Smart & the City – Munich’s city development

Usually you do not return to lecture halls a lot after finishing your university degree, but sometimes it can be very worthwhile. Yesterday I attended an open lecture by Klaus Illigmann, who is responsible for strategic city development at the city of Munich and who presented his current take on smart cities and the digitization activities in Munich. During my time as research associate at the Institute of Information Management at the University of St.Gallen, I conducted a lot of work on how large incumbent organizations approach digital transformation and the challenges they face during this journey. Sure, this is difficult enough, however, transforming a city – its infrastructure, processes, people – is an entirely different challenge and something that a typical city administration is not really prepared for.
My key take aways from this talk:
  • Innovation needs to be user-centric: Since a city cannot exclude its inhabitants, it is extremely important that innovation is usable, useful, relevant for everybody. When you spend as much time in the digital world as I do, you tend to forget that 20% (as Klaus Illigmann mentioned) of the population are offliners. For most digital products that I am working on I can neglect those, they are simply not the relevant target group. For a city, they are.
  • A (smart) city is influenced by multiple trends: Cities are systems of different actors and activities. Therefore, a multitude of digital and non-digital trends has an impact on those aspects. Mobility or energy obviously are huge factors, where a lot of interesting developments are going on at the moment, but also not as obvious social trends as automation of work, digital identities, or the sharing economy have impact on urban life and need to be considered when designing the future of a city. For Munich, the Fraunhofer institute conducted a trend research and created three scenarios for the city (you can download the study here – German only).
  • Change needs to be made tangible: When designing digital products, you build prototypes to experiment and test your solutions. The same happens when you design innovation for a city. You need to go out into the real world and test your ideas – on the one hand of course to see how they go and on the other hand to put them on public display and make the citizens see and experience them. Such a “real-lab” project that you can experience in Munich is the project Smarter Together in Neuaubing / Freiham or City2Share for connected mobility in Untersendling or the Glockenbach.
  • Cities should not operate the same way as organizations do: Here’s the big difference between smart city initiatives from private companies, such as Sidewalk Labs (which is an Alphabet company) and actual cities. The purpose of a city government is providing services that benefit the public (what is called in German „Daseinsvorsorge“), such as mobility, energy, waste disposal, education, or culture. These services must not be compromised by the need to increase efficiency or profitability.

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