Smart Cities

Do we want a Digital Government & a tech cluster in our Cities? The 3 essentials

Governments can do a lot, no doubt, we can have a long list of policies to implement and all of them are important, from tax policy to changing procurement. However, many times is important to reflect on the essentials. Are we on line? Do we have what is needed? Are we focus? So I wanted to share what I think are the essentials, the key things that we should do:


1.- Techies in the Gov.  It may sound obvious but it is not. If you are in a meeting for tech policy and you ask who knows how to program and still programs and you don’t get lots of hands raised, you have a very serious problem because you are among people who probably don’t really understand what they are talking about. We need to inject techies in the gov if you want to change it. Estonia is the most advanced eGov country in Europe, nobody has more Open Datasets than the US, and all this cannot be understood without the people in charge in the government.

2.- Build a community.  Groups need an identity if they want to function as such. The tech transformation of New York cannot be understood without Meetup. But not all instruments are equal, hackatons are competitions and don’t build a community as much as meetups, co-working spaces, Startup Saturdays, Unconferences, … Help to build a community and listen to it, give them a voice.

3.- Opportunities for techies.  If you are the most brilliant programmer + UX guru, is your gov able and wiling to take advantage of your capacity? Govs need a higher absorptive capacity if they want stay on top and groups need opportunities to flourish. Without opportunities, talent is not going to come neither to stay. For governments this implies to change the hiring and procurement policies, to establish a Digital Service emulating what the US and other countries did.

These three things are easy to check. For the first one just count. How many techies, particularly the new generation who program in python, ruby, node, Julia, hadoop, spark, … For the other two, imagine that you are a good techie coming from another country, how easy is for you to integrate in the community and make a living?

Geeks in the Gov !!!


photo: Fast Company

¿No seria fantástico que la administración fuese un ecosistema tan innovador y dinámico como Silicon Valley? Que las aplicaciones que dispusiéramos en lo público fuesen del estilo de whatsapp, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, etc.

Aunque los gobiernos han sido los responsables de muchas de las innovaciones de las que disfrutamos, especialmente de iniciarlas, la realidad es otra. Sin ir más lejos, hoy al renovar el pasaporte no he podido evitar oir una conversación en la que se comentaba que la aplicación se cuelga regularmente por lo que hay que salir y volver a entrar. Lo que llama la atención, no es que suceda, sino que se acepte con la normalidad de lo inevitable.

Este no es un tema menor, unas aplicaciones mejores pueden cambiar de una manera radical no sólo la calidad de servicio de los gobiernos sino la forma en que éste se presta. De manera que, cambiar las aplicaciones – la interficie entre los ciudadanos y la administración – se convierte en el camino más corto, en la forma más fácil de cambiar la administración, de hackearla.

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Citie – A Smart City Ranking that you should use !

CitieFrameworkOh no !!!! One more Smart City ranking !!!!!

Who didn’t think lately this when confronted with another Smart City ranking? Indeed, in the last years, in spite of the lack of indicators, it has been an explosion of smart city rankings attempting to bring something new to the table.

However, two main problems plague Smart City rankings.

First, the lack of data. There is little data at city level and therefore you have to resort to interviews, self-declared assessments or use national or at most regional data, which makes non-sense for individual cities. Also, there isn’t any data that could allow a fair comparison of city initiatives. Again surveys take the main role and with them a very subjective view, if not bias, of the impact and worth of these initiatives.

Secondly, the polyhedric nature of the concept. Smart City is usually defined by its impact in many areas ranging from resilience to citizen participation or economic growth. Having cities different priorities it seems logical that they push in different directions. How can you compare them? The classical example refers to new cities recently build versus the old ones where many infrastructures cannot be changed. They obviously confront very different priorities.

When in spite of these difficulties you attempt to produce an index, any index, comes the question of usefulness. What is its contribution? Rank the efforts that cities do around Smart Cities, why is this useful?

Most of them rank existing assets in the different categories of the index, which honestly adds little not only to our understanding but in terms of guiding political action.

Once you gave up comparing potatoes with oranges, resilience with citizen participation or the rise of the sharing economy, the idea of a ranking that can provide a framework that could orientate Smart City initiatives can certainly be of some interest.

Very recently (June 2015), Nesta, Accentrue and Catapult have produced one of these: Citie that aims to rank city initiatives for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. Citie doesn’t cover the whole spectrum of Smart Cities but maybe its most interesting part because it talks about growth and these days we all need growth, don’t we?

I am sure that you want to know the winners first 🙂

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Do cities need one more hackathon?



These days apps4Europe ( is ending. In the last 3 years apps4Europe tried to redefine the dynamic of hackathons making them more effective resulting in more and better apps putting into practice concepts such as the Business Lounge. This is the last of a series of European projects (Open Cities, Commons 4 Europe, CitySDK, apps4Europe, …) aimed at transforming cities into ecosystems where app services were provided not by the cities themselves but by developers and startups. It is therefore time for a reflection.

Over the past years European cities promoted lots of hackathons with the hope of fostering the development of city & civic apps. Hackathons have become a staple in cities’ policies with the ambition of promoting the development of a tech ecosystem.

However, very few startups graduated from this process and for the ones who did you can argue to what extend hackathons have been a decisive factor. Moreover, if we look at the apps that we have installed in our smartphones and we normally use, only very rarely we can find one resulting from this process. None is in the list of top 100 either.

Therefore, confronting results with the ambition it is hard to argue that we got far away with this strategy and it becomes pretty obvious that we have to rethink the whole process, because … it has not been working and it is not working. And in this case, it has not been that we didn’t try, we did and we did a lot.

In spite of this evidence however, cities continue investing in hackathons. It seems quite reasonable to ask us why is this happening and to what extent this is the best possible move.

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¿Quo vadis Smart City?

The control room of the Rio Operations Centre Rio De Janeiro Brazil By David Levene 16/5/14España ha sido durante los últimos años probablemente el país del mundo donde el término Smart City ha disfrutado de mayor tracción entre los políticos. Sensores, consumo energético, sostenibilidad, coche eléctrico, transparencia (si transparencia), concursos de apps, más concursos de apps, open data, hackatones, … todo esto se ha incorporado al vocabulario de la gestión local a una velocidad meteórica. En bastantes casos con mucho branding y pocas nueces y en algunos pocos, con nueces pero con un cambio cultural y de gestión sin hacer o apenas empezado.

Como no podría ser de otro modo en bastantes ocasiones – seamos generosos – el “business case” se dejó para lo último para descubrir finalmente que ni lo conocíamos ni se le esperaba.

Quizás alguno de los lectores que haya tenido la paciencia de leerme piense que ésta es una visión excesivamente crítica con una realidad que ha puesto a algunas ciudades españoles en la zona de líderes globales y esto debería valorarse. Ciertamente tiene razón, ahora bien dejadme apuntar que muchas veces desde fuera se mira con extrañeza como ese liderazgo convive con un paro superior al 20% y sin una cultura de startups, desarrolladores de software y emprendimiento que le de soporte.

Sin embargo éstos son tiempos nuevos donde las respuestas no están aún escritas y por lo tanto la reflexión puede tener una oportunidad mayor. Tanto en Madrid como en Barcelona tenemos una nueva realidad política que prioriza la solución de los problemas sociales más acuciantes y un cambio en la forma de gobernar.

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Smart Cities y Infraestructuras Invisibles


Siempre que pensamos en infraestructuras pensamos en aeropuertos, lineas de AVE, autopistas, elementos que generalmente nos permiten conectarnos y conectar. Cuando nos referimos a las infraestructuras de la sociedad de la información, inevitablemente hablaremos de redes de fibra, redes de wifi, … también estamos hablando de conectar. Pero, ¿son éstas las únicas infraestructuras que ha creado este mundo de Internet? Quizás no …

Pensemos en un problema sencillo y como se le ha dado solución a lo largo de la historia: los taxis. Se trata de un problema de coordinación sencillo, taxistas que buscan clientes con clientes que necesitan un taxi. Inicialmente, y aún hoy en ciudades pequeñas, la única forma de conseguir un taxi es llamar por teléfono y concertar hora y lugar. En situaciones de demanda pequeña, esto funciona bien, aunque no deja de ser una lata para turistas y viajeros poco familiarizados con el lugar. Si la demanda crece y hay más taxis, aparece un nuevo sistema de coordinación. Los taxis dan vueltas alrededor de las zonas más concurridas y los viajeros los llaman alzando la mano. Funciona bien para zonas concurridas aunque es poco eficiente, pues genera tráfico innecesario, polución, desperdicia combustible y desprecia las zonas de baja demanda.

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Entrepreneurial Cities should become Urban Labs

illuminatedminds-labs-urbanRemember the days when Nokia and Motorola owned the phone market? They are not so distant, only a few years ago. Yet how many of you have a Moto or a Nokia now? Let me guess: none!

If you are sceptical about the power of innovation for shaping markets and destroying fortunes, these two examples are a reminder of how fast things can go. But they tell us more; they describe a change in the way we compete.

Not so long ago, firms competed on price. In a way all societies started here, taking advantage of low wages, natural resources or any other factor that might provide a sustainable advantage, difficult to replicate. As we know now, these advantages were far from sustainable. Low wage countries, if successful, became richer, raising wages. Shifts in extraction technology, such as fracking, made extraction advantages less relevant, and so on. So, let’s forget about sustainable, ok?

Competing on innovation needs early adopters, experimentation and fast market validation of proposals.

Productivity replaced low costs as the main form of competition. Knowledge became the new buzzword. Nowadays however, knowledge is everywhere and while some sectors strive to maintain their knowledge advantage, engineers in India or China have become just as competent as their rivals in Europe or America, and with them the productivity level of these different societies is levelling out.

We are no longer competing on productivity. Some of the biggest, most thriving companies such as Apple, Google, Airbnb, Tesla, Facebook, GE, Amazon and Apdo still compete on productivity of course, but they earn their huge surplus and tremendous market share from innovation. They compete not on making similar things more efficiently but on transforming the world with completely new products and services.

This Copernican change in the way we compete has huge implications.


¿Para qué Smart Cities?

SC-Para k


mi artículo de hoy – 25 de Marzo del 2015- en La Vanguardia y el link de opinión en ESADE

¿Queda alguien que no haya oído hablar de smart cities? Probablemente no, es uno de esos conceptos que se han ido incorporando hasta tal punto que ha llegado a convertirse en un epíteto de ciudad: las ciudades tienen que ser smart.

Es un término tan utilizado y cotidiano como poco claro. ¿Qué es una smart city? La pregunta tiene multitud de respuestas y ninguna al mismo tiempo. Esta ambigüedad sólo hace que agravarse cuando nos preguntamos ¿para qué sirve? Son preguntas irrenunciables. ¿Cómo vamos a decidir cuánto y cómo invertir sin contestarlas?

Lo primero que nos suena al oír smart cities es lo relacionado con tecnología: luminarias que se apagan o reducen su intensidad si es necesario; semáforos que se coordinan evitando la espera cuando no pasa nadie; o mejoras en la gestión energética. Todo esto ya estaba funcionando cuando a las ciudades no las llamábamos smart.

Una segunda lectura nos aproxima a nuevos paradigmas como Open Data. Ésta es la situación en la que gobiernos y ciudades incorporan nuestros datos a portales, con formatos directamente utilizables por web y aplicaciones. También proporcionan acceso wi-fi rápido, sin límite de tiempo, ni login. Esta solución va dirigida a ciudadanos y visitantes de las zonas más concurridas, como aeropuertos o playas, de manera que haga posible ofrecer servicios de nueva generación. El Open Data constituye un ejercicio de transparencia y fomenta la creación de apps ciudadanas que proporcionan servicios sin coste para el contribuyente. Al tiempo, estimula la creación de empresas. Nuestras ciudades ya están construidas y, por más eficientes que intentemos hacer nuestros semáforos, nuestras calles seguirán teniendo más o menos el mismo ancho.

Smart cities también significa acceso a los servicios municipales a través del móvil y hacer su uso tan fácil, cómodo y eficiente como otras aplicaciones como WhatsApp, Facebook, o Google Maps. ¿Por qué iban a ser menos los servicios públicos? Smart cities potencia la marca de ciudad.

¿Cuál de ellas debe ser nuestra prioridad? Parecería que priorizar en base a nuestros problemas y objetivos fuera la forma obvia de responder la pregunta. En nuestro caso, con un 25% de paro y una crisis de la que apenas salimos, el crecimiento económico y social podría ser la respuesta.


City OS vs an OS of the municipality

CityOS1Since quite some years there is a discussion about the need to integrate all the different standalone and many times disconnected applications of municipalities into a single package called City OS.

The pressing need of aggregating and coordinating the information from different departments has increased lately pushed by trends such as open and big data, centralized command and control city centres and the fast an inexorable transition from eGov to app based mGov.

The objective seems to bring coherence and structure to a myriad of existing applications through a decentralized but compact, modular architecture.

However, what are cities? Many times citizens have a different perception of cities than municipalities do, for example myself. I Currently I live in Barcelona, the Barcelona that we live in is divided in up to 17 municipalities that neither me not many other citizens cannot distinguish. Our grandfathers faced a similar situation, 100 years ago Barcelona was much smaller and what now is Barcelona where different municipalities scattered through the territory. However, they managed to integrate all of them into a single city. Our generation though failed to drive a similar process.

Because of this, we face a myriad of systems, interfaces and procedures that could make some sense for policymakers and civil servants but drive us nuts. Amazon manages to integrate a large ecosystem of vendors into a common interface that is transparent to users. Why we cannot do at least the same if not the real integration?

Also, cities are much more than city governments. For the sake of the example let’s use Open Data. Part of the problem with Open Data is that gov data is not that interesting. For example restaurants. What do municipalities know about restaurants? Location, state of inspections, … What do restaurants know about themselves? Prices, menu, photos, character … Certainly more interesting. What users know about restaurants? If they are cool, quality, … Now we talk !!!!

There is also the case of invisible infrastructures like airbnb, hailo, über, … But that will be another post.

All these demands not a distributed system but an API based one like Amazon, asks for cloud based structures – Hadoop, spark, …-, API orchestration – 3Scale, …- and third open API that could allow third parties to build systems that solves the actual limitations.

City OS ? Welcome! But a real one ! An OS for the municipality? Well maybe we have more pressing needs for taxpayers’ money ….