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Valsts#196 – A road map for the growth of smart cities is being developed in Latvia

Sandis Kolomenskis, the initiator of Valsts #196 (State #196) - for over a decade Sandis was head of Microsoft in Latvia, where he implemented many important projects for education, healthcare and e-government, as well as serving as sector director for Microsoft’s Central and Eastern Europe (CAE) region. For the last few years he has been the head of Squalio Group.

In both life and work, Sandis is guided by four values – Easy, Care, Wise and Prompt – which are reflected in his new project, the Valsts#196 movement, which aims to help everybody find their digital identity and put it to use to benefit themselves, their company or their district.

Competitiveness in the global market – how?

In Latvia and many other countries, there is a gap between high technological potential and a low capacity to effectively utilise this potential. Latvia is well above average on the European Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) for accessibility pf communications technologies, internet usage and access to public digital services, but well below average for skills in using technologies and integrating them into the business environment. Clearly, of we want to grow, both individually and collectively, we need to change something.

”Thanks to technological innovations, everything is changing very rapidly, both in the labour market and in terms of skills. Once upon a time, you could use the education obtained in your youth for 30 years. Now almost every day, as regularly as watching a soap opera, you need to spend a half hour or an hour for your personal growth, reading something, learning something new. To keep up with innovations and new developments so you and your company are competitive and make competitive products and services, you have to keep learning. This means that the firm and its staff must adapt – they need the desire to learn, and they need to know what to learn and what to do with this knowledge afterwards,” states Sandis Kolomenskis.

Practice has taught him that development is happening so fast that it is relatively unlikely that a company can recruit an employee who has studied exactly what the firm requires. Of course, there are always employees who know even more than the employer expects, but there is always something valuable the company can give to its staff – further education. This type of thinking is typical of progressive companies aware of both their social responsibility and their business interests, because ”the old model doesn’t work anymore – it doesn’t withstand criticism. You can’t compete in the global market anymore with old approaches and skills,” says Sandis. ”It’s often very hard for small enterprises – they’re confused, in denial, they want to return to ”the natural order of things” – no, no, it’s not happening, I’ll just carry on as usual. Sorry – that doesn’t work anymore. That’s not what development is.”

A road map for the smart city

Realising that technology companies need to help people, enterprises and organisations who have to date been less involved in the new world of big data, the movement Valsts #196 was founded in early 2019, bringing together partners from the technology non-governmental and public sector and Cēsis District Municipality. Currently the movement is focussing on partnership with cities, because this is the level where it is easiest for all the involved parties – residents, businesses and municipalities – to meet.

”The movement Valsts #196 is a platform which brings together people with something to say and a vision of what a modern municipality is and the “framework” of a smart city”. Currently the idea is in its early phase and the movement is like an open-ended dialogue – there are many experiments and studies to achieve the best results,” says Sandis.

Over the next year, the project partners aim to develop a roadmap for municipalities, offering a set of skills, opportunities and tools to strengthen the digital identity of the city and its inhabitants, giving them the chance to fulfil their potential in the digital world. Cities in the Western world are developing rapidly and can afford to hire consultants to develop smart city strategies. This means they create and environment which attracts young, highly talented citizens of the world, while less wealthy countries like Latvia are left to play catchup. Valsts#196 is a pathway which will also provide a digital roadmap for smaller cities, giving them practical tools and knowledge to make changes right now.

”If cities and businesses lack the knowledge and plans to achieve growth with resources of their own and in a short timeframe, the specialists at Valsts #196 will make this possible. We will offer a model which clearly sets pout the steps to be taken to develop a coherent development strategy, to create open data and cooperate with businesses developing their services in a specific city. We want to present every industry and sector with the preconditions for raising productivity. It is important that a small enterprise in any city realises – this is my roadmap, this is what I need to do, this is how much it would cost and what their opportunities are,” says Sandis.

What has been done?

The first place in Latvia to enthusiastically seize on this idea and which became a founder of Valsts #196 was Cēsis, under the leadership of Mayor Jānis Rozenbergs. In just a few months, Cēsis has performed a data audit, begun creating a digital development strategy for the town, held seminars and workshops for businesspeople on using data tools, given training sessions on artificial intelligence and a camp for interested persons, as well as working on the virtual assistant @Vendis. ”In a way this is a social project for ourselves and our partners– we worked on the idea, but once we realised the potential growth for the town and the benefits for businesses and residents, the development of a smart town has gradually become a systematic, pragmatic development vector for Cēsis, and it is being integrated into policy and planning documents. One small example – by cleverly gathering and using data, Cēsis can get a much clearer picture of how tourism impacts on the town’s economic growth, so it can develop highly specific solutions for attracting and involving tourists. The winners are the people and businesses of Cēsis and Cēsis as a whole. Similar ideas and opportunities are there to be discovered for every city which is prepared to join the Valsts #196 ”experiment”. Movement technology partners are able to much more clearly see what their city needs and its development opportunities, and they can put forward better and more detailed ideas and services ,” explains Sandis.

Ambition to create and to set an example

There is highly energetic dialogue in Europe on this issue. Every year, a smart cities summit is held in Barcelona. But Sandis acknowledges that there is not city yet which could serve as a perfect development model. The goal of Valsts #196 is to create such a repeatable model for smaller cities in Latvia and around the world. Asked about the future plans of Valsts #196, Sandis says: ”We’ll move forward step by step. Firstly, we want to create a useful framework and a success story. If this happens, then we can set about improving the framework. Breaking the ice by creating a working prototype is the key to success.”

IT Cluster is one of the founders of Valsts #196, and it uses its institutional resources to attract other IT enterprises to the movement, joining with municipal government partners in exchanging information, as well as attracting international funding for cooperation and business digital transformation.

If you would like to get involved in valsts#196, please contact us to find out more – ! Enjoy greater achievements!

Article is prepared within European Regional Development Fund funded project No. "Promotion of competitiveness and export capacity of IT industry".

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