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A lot of cities have this mistaken notion that if they automate some of their internal processes like business permits and licensing, they now join the ranks of cities considered to be smart. They may have taken the first step towards becoming one, but their journey still has a long way to go. It usually is not a smooth journey, with a lot of iterations along the way but the end goal will always have a lasting impact on the constituents if done properly. And if the city leaders think it is just about technology and should be delegated to their ICT staff, they are terribly wrong.

Digital connectivity plays a very important role in the cities’ journey. It is the platform necessary to enable their constituents to access services virtually, develop a digital culture that would allow them to take advantage of opportunities resulting from digitalization, and allow the cities to easily implement sustainability initiatives.

Economist Impact, a global think tank, recently released the Digital Cities Index 2022, a ranking of 30 major cities scattered across the globe. Five ASEAN cities were selected for the ranking including Manila, which I assume refers to Metro Manila. The ranking considered the four key pillars of digital connectivity, services, culture, and sustainability to assess the extent and impact of digitization in the selected cities. Manila came out dead last in the ranking with an overall score of 39.1, compared with the Asia Pacific average of 59.4 and the global average score of 63.3. Manila’s rank may not be to its leaders’ liking but at least they now can see where the city stands globally and use the results as a benchmark for them to work on.

Every smart city journey aims for a high quality of life for its citizenry, a competitive economy, and sustainability. Therefore, most cities aspiring to become a smart city have anchored their initiatives on the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

To achieve high quality of life for its citizenry, a city must be livable, safe, and must address problems stemming from rapid urbanization and increasing population. Its citizens must be able to access social services both physically and online preferably by mobile. To become a competitive economy, the city must make it easy for businesses to prosper and transact with it. Rules and policies must be consistent and predictable. Excellent digital connectivity must be ubiquitous which would allow businesses to transact online for things like permits and payments. It must be able to address vulnerability to disasters and resiliency to issues related to health and climate change.

We see pockets of excellence among several Philippine cities. The Quezon City government recently got awards from the International Data Corporation (IDC), a leading global market intelligence organization, for its programs on customer experience and digital innovation. IDC’s 2022 Future Enterprise Awards recognized the city’s QC Biz Easy – Online Unified Business Permit Application System as the country’s Best in Future of Customer Experience. Its QC iBiz View on the other hand was recognized as the Best in Future of Digital Innovation.

A city does not have to be big to become a smart city. In the case of Cauayan City, a third class component city in Isabela, it was able to evolve as the country’s best practice in smart and sustainable cities. The Cauayan City government, thru the able leadership of its then Mayor Bernard Dy, has aggressively embraced the smart city concept and implemented digital initiatives anchored on the UN SDGs. Throughout its journey, it has collaborated with global partners like the Smart Cities Network in Singapore and World Smart Sustainable Cities Organization in South Korea providing the city with a platform for knowledge exchange, innovation, technologies, and best practices that improved its capacity to achieve its smart city aspirations. Mayor Caesar Dy, Jr. who took over from Mayor Bernard Dy has committed to continue with the city’s journey. If it can be done in a small, poor, and highly agricultural city, there is no reason for other cities not to do it.

The magnitude of a smart city journey is immense. It is not about technology alone and not about automating the same processes which need to be simplified and streamlined in the first place. It will involve the presence of digital connectivity, culture change, a data-driven governance mindset, digital services, and skills development. It is only when all of these are made to be customer-centric that the city is now able to provide a delightful experience for its constituents. That will take political will from a passionate leader to happen. And the leader must make sure that the experience is consistent by personally checking on the systems from time to time. After all, it is about building a smart ecosystem rather than an ego system.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Monchito B. Ibrahim

Quelle/Source: Manila Bulletin, 11.10.2022

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