In a world that is increasingly becoming digital, many cities are looking for ways to digitise their services in order to make life easier for their citizens. Stad Oostende, the official governing body of the Belgian city of Ostend, is part of this movement. In this case study, we look at how we helped Stad Oostende to improve their service delivery through digitisation, both in the long and short term with thorough research and a digital transformation plan.
Oostende is a city with a population of just over 70,000 located on the North Sea coast of Belgium. The officials at Stad Oostende recognised the importance of digitisation in order to improve the quality of life for their citizens. Using smart technology and innovative processes, they wanted to overhaul their municipal services, internal processes, and communication.
For example, a data-driven approach could help parents by automatically sending them recommendations for their child’s (pre-)school and youth movement as the years progressed. Stad Oostende approached Agile Architects to help them with a digitalisation strategy and digital transformation plan.
A plan with four stages
We helped Stad Oostende by giving them the tools to realise their vision in four phases. We started with a thorough as-is analysis, followed by a to-be reference architecture, a digital roadmap for transformation, and advice on governing their IT structure and managing their portfolio.
Our advisory services began by making an inventory of the current capabilities, based on some use cases. For example: which entities and processes are involved when a child is born, or when roadworks need to be announced? To get a sufficiently holistic view, we had to incorporate the autonomous municipal companies. These are separate entities that work closely together with the city and focus on areas like mobility, renovations, and energy.
When we compared this information, we noticed a lot of duplicates in both data and tooling. We compiled these overlaps in a reference architecture that gave an overview of the necessary data, processes, and stakeholders. To illustrate the advantages of an integrated approach, we used other cases like a house renovation or the first years of a child’s life. This helped us synthesize a few digital building blocks that could help the city make their services more efficient and user-friendly, and avoid as many visits to their offices as possible.
We then brought those building blocks together in a digital roadmap. Our roadmap was built on the cases by focusing on “moments of truth”. These are moments when a civilian has to visit the city hall in any case, such as being married or getting their driver’s licence. The roadmap linked these defining moments with the building blocks to create a canvas for services and tools.
Finally, we helped Stad Oostende with advice on IT governance and portfolio management. Together we decided which projects of and building blocks of the roadmap should be prioritised in their digital transformation portfolio. This provided Stad Oostende with a platform for cooperation with both the autonomous municipal companies and the governing bodies of their surrounding cities and municipalities.
A focused approach
We approached this project with three key characteristics in mind. Of course, the project should be handled in an Agile manner, true to our name. Both us and Stad Oostende also wanted to focus on the business side and the perspective of a civilian as guiding principles.
Working from the business side made the most sense for us because we are experts at analysing and improving business processes, data, and resources. We did not focus on any applications, but on the necessary capabilities to reach the project’s overall goal.
Of course, the Agile way of working is inherently linked to a client-focused (or in this case, citizen-focused) perspective. Both principles are all about adding value for the end user. For every decision we had to make in this project, we asked ourselves two questions.
- Does this change in the services make the citizens’ lives easier?
- Is the consequence noticeable enough to justify the required work and resources?
Because we work using an Agile project approach, we could verify the impact of each decision after each iteration of our digital transformation roadmap. For example, if the city decided to rework their invoicing service by adopting a new application, we could help them check if this change would improve the user experience while the project was ongoing.
Automating the inner workings of Stad Oostende is of course worth investing in by itself, but to really have a lasting impact, these changes should lead to a noticeable difference for its stakeholders. Thanks to their new digitalisation strategy, the city can now identify and assess the necessary tools to successfully complete their preferred projects.
A reference architecture for other Flemish cities
Thanks to Cronos Public Services (CPS) acting as a catalyst, we could prove the experience of Agile Architects and the Cronos Group in advising other institutes of the Flemish government on digital transformation projects. Agile Architects didn’t start out as a company with a focus on local government, so we appreciate the facilitating role of CPS during our initial talks.
We started this project with the express intent of creating a reusable reference architecture that could act as a partially filled in canvas for other Flemish cities. To ensure reusability, we used the beleids- en beheerscyclus (BBC) during our as-is analysis. The BBC is a comprehensive system to help Flemish local governing bodies plan, register and evaluate their multi-year plans for innovations. It includes everything from policy goals and actions to guidelines for their interim reports and annual accounts.
Thanks to our thorough analysis and experience for Stad Oostende, we can now help other Flemish cities and local governments much quicker with our reference architecture. We are excited to see which other digital building blocks and transformation roadmaps for digitalisation strategies we can help define.