry is on the driver’s seat. It is the industry’s responsibility to explain in the simplest words this new emerging market, the technologies included and the total potential. Let’s not forget the fact that even to a DG Connect bureaucrat with a PhD in IT, CityNext could sound like a new shopping mall in Brussels. The gap between the EU’s 2020 strategy for cities and regions and eCity programmes like CityNext is rather big. Are the fragmented sparse case studies that Microsoft presented to us last week enough to secure a viable European eCity? How far are those case studies from a complete, well structured EU Directive on eCity and mCity?

The Sting is afraid that unfortunately given the EU Policy “rhythm” this will not be part of a 2020 Strategy but rather of a 2060 Strategy. To bridge this gap sooner there needs to be a consistent and well organized invite from the side of the European Policy makers addressed to the industry to showcase in detail how technology can pave the way of modern European society. We are imagining annual world scale fairs like GSMA’s massive Mobile World Congress in Barcelona where this time the majour industry players would present their eCity and mCity programmes like CityNext from Microsoft together with its majour competitors like Google, IBM and Cisco, even though we did not hear anything about their programmes last week. It would be in those kind of places where Policy Makers, City Leaders and Citizens could be truly engaged to be inspired and work together for a competitive European eSociety. Until an initiative like this is put into place together with a concise panEuropean eCity plan, eSociety will remain for Europe a very nice idea but as realistic as the scenario of a science fiction movie.

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Comments

  1. I always spent my half an hour to read this blog’s content every day along with a cup
    of coffee.

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