Barcelona has its focus set squarely on the future. The city's future involves a combination of technological innovations in transportation and communications, smart use of mobility, and a variety of urban renewal undertakings. At the core of these efforts is Barcelona's IT strategy, which the city's CIO, Manel Sanroma, outlined for us in an exclusive interview.
Before we get to Sanroma's IT and mobility strategy, let's get up to speed on what's been happening in Barcelona. For starters, the research firm IDC named it the second smartest city in Spain in September.
The LIVE project, a public-private platform focused on supporting electric forms of transportation, has made Barcelona a hub of electric vehicle innovation. The city's Urban Habitat program is an attempt to unite urbanism, housing, infrastructure, maintenance, the environment, telecommunications, and IT, rather than having those sectors continue to operate in silos.
There's also the 22@Barcelona urban renewal project, which is creating a city within a city where innovative companies coexist with research, training, and technology transfer centers.
Amid all this activity sits Sanroma, who has been Barcelona's CIO since July 2011. At a World Mobile Congress (WMC) panel discussion in February, he called himself a "smart city atheist." (See: Mobile World Congress 2013 Barcelona Highlights.) He doesn't believe that a city can be smart -- that's up to its citizens. Judith Magyar reported in an SAP blog post:
According to Manel, cities, meaning citizens, first need to convert themselves into customers with an identity, a vision, and a roadmap, all shaped by their environment, and not just buy up every new thing that pops up on the market. While one city may be interested in installing videos to catch illegal garbage dumpers, another will cringe at the notion of filming citizens without their knowledge.
One way to convert a smart city atheist could be to help cities make smart technology choices based on their consumer identity.
The future of Barcelona is mobile
Sanroma, who was previously CEO of the CAT365 Catalonian Open Administration and a professor at Barcelona University, sees mobility as an intrinsic part of the city's "customer identity."
I interviewed Sanroma after his MWC presentation on the city's mobile strategy. He stressed the importance of mobility in the initiatives. In addition to hosting the annual gathering since 2009, the city has been chosen by the MWC organizers to serve as the first Mobile World Capital until 2018. According to GSM Association, which organizes the MWC, "The aim of the Mobile World Capital is to radically accelerate the global growth of mobile."
Sanroma expects this distinction to bring a new wave of mobile technology and initiatives to Barcelona. "We have several events during the year, including the Mobile World Festival in September, plus a city Apps competition during the summer where developers demonstrate new applications to improve urban life and the environment," he said. "It's like having the Olympics again, but for another five years," not just a few weeks.
In addition, Sanroma told us:
We have a dedicated portal [Apps4BCN.cat] where a team of experts select and recommend the best mobile apps for Barcelona residents and visitors. People can also suggest apps to be considered and participate as experts. There are apps developed by the Barcelona city and the Catalonian government, and many others from commercial and nonprofit organizations.
Barcelona's overall IT strategy, which Sanroma calls MESSI, is focused on making the city efficient, open, and livable.
We have the privilege to have the best football team in the world with the best player of all time, Leo Messi. We also want to have the best IT for the city, and the name MESSI fits all our core strategies:
- Mobility: As the Mobile World Capital, we encourage the development on mobile applications and services for the city's residents and visitors.
- E-government: We look to improve citizens' access to the administration by technology and optimize city resources.
- Sustainability: We use IT to reduce city waste, optimize the power grids, reduce road traffic, and create a sustainable environment for the future.
- Smart city: We focus on bringing the new technologies that can help us to make the city more livable, focusing on the city's characteristics and Mediterranean lifestyle.
- Innovation: Without the I of innovation, the strategy would be a mess. We develop new initiatives within the city's IT and help innovators in Barcelona and Catalonia to create new projects for the city.
Collaborating with universities and private companies plays a role in the strategy. "We encourage collaboration by exchanging our people with others from partner companies and universities, to share knowledge and work together in the design and development of new projects such as applications, devices, and other initiatives," he said. "This allows the city to be involved in every stage of the developing process and the partner entity to get continuous access to the knowledge of city's expertise."
Yet wireless carriers "are not interested in sharing the data they have, which can help cities plan traffic, application development, energy," he said. "They only want to monetize their data, not share it."
That's not going to stop Barcelona from achieving some ambitious goals by 2018.
We want the industry to return to the city -- a clean industry based on technology and sustainability. We also want all citizens to have access to high-speed Internet and mobile technology and carrying their entire wallets in a mobile device. I expect citizens to engage with the city, using social media and e-voting systems to participate in the main decisions affecting their environment.
Will your city do all that by 2018?