An Austrian is driving digital change in Cottbus. He plans to make better use of the administration’s vast pool of data to bring about this change. The city in the state of Brandenburg is among the first 13 winners of the „Smart Cities Pilot Projects” competition.
Gustav Lebhart (image above) walks along the Walk of Fame every day on his way to work. On the pavements in front of the Cottbus city hall, where Lebhart has his office, all of the Olympic medal winners from the Lusatian city are immortalised with a plaque, including the discus throwing brothers Robert and Christoph Harting. For Lebhart, who is not a native of Cottbus, the entrance to the municipal administration is an inspiration: “The city is full of winners.”
Cottbus was recently honoured for an accomplishment not related to sports. It is one of the 13 municipalities and municipal associations that the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (BMI) and KfW are supporting as part of the "Smart Cities Pilot Projects" competition. BMI and KfW are providing a total of 750 million euros in four phases. Cottbus will receive 13.8 million euros and contribute 1.2 million euros of its own funds.
Approved concept for change
Mayor Holger Kelch calls digitalisation an “issue that spans many different policy areas”. In his words, it needs “to be designed in the interests of and for the benefit of everyone”. The municipality is already strategically well prepared and has a plan for comprehensive technological change that has been approved by the Municipal Assembly. It can therefore already begin the implementation phase, which will be funded for a period of five years.
This is where Gustav Lebhart comes in. He has been CIO (Chief Information Officer) at Cottbus city hall since 2018 and is shaping this process. The poster on Lebhart’s office door reads “Amt, aber sexy” (yes, it’s a government office, but it’s still sexy). A kind of advertisement for the civil service. The administration, he says, “is networked and open”. And: “It is the only guarantee that data is reliable and unambiguous.” After all, the administration attaches great value to the fact that that it "doesn’t sell data".
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The “smart city” of Cottbus: the strategic concept for the digital change is ready.
The Cottbus CIO has a knack for numbers. He has been involved for a long time in the preparation of data collected by the public sector in a professional capacity. In Vienna, he was head of regional statistics for several years. Lebhart is Austrian, incidentally one of 36 in Cottbus, and the fact that he comes from Vienna is significant because the Austrian capital is far ahead of German municipalities in terms of digitalisation: in the most recent “smart city” ranking conducted by Roland Berger management consultants, who analysed 153 cities worldwide, Vienna came in first.
The Cottbus digital agenda breaks down the challenges of the 4.0 era into seven action areas: education, energy, mobility, urban development, health, administration, economy. Coordinators from schools, hospitals and companies are encouraging digitalisation projects in their work areas and supporting them with the appropriate expertise.
So far, eleven projects have emerged from the many Cottbus ideas that are being tackled as part of the “smart city” funding and these are to be presented at citizens’ meetings in the coming months. We want to start right away with two or three projects, says Lebhart. One is in e-government, his original field. Good data management ultimately eliminates the need for paper files and makes the municipal administration more efficient. A data management system, that Cottbus wants to roll out starting in 2020, is the prerequisite for the citizens’ portal, which Lebhart calls “the government office in your home”. What he has in mind is an electronic file for every citizen where everything is stored: birth certificate, passport, daycare registration, building application. Public services in digital form replace visits to the responsible municipal office. When your parking permit expires, you get an e-mail from the office along with the form for renewal that you can fill in, whether you are in your living room in Cottbus or in a hotel in Tenerife.
"The administration is networked and open."
To leverage synergies, Cottbus is working on establishing a special purpose IT association. The idea is that Brandenburg’s municipalities will jointly operate a data centre for e-government in the participating municipalities with support from this association. The municipal data centre in Cottbus, with a population of around 100,000 the second largest city in Brandenburg after the state capital of Potsdam, would be ideal for joint data processing.
“Mobility on demand” is the focus of another project that is slated to be implemented as early as 2020. How, for example, can a passenger use a smartphone to organise the trip home from the final stop of a tram? How can digital data processing be used to ensure that the municipal company Cottbusverkehr uses smaller buses when only a few passengers are expected? Or, but this is still just an idea: can trams equipped with sensors and cameras document the road condition during their scheduled trips through the city, and even measure the size of any holes in the asphalt?
End of the lignite era
Mayor Kelch has his sights set on being the “digital innovation engine in Brandenburg”. Cottbus has to tackle the technological upheaval in the midst of a structural change. The Lower Lausitz region around the city is still economically dependent on lignite. But it won’t stay this way. And, in the meantime, the city is working on developing an alternative energy source. The “smart city” has recently become one of the “sandboxes of the energy transition”, which is financially supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. As a result, Cottbus may call itself a “Modellstadt Wasserstoff” (Hydrogen pilot city). Hydrogen-powered vehicles could become an alternative to electric vehicles.
And then there is another very special distinction to mention: Cottbus is the largest bilingual city in Germany. The people from the Lausitz region speak both German and Sorbian. What for some is the “Rathaus”, or city hall, is for others the “Radnica”. Both words appear above the main entrance to the Cottbus/Chóśebuz municipal administration. The “smart city” will also be bilingual. “We also plan,” says Mayor Kelch, “to offer digital services in Sorbian.”
Published on KfW Stories: 6 February 2020.