Digital Greenwich: a local council approach to smart cities

By Steven McGinty

According to research by Lucy Zodion, a leading designer and manufacturer of streetlighting equipment, smart cities are not deemed a priority for local government. The findings show that 80% of local authorities have little or no involvement with smart cities, and that only a few had specific teams managing smart city initiatives.

The research explains that the challenging financial environment was the main reason for the lack of prioritisation. However, it also finds despite funding challenges, some local councils have been successful at introducing initiatives, through working in partnership with private organisations and universities and encouraging local businesses to participate in developing solutions.

On our blog today, we’re going to look at the Royal Borough of Greenwich, a local council quietly leading the way in the smart cities revolution.

Greenwich Smart City Strategy

On the 22nd October 2015, Greenwich council officials launched their smart city strategy at the Digital Greenwich hub. Denise Hyland, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, outlined the council’s reasoning for investing in technology, explaining that:

In the face of the rapid increase in the borough’s population and in the face of globalization and technological change, we have to invest in the future and face these challenges head on, right now.”

The strategy introduces four key principles:

  • Inclusivity – the strategy will benefit all citizens, communities and neighbourhoods.
  • Citizen centric – citizen engagement will be transformed to ensure citizens are at the heart of policies and that their needs are met.
  • Transparency – citizens will be informed of changes and desired outcomes and accessible information will be provided to all citizens.
  • Standards and good practice – the Royal Borough of Greenwich will become a ‘learning organisation’, willing to listen and share ideas, and using evidence to inform decision-making.

The strategy also explains that it will transform four main areas:

  • Transforming Neighbourhoods and Communities – the council will reach out to the Boroughs diverse communities, including strengthening links with key organisations to improve the quality of life for citizens, and introducing projects to reduce digital exclusion and promote digital skills.
  • Transforming Infrastructure – the council will improve fixed and mobile connectivity in the Borough and encourage the widespread use of sensors in the built environment, to provide the building blocks for smart city projects.
  • Transforming Public Services – innovative pilot projects will be introduced to help ensure public services are co-ordinated and citizen-centric.
  • Transforming the Greenwich Economy – many jobs in Greenwich’s economy are vulnerable to automation, therefore the council will look to make businesses more resilient to technological change, as well as encourage the development of digital SMEs.

Bringing together the right team

Digital Greenwich has been established to develop and take forward Greenwich’s smart city strategy. The in-house, multidisciplinary team, provides expertise in the areas related to smart cities, such as the modern built environment, implementing Government as a Platform, and economic regeneration in the digital age.

The team will play an important role in shaping thinking, managing pilot projects to mitigate the risks of innovation, and ensuring that the council’s strategy is aligned with emerging practice.

 Partnerships

The ‘Sharing Cities’ Lighthouse programme

The ‘Sharing Cities’ Lighthouse programme is a €25m project, which involves cities from across Europe investigating how innovative technology can be used to improve the lives of citizens. As part of this programme, Greenwich will act as a demonstrator area and trial several initiatives, including:

  • introducing 300 smart parking bays to help drivers find parking quickly and conveniently
  • developing a shared electric bicycle and car scheme to reduce the number of citizens using private cars
  • installing solar panels in local homes to improve energy efficiency
  • using the River Thames to provide affordable heating for local homes.

Digital Greenwich and Surrey University

On 27th July 2016, Digital Greenwich and the University of Surrey set up a partnership to develop smart city technologies, with a focus on creating ‘resource-efficient, low-carbon, healthy and liveable neighbourhoods’.  The Digital Greenwich team will now have access to the university’s 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC), which will enable it to develop and trial smart city solutions. The university have highlighted that the centre’s 5G infrastructure (the next generation of communications technology) will provide the opportunity to scale solutions to a city or national level.

The university’s 5GIC is funded by a £12 million grant from the Higher Education Funding Council.

Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Denise Hyland, commented that the new partnership will act as a ‘valuable catalyst’ to their smart city strategy and help strength the Borough’s economy and improve services.

Involving industry

GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment)

GATEway is a collaborative project involving academia, government and industry in the field of automated vehicle research. It’s led by TRL, the UK’s transport research centre, and has several aims, including:

  • safely and efficiently integrating automated transport systems into real life smart city environments
  • inspiring industry, government and the wider public to engage with using autonomous transport technology
  • understanding the technical, legal, cultural and social barriers that impact the adoption of autonomous transport technology

One of the companies involved in the research (based at the Digital Greenwich Innovation Centre) is Phoenix Wings Ltd, who specialise in innovative mobility solutions, fleet management and autonomous vehicle technology. In 2014, they announced ‘Navia’, the first commercially available 100% driverless shuttle.

The GATEway project is funded by an £8 million grant by industry and Innovate UK.

Final thoughts

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) have highlighted that local council spending power reduced by 23.4% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2014–15. This is clearly significant, particularly when there is pressure to meet greater demands.

However, to conclude, we’ll leave you with the comments of Professor Gary Hamel, a leading management expert,

My argument is the more difficult the economic times, the more one is tempted to retrench, the more radical innovation becomes the only way forwards. In a discontinuous world, only radical innovation will create new wealth.”


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Digital leadership: how should digital be represented at board level?

DARPA_Big_DataBy Sarah Vick, Managing Director, Reading Room

How can leaders ensure digital is a strategic strength? In a Reading Room roundtable event, we discussed the shift from ‘doing’ digital to ‘being’ digital and the challenges this poses.

Being at the forefront of digital is central to operations, corporate strategy, customer experience and communications. But should this responsibility sit under the remit of a traditional board-level director, in the form of a Chief Digital Officer? Or should every senior executive be digitally savvy? In both cases, what does the board need to know and do to ensure that digital is a strategic strength of the business?

From ‘doing’ digital to ‘being’ digital

In our roundtable event we discussed the shift from ‘doing’ digital to ‘being’ digital and the challenges this poses for both boards and people working in digital roles within organisations.

We concluded that either digital changes you as an organisation or you choose to actively manage your digital transformation. Those organisations that make a decision to manage their transformation and learn from doing so are more likely to be successful in the future. This takes bravery; the people on boards are no longer the experts. If they are brave enough to admit that they need to learn in order to change,  that’s the best first step to take.

The rate of change that digital technology has brought about means boards are being challenged to make ever faster decisions, and to reconsider the benefit of long-term planning. Is it really possible to plan five years in advance? Won’t the world as we know it have completely changed again in that time frame? Boards operating in highly regulated or governance-heavy environments have additional hurdles to jump in a fast-paced environment.

Experimentation in order to build a business case for change

It was clear in our discussions that boards and directors needed to be able to make decisions based on business cases that explained the impact digital initiatives would have on an organisation.

Often these business cases will propose an initial spend in order to test a certain proposition. However being awarded budget (even minimal) to test and experiment is often difficult to achieve. At Reading Room, we have found that organisations who are willing to test ideas out, find it easier to innovate and, as a result, are often ahead of their competitors or the first to market.

Directors need to understand that organisations have to change and that digital is a key aspect in bringing about change. At the same time, having an understanding of the benefits of testing ideas out in order to make longer term strategic decisions is an important skill to have at board level and something organisations should advocate.

Becoming a joined up digital organisation

‘Digital’ people within an organisation are often those who are willing to shine a torch on problem areas. They are both the disrupters and the teachers; causing those around them to love them and be afraid of them in equal measure.

One area where the torch gets shined is on the myriad of internal systems that aren’t joined up and don’t allow data to flow from one to another. This topic is often raised at board level, but because the projects associated with joining systems up often do not result in immediate results or a difference in the front-end user experience, they risk getting passed over for ‘shinier’ activities.

It is important that people reporting into boards are able to demonstrate the efficiencies that can be made from allowing systems to talk to each other. Again, being able to undertake proof of concept or short-run experimental projects can often help to build a business case.

Digital knowledge can inform strategic planning

Not all board positions are occupied by digitally savvy people, yet the board is expected to make decisions in a world that is changing faster and faster because of the impact of digital. There is a need for more education at board level to help organisations to make better strategic decisions in relation to digital. Another tip is to avoid board discussions where the board gets pulled into the detail of plans, which is not a good use of their time.

Boards need to be strategic and hold the vision for the future of the organisation. They need to have a holistic approach and to understand how core areas such as data and content fit into their overall vision. Having a common understanding and a clear vision for how digital fits into the organisational strategy is a place where boards should strive to get to.

Do we need Chief Digital Officers?

In our discussions we concluded that at this point in time it was useful to have someone who has a good understanding of the impact and potential of digital and could champion this at board level. They would often be the person who the people delivering initiatives would have an ongoing discussion with outside of the boardroom. They might also be the person to allay fears and drive change within an organisation.

Digital initiatives often result in wide and deep structural and/or cultural changes. Having someone at the helm to help navigate these changes can be hugely beneficial. They also help to avoid people blaming ‘IT’ or ‘digital’ if things go wrong or there are teething problems.

We also discussed the premise that having a Chief Digital Officer would probably be a passing phase and that as the wider board became more digitally savvy and digital was more integrated into every part of an organisation, the role would evolve or no longer be required.

One red flag raised on the topic of Chief Digital Officers is that having a single person at board level responsible for digital does run the risk of them becoming the scapegoat if things go wrong. There is a risk that their appointment can let everyone else off the hook. If we are to argue that digital touches all aspects of business then surely the board as a whole needs to be accountable?

Over the years, some IT departments have operated at arms-length from the organisations they serve. Many have found it’s easier to say no rather than move forward. We do not want this to become the fate of the digital department, whether the organisation is operating in the private sector or the public sector.


Reading Room is is a digital consultancy that identifies opportunities, creates experiences and builds systems to help clients benefit from technological change. It joined the Idox group of companies in 2015.

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Digital Agenda Norway (DAN): international digital leader but still pushing forward

Split Norwegian flag flying in the wind

Image courtesy of Pixabay via Creative Commons.

By Steven McGinty

Continuing my series on digital government best practice, I will be looking at the success of Norway and what they hope to achieve through their Digital Agenda for Norway (DAN) strategy.

Norway is already a leader in “digital government”, ranking second only behind Singapore in a study carried out by Accenture on implementation progress and citizen satisfaction. The Norwegian State Secretary, Paul Chaffey, suggests that this success has been built on a foundation of a population of tech savvy Norwegians, with a history of being at the forefront of cutting edge technology.

For instance, in 1973 Norway became the first country to connect to the US’ ARPANET, which was the military predecessor to the Internet. And more recently, maritime and off-shore technology developments in Norway have become of global importance. In particular, the use of Big Data modelling plays a significant role in finding new oil fields.

Egovernment policy development

In 2000, the government presented the eNorway action plan, a set of ICT initiatives designed to support the development of the ‘knowledge society’ and improve the lives of the people of Norway. The plan consisted of descriptions of the individual ICT initiatives of ministries, as well as common frameworks to support joint initiatives.

This soon evolved into eNorway 2005, which had the main goal of developing a set of principles for ICT initiatives. From this, the government set out three primary targets for its ICT policy:

  • Creating value in industry;
  • Efficiency and quality in the public sector;
  • Involvement and identity.

Then, the government introduced eNorway2009, a strategy that would take Norway a ‘digital leap’ forward. It argued that the public sector had to be viewed as one unit, if digital progress was to be made. Therefore, the new strategy focused on the use of multi-disciplinary initiatives and projects. There was also a recognition of the need for cooperation between all sectors and levels of the public sector, as well as the private sector.

In 2012, the government also published a report on the digitisation of the public sector. It outlined the government’s key policy objectives for their digitisation programme – keeping Norway at the forefront internationally in terms of providing digital public services to its citizens
and businesses.

Major successes

  •  ID-Porten

A major development has been the implementation of the hub, ID-Porten, which verifies citizens via electronic IDs (eID).  It allows citizens to securely login to government digital services via a single login portal. There is also a common technical platform (ID Gateway), which allows citizens to login to services using four different eIDs: MiniID; BankID; Buypass; and Comfides.

BankID, Buypass, and Comfides all provide access to a high level of security (level 4). These IDs are required when accessing personal data and only issued to individuals who appear in person. However, MiniID provides only a medium-high security level (level 3) and pins codes can be sent via mail or through SMS. This is the most common eID (used by almost 2.7 million citizens) and provides access to digital services provided by the tax services and the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund.

  • Altinn.no

In 2003, Altinn was launched to provide a single web portal for public reporting. This was driven by the amount of time Norwegian businesses were spending on statutory reporting. To resolve this problem, the three large public agencies in Norway – the Norwegian Tax Administration, Statistics Norway and the Bronnoysund Register Centre – started Altinn.

However, the project has now moved beyond that of public reporting. Now it’s responsible for providing an array of electronic forms (over 700) and digital services, as well as providing information for businesses.

The most used service by citizens is the completion of tax returns online. In 2009, more than 440,000 businesses chose to do their statutory reporting through Altinn.

  • Regjeringen.no

This is the main information portal for the Norwegian government. It has a user friendly design and in many ways is similar to the UK Government’s website GOV.UK.

Digital Agenda for Norway (DAN)

In 2013, the Norwegian government published the white paper on the Digital Agenda for Norway (DAN).  The strategy is linked to the Digital Agenda for Europe, and is also related to the Europe 2020 strategy.

The DAN explains that the government’s primary goal is that:

Norwegian society take full advantage of the value creation and innovation opportunities that ICT and the internet offer.”

This has been the philosophy from the early stages of Norway’s digital development.

The DAN highlights that greater digitisation is inevitable but notes that it will be important to identify areas with the greatest potential for development.

In terms of the public sector, the DAN identifies a number of areas for development:

  • Public sector information – increasing the accessibility and reuse of public sector information.
  • Digital services for citizens – improving digital registration for property rights and creating a paperless justice sector.
  • Commons technical solutions – the development of digital mailboxes for citizens and businesses, the use of digital document exchange, and the creation of common registers to support the public sector.
  • Organising and coordinating for more efficient use of resources.
  • Adapting laws and regulations to a digital public sector – requiring digital communication to be the standard method of communication for the public sector.

Looking to the future?

Norway has earned their reputation as a ‘digital leader’. Over the years, the government has set out a series of clear policies to support the transition to the digital age. Although not perfect, significant improvements have been made. For instance, 93% of Norwegian households now have access to the internet; this figure was only 55% in 2003.

The new DAN presents Norway with an opportunity to continue the success of recent policy initiatives. And on recent evidence, this is a clear possibility.

However, with other countries looking to improve their performance in digital government, it will be interesting to see if they will overtake Norway in international comparisons or if Norway’s sustained focus will pay off and enable them to be the world’s number one in terms of using digital services to increase citizen engagement and improve service delivery.


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IDOX specialises in election services, with Idox Elections offering end-to-end solutions for electoral management systems. Idox was awarded a number of contracts to support the Norwegian municipal and county elections held in September 2015. This follows Idox’s success in delivering similar election services during the Norwegian General Election of 2013.

What is “the right approach” to public service website design?

socitim finger pointSocitm have recently reported on their 17th survey of local authority websites, Better Connected 2015, and the picture still isn’t great. Although rising expectations are said to be driving improvement, there are still significant gaps in performance. The key highlights from the report illustrate this:

  •    Slow and intermittent progress in improving their websites in the past year.
  •    Advances in accessibility – 43% providing satisfactory features for the disabled.
  •    Increases in number of responsive sites – increasing to nearly 50% (easy reading and navigation).
  •    8% now reach the 4 star ranking.
  •    Public satisfaction fell by 30%.
  •    The gap has narrowed by over 9%, between satisfied and dissatisfied.
  •    Slow progress in mobile performance experience – only 1/3 passing the assessment, especially customer journeys for top tasks.
  •    Only 37% of councils passed the top tasks standard, a slight improvement on last year.
  •    Nearly 50% of new sites launched didn’t improve the 1 or 2 star ranking.

Martin Greenwood (Socitm’s Insight Programme Manager) said shortcomings are due to councils having limited resources and not taking the right approach to designing websites. He highlights key barriers to improvements:

  •    Lack of resources and skills.
  •    The need to simplify.
  •    Focus on mobile, getting this right helps with the website as a whole.
  •    Addressing what makes the website poor, such as standards, digital governance, and management of content, before making the same mistakes.
  •    Not having strong editorial control, to ensure consistency.
  •    Not having a national structure for budgets, third party software and information sharing.

So what is the right approach? Information on how individual councils perform is available in the full report, but 34 councils achieve the maximum 4 star. In the past year, there has been a significant increase in the number of councils that have implemented a responsive site, up from 107 (26%) to 198 (49%). Many of the issues highlighted are the same for all websites, and ownership, clarity of purpose, clear user journeys are key to all websites. So how can all websites be improved?

  •    Have clear editorial processes and accountability.
  •    Really focus on the customer journey and remove any distraction.
  •    Make the information architecture clear and consistent, prioritise top tasks.
  •    Design for mobile devices first.
  •    Keep content relevant.
  •    Make sure all forms have context, such as the process or service which can be expected.

and specifically for local authorities Socitm highlights:

Should local authority websites be a priority in today’s efficiency saving climate? Ipsos Mori shows that 85% of the adult population now use the internet, while Ofcom found that half of internet users use government websites, including local authority ones, and this is growing rapidly. With 45.3m visits each month to council websites already, this will continue to grow, but will sites be resilient enough to cope? 30% of visits end in failure, even the best performing sites have 15% failures, and most failures lead to other modes of contact, such as calls to already busy call centres. DCLG found that 65% of local authorities said they had made savings as a result of implementing digital services, with an average saving of £1.4m, and also the added value of greater efficiency and transparency. The digital trends which are emerging across the public sector are driven by technological solutions to create efficiencies, as well as a better use experience, for a more digitally aware customer. Part of the solution to this efficiency is strategic use of content, simplified and used across the whole organisation. Technology will be used more and more in service delivery, better use of call centre information and feedback, and improved searching functions for information. The results of Better Connected, although promising, have some way to go. Although failure to meet, what are essentially customer service standards, may not be having a direct monetary impact currently, it will in the future if local authorities do not keep pace with the principles of user-centred design. Idox agrees with the report’s findings, especially that user-centred design is key to online services. As a company we are taking this forward within our business strategy. We have found that there is a an eagerness to develop and improve web experience, but with constraints on financial budgets, public sector clients are prioritising the improvements which are absolutely necessary. The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on digital service delivery, to find out more on how to become a member, contact us. An example of other resources we can offer to meet the challenge facing the public sector: Better Connected 2015 (Press Release) Local Digital Today Digital Trends in the public sector Digitally positive: an essay collection Technology Manifesto Internet Citizens 2013: use of citizen-related online content and services