“Does my 'smart project' tie in with my city's digital strategy?”

“Local governments need a tool which allows them to check a ‘smart project’ in their city or municipality against their digital transformation strategy.” Our Prime Foundation Partner Belfius identified this need on the part of the local authorities and public services. Together, we soon developed a tool which works for both international cities and rural municipalities.

Remarkable features

  • the tool is suitable for immediate use: a smart project is allocated a score on the basis of 3 KPIs which are in line with a local authority's digital strategy. There is also a comprehensive assessment module.
  • the tool is universal: it can be used by both large cities and rural municipalities.
  • the tool was developed on the basis of ‘action-design research’ (ADR): researchers, developers and experts from Belfius created the tool in stages based on short feedback cycles. The methodology can best be compared with ‘scrumming’ in ICT development. 

All over the world, people are becoming more familiar with the ‘smart city’ concept. This is an umbrella term for numerous initiatives which promote sustainable urban development by means of a digital lever. For local authorities, however, this also gives rise to a challenge: how can they objectively assess whether a ‘smart’ project also ties in with their digital transformation strategy?

Assessment at 3 levels

In order to answer this question, the tool challenges a smart project at 3 levels:

  1. Does the project tie in with the digital strategy outlined by the city?
  2. Does the project contribute to the city's transformation in a tangible and sustainable way?
  3. Does the scope of the project satisfy one of the 6 criteria of a smart city project?

Smart city tool by Vlerick and Belfius

Australian match

Do these 3 levels actually cover all the various aspects of a smart city strategy? The fine-tuning of the conceptual framework took place in collaboration with Queensland University of Technology (QUT). “Vlerick has enjoyed a good relationship with this Australian university for many years,” says researcher Joachim Van den Bergh. “It has a great deal of expertise on smart cities. We started brainstorming about Brisbane and outlined the Digital Brisbane 2.0 strategy together.”

“During the concept phase, we used the project portfolio of Digital Brisbane 2.0 as our yardstick.” Joachim Van den Bergh, Senior Digital Transformation Researcher

From Brisbane to Büllingen

Once the conceptual framework had been developed, it was time to start the test phase. Alongside a project in Brisbane, three projects in other cities were chosen in order to check whether the tool also passed the test in a very different context.

Jeroen Vandevelde (Belfius)The tests were successful: the tool worked for projects involving the smart economy, smart mobility, smart environment, smart governance etc. However, the ‘smartest’ pupils in the class were always involved, as it were.
The Belfius experts were closely involved in the test phase of the four international projects, “but for us it was essential to know whether the logic with the three levels would also hold water in Belgian cities and municipalities of various sizes,” comments Jeroen Vandevelde, Smart Belgium Manager at Belfius. “That's why we suggested Büllingen as the next test case. This is a rural municipality in German-speaking Belgium which, despite its small size, has no desire to lag behind and aims to evolve into a smart city. The tool also proved its worth in the small municipality of Büllingen.”

“The logic also needed to hold water in Belgian cities and municipalities of various sizes.” Jeroen Vandevelde, Smart Belgium Manager at Belfius

Need for objectification

Why is this kind of tool so important for Belfius? Jeroen: “Belfius has been supporting smart projects in Belgian cities and municipalities since 2014. By means of Smart Belgium and initiatives such as the Smart Belgium Awards, we wish to place smart city projects in the spotlight. However, the increasing popularity of smart city projects also brings with it the need for objectification. This applies both to our government clients who wish to check their strategy and to our own experts who have to decide whether a smart city project is eligible for financial support etc. We will be able to use this tool immediately.”

Outstanding sparring partners

Jeroen is not only enthusiastic about the applicability of the tool, but also about the ADR methodology: “The Vlerick team and our experts proved outstanding sparring partners for each other. The ADR methodology allowed them to get to the essence from various different perspectives and at short intervals: Vlerick provided general academic findings and results from the international projects and Belfius came up with Belgian expertise and pertinent questions from the market.”

More than rhetoric

For Vlerick, the tool and methodology also tie in with the bigger picture of the Business School. Stijn Viaene, professor of Digital Transformation: “All our research findings and results, optionally in collaboration with partners, serve to further substantiate and refine the exconomy framework (pretty much the blueprint of our vision of what digital transformation can mean for organisations). The ADR methodology ensures faster feedback and allows us to change course more quickly. We will certainly be doing this again in the future.”