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Edinburgh sets out plans to become a smart city

Three-year digital plan includes empowering people to become ‘smart citizens’, introducing sensor technology, 5G and smart public transport, and moving most of the council’s systems to the cloud

Edinburgh City Council has launched a three-year digital strategy, with the aim of becoming a smart city and refreshing its approach to technology.

The Digital and Smart City strategy sets out how the city, by using data and cloud-based technology, will provide more accessible and secure services for its citizens.

“We will maximise the potential of digital technologies to improve outcomes and services for all our citizens, councillors, colleagues, visitors and businesses,” the strategy said.

It is based on a series of principles set out by the council, which include re-using before building new systems, simplifying its ICT estate, looking to the marketplace for off-the-shelf products and “as a last resort, perhaps as innovation, we will build solutions”.

The strategy comes after Edinburgh signed an extension to its outsourcing deal with CGI worth $175m (£102m). The original seven-year contract, signed in 2015, was worth £186m. It saw CGI tasked with updating the council’s IT systems and supporting its “channel shift” programme, which aimed to introduce integrated digital services across the local authority.

CGI will support the creation of a key part of Edinburgh’s smart city ambitions – the Smart City Operations Centre.

Edinburgh’s plan to become a smart city has the stated aim of making the city more “livable, workable and sustainable” by ensuring world-class connectivity, citizen-centric services and continuous reinvention and transformation.

Plans to improve connectivity include implementing 5G and FTTP, sensor technology, internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), smart parking and electric vehicle charging, wearable and mobile tech, smart public transport, smart citizens and greater citizen engagement.

Cammy Day, the council’s deputy leader and smart cities lead, said the aim is to become a digital council and a “world-leading smart city”.

“At home and at work, we’re all increasing our use of technology to make our day-to-day lives simpler, greener and more connected,” said Day. “Likewise, digital is playing a major role in the way we operate as a council and we need to keep refreshing our approach so that we stay on top.

“We know that smarter technology helps us to provide even more user-friendly council services and better value for residents. This strategy will help us to keep advancing so that we can continue to meet the demands of a growing capital city like Edinburgh.”

To achieve its vision of a smart city, the council aims to develop skills and confidence in educators to use digital technology to support teaching and improve access to digital technology, as well as ensuring this is a central area of the curriculum.

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It is also carrying out work to ensure citizens have access to digital connectivity and opportunities to learn more digital skills and cyber resilience, through libraries and schools offering these services. It is also looking at working with third-sector partners to offer access to digital equipment.

The council itself will also need leaders who understand the value that technology adds to the organisation and have a digitally skilled workforce, according to the strategy.

The council also plans to transform by focusing on a cloud-first approach, strengthening its infrastructure and security and continuing its project to go paperless.

One of the key areas of focus is moving services to the cloud, according to the strategy.

“Over the next few years, we will move many of our systems and technology services to the cloud, where it is appropriate and cost-effective to do so,” it said. “Cloud computing is the concept of delivering technology services, business systems and back-office applications using servers and hardware that are not based in the council and is at the core of our technology transformation.”

The council is also working to ensure it follows current guidelines from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

“We will ensure that the council infrastructure is secure and resilient, ensuring that continuity of services is maintained using appropriate technical measures to protect our network and the data we hold in our systems,” the strategy said. “The security challenges we face are increasing and ever-changing. As well as more documented attack routes such as virus or ransomware, other challenges are emerging.

“Our increased use of multiple and remote devices creates a challenge to protecting this as our increased use of systems and who accesses them increases the attack surface for those wishing to compromise our security.”

The council is currently preparing an implementation plan to support the strategy, which will be reviewed every quarter to ensure targets are being met.

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