by Francisca Dominguez

The multi-faceted digital transformation of Barcelona City Council

Case Study
28 Feb 20245 mins
Artificial IntelligenceCIODigital Transformation

With a series of innovative technological projects centering on AI, real-time data analysis, and digitization of processes, Nacho Santillana Montal, CIO of the Catalan City Council in Spain, seeks to achieve the concept of smart city.

Nacho Santillana Montiel, CIO, Barcelona City Council
Credit: Barcelona City Council

A holistic digital transformation of its services, comprised of many technological initiatives, earned Barcelona City Council a place as a finalist for Public Entity of the Year at the CIO 100 Awards Spain 2023 in December. And as its CIO, Nacho Santillana Montiel was the central figure of this distinction due to a series of innovative projects including integrating various emerging technologies into daily life at the City Council and for Catalan citizens. 

“The project stands out for its social commitment by addressing emerging problems such as loneliness in the elderly,” Santillana says. “Ethics and social responsibility are fundamental elements in decision-making and the implementation of new solutions.”

Among these solutions, artificial intelligence stands out as something integrated in all municipal services, as well as how work methodologies and protocols for the deployment of these systems are defined, and ensuring they’re used in accordance with legal, ethical, and technical standards. Plus, a public registry of algorithms and an external advisory board to prepare algorithmic impact studies was launched.

Laying the groundwork

Last year, the Municipal Data Office (OMD) was created, which is responsible for the management, quality, governance, analysis, and dissemination of data from the Barcelona City Council and its associated entities. The OMD also serves as the main system to organize and plan sociological research, and monitor public opinion, statistical production, and socioeconomic analysis of the city and environments of interest, which allows the publication of high frequency data and the development of evidence-based public policies. It also includes the set of applications derived through the CityOS platform, the main municipal data repository. 

Barcelona has also created its own digital twin to check whether the city meets the requirements of the so-called “15-minute cities,” in which public services, equipment, and facilities, such as metro stops, electric charging points, bus stations, health establishments, and green spaces, are less than a 15-minute walk from any point in the capital. This project is the first phase of a collaboration with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, the Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS), which, together with the support of the Municipal Institute of Informatics (IMI) and Barcelona Regional (BR), has allowed simulations and predictions about the impact of certain projects or public policies.

In addition to the chatbots that combat loneliness among the elderly and disabled, Barcelona City Council’s portfolio of technological initiatives also includes payment of fines and taxes through Bizum, the payment system that’s prevalent throughout Spain; the digitalization of Barcelona cemetery services; real-time monitoring of children’s play areas to improve their usability; and the Zoobot chatbot, which makes visits to the Barcelona Zoo more inclusive for visitors with specific needs.

These and other projects have helped Barcelona to be recognized within Europe as a leading digital city, with priorities such as digital rights and inclusion, the use of emerging technologies to promote urban innovation, and using data as a public service for good. As a result, the city has held the presidency of the Eurocities Digital Forum for the last two years, where its contribution has been key to increase participation and ongoing impact of cities in European legislative initiatives, such as the Digital Services Law, the Governance Law Data, the exchange of short-term rental data, the Data Act, and the Artificial Intelligence Law, among others.

An inclusive approach

For Santillana, part of what makes this digital transformation of the City Council so relevant is its holistic approach. “It addresses both the practical and emotional needs of the community, especially older people and those with disabilities,” he says. “The project is distinguished by its attention to the diversity of the population, and the implementation of digital solutions seeks to ensure universal accessibility, guaranteeing that all citizens can benefit from municipal services.”

He also highlights the ability to adapt to the changing needs of the community and the technological environment. “Flexibility in implementation allows for continuous adjustments to ensure relevance and effectiveness over time,” he adds. “Together, these aspects make the projects unique by addressing not only efficiency in municipal management, but also significant improvement of the quality of life and social well-being of citizens, highlighting an exceptional commitment to ethics, inclusion, and social innovation.” 

For Santillana, the keys to project success are, among others, taking into account the needs and experiences of users from the beginning and throughout the process, prioritizing the security and privacy of information, and that the introduction of new technologies requires an adaptation phase, so training and support for employees and citizens are vital.

“These projects reflect Barcelona City Council’s commitment to innovation, inclusion, and continuous improvement to the quality of life for its citizens through the strategic application of digital technologies,” he adds. “The combination of administrative efficiency, universal accessibility and focus on social well-being positions Barcelona as a reference point in the digital transformation of local administrations.”

by Francisca Dominguez

Francisca has been working as a journalist, business communications professional, freelance branded content writer, and head of comms strategies at non-profits for over 8 years.

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