“Time for action!”

Belfius ready to play its role in smart cities to the full

The Belgian bank and insurer Belfius is also working on smart cities in the renewed Prime Foundation Partnership. “The complex ecosystem has been mapped out. We are ready to play our role in smart cities to the full”, Fanny De Pauw, Karmen Wijnant and the supervising professor Stijn Viaene tell us. 

Fanny De Pauw (Belfius)“In strategic terms, Belfius was already thinking about smart cities back in 2014”, begins Fanny De Pauw, Head of Corporate Communication, CSR & Sponsoring at Belfius. “We saw our government clients coming up with a lot of local initiatives. Many of these were good ideas, bearing witness to a social engagement that resonated strongly with our values as a bank and insurer. So we also wanted to play an active role, but at the same time we realised that it was not easy for our clients to turn these ideas into tangible projects.”

Within Belfius, ‘smart cities’ is part of Smart Belgium, which also includes ‘smart companies’ and ‘smart care’.

“Not a repository”

“The fact that Belfius took the time to think about this complexity speaks in its favour”, continues professor Stijn Viaene. “Smart cities is not a repository of projects creating smart connections between digital and sustainable ideas, but a genuine ecosystem in which different players interact with each other: towns, universities, citizens, start-ups and so on. The challenge for Belfius is to determine the value it can bring to this ecosystem, and that can hardly be overestimated in terms of complexity. For example, consider street lighting with LEDs and sensors. What innovative financing methods can Belfius set up for this? Can they crowd-source with citizens? Or local councils? Or perhaps with another partner such as IBM?”


In a series of workshops, Belfius explored the tension between its social engagement and commercial objectives. “The academic approach taken by Stijn and Joachim (Van den Bergh, ed.), the researcher, is especially inspiring”, acknowledges Karmen Wijnant, Head of Client Development Management, Public & Corporate Banking at Belfius. “They link theoretical models to international examples of cities and organisations that are undergoing a digital transformation. This allows you to get a wider view than that afforded by your own surroundings and think about smart cities in a conceptual way.”

Measuring effectiveness

“A few pilot projects are planned for 2017”, explains Karmen, “such as setting up a marketplace where supply and demand between businesses and governments are brought together. We are also going to work on a tool to measure the effectiveness of a project. Later on, we can put this tool on the market.”

“This is a partnership on the ground” Fanny De Pauw (Belfius)

Not just a partnership on paper

“You will notice that this is not just a partnership on paper”, Fanny notes. “This is a partnership on the ground.” “Absolutely”, agrees Stijn. “Just as Belfius incorporates the return from this partnership into its Smart Belgium structure, we include it in our proposition for digital transformation. Incidentally, ‘sparring’ with partners such as Belfius, the Province of East Flanders, the VDAB and the federal government fits perfectly with Vlerick's strategic choice to undertake research on government digitalisation.”


What makes a smart city truly smart? Read the white paper ‘Raising the bar for smart city ecosystems’.

Digital transformation at the government? Read the VDAB case study 'Digital transformation of a governmental agency: a simple rules strategy'.