Moscow smart city builds on success of large-scale projects

Moscow’s smart city initiative has delivered several major large-scale projects, with plans for smarter solutions in future

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Moscow smart city builds on success of large-scale projects Moscow has aimed for large-scale, city-wide smart city implementations from the beginning, says Tuzmukhametov.
By  Mark Sutton Published  June 7, 2018

With over twelve million residents, Moscow ranks as one of the largest cities in the world, and its smart city programs have the scale to match, with major projects bringing big benefits across areas including healthcare, education and government.

The city’s smart programs were launched in 2011, following the election of a new mayor, Sergey Sobyanin. The new mayor set out an ambitious plan to gain better insight and control into city processes, through better use of technology. The smart city program, under the city’s Department of IT (DIT), was created with a focus on improving quality of life, government efficiency and city infrastructure.

A large proportion of city facilities in Moscow, such as education, healthcare and transport are publically-owned, and under the direct control of the city government, creating the scope for wide-ranging projects.

Eldar Tuzmukhametov, Head of Moscow Smart City Lab, part of DIT, explained that from the inception, the plan for Moscow was to go big and deliver results: “From the very beginning, we were focused on building — not playing with pilots or small projects — but building city-wide, large-scale systems. The idea was to build very large systems from the very beginning, in every area.”

One strategic decision that was in place from the start of the project was to make the Department of IT responsible for all planning, implementation and purchasing of technology for all city departments, putting the DIT in control of all smart city programs across many different functions.

“Basically the department works and acts like a think tank,” said Tuzmukhametov. “We are developing the strategy, we are developing the technical requirements for the different systems, and we act like project managers for the different projects. We buy almost all the systems from the market — now we are the second largest buyer of IT systems in Russia.”

This structure means that a department that understands its requirements or wants a specific technology can work with the DIT to provide the solution, while DIT can consult with other departments and show them the opportunities of a new technology if they don’t have a good understanding of how it can benefit them.

The projects delivered to date under the Smart City Moscow banner have had brought big benefits to a wide range of different stakeholder groups.

In education, the Moscow Online School project has connected 980,000 pupils and 65,000 teachers in over 700 schools with e-learning solutions. Each school has a 100Mbps connection and ubiquitous 30Mbps WiFi, with interactive screens, electronic diaries, tablets and laptops deployed along with a cloud-based system for text books and lesson content. With an investment of $300m, it is the largest e-learning project in the world.

Alongside of the e-learning systems, the project deployed administration systems for schools, which have created 88% cost savings through automation, efficiency and better management.

In healthcare, a city-wide electronic healthcare system connects over 660 clinics, improving quality of service for patients and supporting better planning for provisioning of healthcare services across the city.

For the government, unified accounting and e-procurement systems have been put in place to improve efficiency and transparency. Electronic document flow alone saves 700m roubles ($11m) per year, and over 200 government services, around three-quarters of all services, are now available online or through mobile apps. 32,000 municipal vehicles, including public transport fleet, are connected to a vehicle tracking system to monitor routes, safety and efficiency.

A 4G and broadband network provides coverage across the city, while free WiFi is available on 330km of Moscow’s Metro line, and through 1,100 city-powered public WiFi hotspots in the city centre.

One of Moscow’s standout projects is the Active Citizen project, to connect residents and let them have their say on development issues for the city. The system comprises a management platform and public-facing website and app, where residents can be surveyed on different areas of public policy. Different user groups can be surveyed, according to profession, area of residence, social groups and so on.

The platform has two million users, and has been used for 3,500 public votes on issues ranging from deciding on names of streets and Metro stations, to reducing the speed limit or what sort of trees should be planted in local parks. The results of the public surveys are binding, creating greater interaction and engagement with residents.

Tuzmukhametov added: “It is also a very good source to reduce costs on polls. Before, for each managerial decision we had to pay for surveys and polls, with this service we can understand clearly what people really want.”

The city has also looked to public-private partnerships to fund major projects, he said. The city-wide WiFi did not cost the city anything, because Smart City Moscow invited local telcos to provide the network and services in exchange for advertising. A major video public safety and surveillance project, which includes over 160,000 cameras, has also been developed in partnership with a telco.

“From the very beginning we decided to put all these huge CAPEXs on the private sector, [the partner] installed the cameras and provides the service, and for this we signed a ten-year contract,” Tuzmukhametov said.

The video system also includes an image analysis system which is used for traffic enforcement, through tracking of number plates, speed limits and so on, which automates the issuing of between 50,000 and 100,000 traffic fines per day, creating another revenue stream for the city.

The Moscow Smart City Lab is now investigating the potential of several new technologies for these large-scale city systems. In November, the city launched a pilot to test the Active Citizen system on blockchain, with the aim introducing real-time vote tracking to increase transparency, as well as providing a test-bed for blockchain as a technology.

“There is a much broader choice of solutions now than in 2011, and different technologies to choose from, so we are starting a process of testing some of them, on our infrastructure,” Tuzmukhametov said. “For example, we are testing [Active Citizen] on blockchain — sometimes it has a very, very high load, so it is a very good system to stress test the blockchain platform.

“We are testing some of the technologies first and then we are going forward into benching them around the city. With artificial intelligence, we did a lot of tests with face recognition and machine learning for video surveillance, we use it not only for security services but also for how the city infrastructure is managed. We can see if the city street is clean, if garbage is removed or not, now we can do this automatically through machine learning.”

Moscow intends to keep thinking big, and to leverage digitalisation and data, as a platform for new technologies to further the strategic goals of the smart city program.

“We are now developing a new strategy, where the goal is to complete the digitalisation of all the processes within the government. It is not only about our strategy, but it is about the future, where we are planning to go,” Tuzmukhametov said. “The city should be managed by artificial intelligence, so when we collect a lot of data, we can exclude the human element in many of the processes, making them more transparent, making them faster and making these processes cheaper. The overall strategy is to implement as much as possible automated decision-making based on data and analysis of all areas of city life — this is the core idea that we are looking for.”

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