This article was first published in the Autumn 2014 issue of Touch
An interesting story to come out of this year’s Major Cities of Europe Annual Conference, which took place in June in Zurich, Switzerland, is how the city of Hamburg in Germany is embracing IT. As part of an effort to transform the way it delivers services and interacts with its approximately 1.8 million citizens, the city has rolled out various innovative digital projects. For example, it has reduced its paper consumption and shortened approval cycles by implementing an automated Microsoft SharePoint-based workflow. And just last year, the city’s Port Authority implemented new mobile devices and software, allowing around 1,800 workers to collaborate from anywhere in the 7,000-hectare port, helping to significantly increase productivity.
With many more projects like this in the pipeline, it is no coincidence that Hamburg has been selected to be a Microsoft CityNext showcase city. Hamburg’s chief information officer (CIO) Jörn Riedel explains what the secret is to the city’s successful IT strategy and how the Microsoft CityNext initiative has helped so far.
What kinds of challenges are you faced with in terms of driving innovation and delivering better services to growing city populations?
As CIO, I’m responsible for Hamburg’s IT strategy and budget. I would say that the biggest challenge I experience is the pressure to innovate with the same number of employees. And, in many cases, there’s just not enough time to find new ways of working, while getting the work done at the same time! And so one of my missions is to create the right space, time and culture to inspire people to have discussions about innovation. Out of this thinking, we have created our digital agenda for Hamburg.
As populations continue to grow, how important is it that the world’s major cities develop innovative IT initiatives such as yours?
I think it’s imperative in order to continue to provide services to citizens. They will not accept being made to interact with their government in a different way to how they interact in the business arena or in their personal lives, so we have to keep up with demand. Plus, IT innovation is also a key way to cut costs, which is a challenge that is top of mind for all city executives today.
When did you first decide to drive a digital agenda?
We started our journey for innovation many years ago and it is something that we now continue to build on. We made our first move towards digitising the interaction with our customers with the launch of our government gateway in 2003, but as new technologies and ways of communication have emerged, we too have introduced different ways of interacting with citizens. It’s important to note that we are not particularly technology driven. Instead, we are more driven by problem solving, and then we look at which technology fits best.
Do you take any inspiration from projects carried out in other cities?
Yes, in most of our IT projects we will take inspiration from other initiatives and also work with other communities, local and state governments and corporations. For us, working with and learning from corporations is a key resource during a project and it can also be a great opportunity to keep the costs down. An example of this is an offering we have run for several years for quick and easy access to information on government services by telephone – 115. This was inspired by New York’s 311 service. As part of a nationwide project, Hamburg was the first city in Germany to implement the service.
Do you incorporate feedback from citizens when you develop projects?
We regularly receive feedback from citizens on our website and we find it a useful way to understand how we can improve our services and make them easier for citizens. But often the feedback isn’t about IT issues, and is instead regarding the stringent regulations that we have in Germany around citizen identification. We also sometimes receive feedback from citizens that don’t like the move towards digitisation. In these cases, we simply communicate to them why change is important and give them a little more support to help them through that particular process via the 115-service.
How important is it that city leaders share best practices and ideas?
When we share ideas we can help each other to resolve worldwide government issues and sharing best practices will also help reduce costs of projects. But also it means we can share our insight and knowledge with the world’s city leaders to help influence not only wider IT adoption, but also a positive impact on the economy and society.
How has Microsoft CityNext helped you to do this?
Microsoft CityNext has been a very good opportunity for us to meet and interact with other partners and cities. Having access to a new, worldwide perspective has been extremely interesting for us and offers the opportunity for us to learn more from other successes – we’re now able to see how other nations develop innovative IT strategies successfully and learn from them, and hopefully we can help inspire them too by demonstrating the successes we have had.
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