What does "Smart City" mean? A place where planning strategies are implemented with the aim of optimizing and innovating all public services. Do we aspire to a world of machines? Absolutely not. But today more than ever, a digital transformation is needed, one that will centralize citizens, in order to guarantee all possible opportunities for them.
Roberta Cocco, Director of National Development Plans for Western Europe since 2014, is promoting innovation projects for the development and implementation of the Digital Agenda with Governments and Institutions in the 12 Nations of the area. Since September 2016, directly appointed by the mayor of Milan, Beppe Sala, she is the Councilor for Digital Transformation and Civic Services of the Municipality. In this conversation, she describes the secrets that made the city of Milan the most innovative in Italy.
What are the pillars of digital strategy?
The transformation plan of the city of Milan is based on four pillars: digital infrastructure, i.e. what is needed to prepare the ground for the real transformation, including WI-FI, 5G and broadband. Digital services for citizens: to offer a direct and more modern, innovative and easier relationship with the public administration. The third pillar is digital education: we cannot speed up digital services without allowing as many people as possible to use them, so we are carrying out initiatives so that all our citizens can have basic knowledge, to access digital services
The last pillar concerns digital skills, or the possibility of carrying out projects and initiatives, both within the Municipality and with partners, to spread the value of having a digital profile that helps us enter the world of employment and make a career.
How quickly does a city become "smart"?
The process isn’t going to be carried out overnight: the whole of Italy is far behind in terms of digital transformation. But in recent years there has been a great acceleration of the processes. This is a job that involves a lot of commitment and great sharing of intent among the people who are active in the city. The mayor of Milan, Beppe Sala, strongly supports this project, this vision. Because digitalization in the end is a transversal function that must allow all the individual components to do their work better: from urban planning to mobility, from security to innovation. However, we must rely on what the main needs of the citizen are.
We want to be a model of experimentation for all other Italian cities. Also for this reason, we started to create a dialogue with other municipal administrations
What will the concrete benefits for citizens be after transitioning from an analog city to a digital city?
The key word is "services". Citizens don’t care what the difficulties of technology and information technology are. We have to take care of this. Citizens are interested in services. We have carried out a series of experiments over the past two years, one in particular concerning digital payment. We have given people the choice to pay a tax, specifically the TARI (garbage disposal tax), directly online. And this has allowed us to have a huge income in advance compared to the deadlines. Analyzing when citizens took advantage of this service, we recorded that they used it mainly in the evening and at the weekend. This means that if you make digital services available, people will use them when they need them and we can finally get over the limitations of face-to-face customer care offices.
What were the three most significant implemented initiatives since you became a councilor?
One is very technical, that is a data interoperability plan. We work incessantly in the collection of all the data of the Municipality of Milan, to generate a single database that can be accessed for information purposes. The second is an individual citizen's file or, to be clearer, the single service where citizens can find all their personal documents. The third initiative that I would like to emphasize is, as I was saying, digital payment.
The city of Milan is an advantageous territory for this type of experimentation. But if we wanted to export the model to other Italian cities, what would the necessary interventions be before proposing a change that is also cultural?
It’s true, all we are doing is possible because we are in Milan, a place whose administration strongly believes in this project. But we absolutely don’t want to “run alone”. We actually want to be a model of experimentation for all other Italian cities. This is also why we have begun to dialogue with other municipal administrations in order to spread the knowledge of the subject we have acquired so far.