European Cities Rise to the Bangemann Challenge

The Bangemann Challenge -- an information technology contest -- is pushing European cities to strive for better technology developments and applications.

by / October 31, 1996
In 1994, in a directive that was as dry and bureaucratic as they come, the Council of Europe ordered a report on "specific measures to be taken into consideration" for "infrastructures in the sphere of information."

While this order might not have fueled the imagination of the European community-at-large, the report the council got back certainly did. Many cities throughout Europe set out to seize the initiative in the information revolution, not only by finding new ways for governments to deliver services to their citizens, but also new ways for citizens to interact and do business with each other.

The report -- now generally referred to as the Bangemann Report -- pulled no punches in proclaiming that a true revolution was at hand. "It is a revolution based on information, itself the expression of human knowledge," the document said. "Technological progress now enables us to process, store, retrieve and communicate information in whatever form it may take -- oral, written or visual -- unconstrained by distance, time and volume. This revolution adds huge new capacities to human intelligence and constitutes a resource which changes the way we work together and the way we live together."

And while Europe was already participating in this revolution, the report noted, its approach was too fragmentary and this could reduce the benefits. "We have to get it right, and get it right now," the report said.

At the same time, the report urged the European Union to put its faith in "market mechanisms as the motive power to carry member states into the Information Age." And it added that while this meant "fostering an entrepreneurial mentality to enable the emergence of new dynamic sectors of the economy," it did "Not mean more public money, financial assistance, subsidies ... or protectionism."

The Bangemann Report inspired the city of Stockholm, Sweden, to issue a challenge to every city in Europe with a population of at least 400,000 to come up with the best IT project. This "Bangemann Challenge" was designed to spark an exchange of experience between the cities, speed up the process of creating a European information society and, hopefully, help avoid expensive mistakes.

"Our original goal when the city of Stockholm initiated the challenge was that 15 to 20 cities would participate," explained Challenge Director Jorgen Kleist. "Now we have 25 of Europe's major cities taking part. And the number of participating projects doubled in the last few months before the application deadline expired, so we now have 106 projects from all over Europe."

The Bangemann Challenge adopted 10 main application areas emphasized in the Bangemann Report. The emphasis is upon IT applications that are down-to-earth, user-oriented and have practical, immediate relevance:

Teleworking (working away from the office)
Distance learning
University networks
Telematics (electronic communications) for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
Road traffic management
Air traffic control
Health care
Electronic tendering
Public administration
City information highway (infrastructure)
The goal of the competition extends beyond the recognition afforded by prizes. Kleist explained that stimulating European IT development is the most important aspect of the Challenge. "When a city decides to participate it sets out to accomplish something," he said, "so in a sense, by taking part, cities are first of all challenging themselves.

"Secondly, we are trying to spread the word of best practice examples, through conferences, seminars and other activities. Many European cities face the same kinds of problems. If we do not all reinvent the same wheel, this will save a lot of time and money. Europe is very culturally diverse, which means that we do approach problems in different ways. Provided that we find good systems for exchange of information, this could be a real strength for our part of the world.

"Thirdly, the Bangemann Challenge will lead to concrete cooperation in new joint projects between European cities. At least I am convinced that this will be the case for Stockholm."

"The Bangemann Challenge has pushed us forward to improve our technical knowledge even faster than before since we all are eager to win," explained Ingrid Giesecke, principal of Sofia School, a nine-year compulsory, long-distance education program serving 800 Swedish students in about 40 locations all over the world. "It has led us to meet people all over Europe who are very knowledgeable in computers and with whom we can exchange experiences. The direct result is that all the 32 teachers in Sofia School are more interested in learning more advanced computer programs."

Martin Smith, electronic publishing manager at the Edinburgh Business School, noted that the Challenge serves as an especially important catalyst for government organizations. "The Bangemann Challenge is a useful stimulus for government organizations to think about how they are currently coping with the new telecommunications technologies," he said.

"Initially, this results in a lot of introspection, where local government organizations such as the Edinburgh City Council go through a culturally painful exercise of re-organizing the groups that manage their information assets, in order to be able to better exploit the new opportunities.

"Further down the road, it encourages such organizations to develop their own unique information society agenda, which will incorporate more than the 10 Bangemann application areas. As with all processes of change, this creates new opportunities for new business models and activities. Moreover, the unique characteristic of the information society is that it brings into focus the need to collaborate to provide better service than individual organizations can possibly achieve on their own."

Many of the projects seek to use electronic communication to enhance citizen-government interaction at the city level. In Amsterdam, for example, a multicultural city where over 150 nationalities live together, a "democracy project" has been launched to encourage citizens to take a more active part in the political process. Using the Internet, citizens can now discuss such city matters as city planning, safety and drug policies with local politicians.

In Antwerp, Belgium, a project called INFOSOND (INFOrmation Services ON Demand) seeks to establish ways to provide information services and communication with the administration in a number of cities, especially for the elderly and disabled, using computers, modems, televisions and telephones. Moreover, it seeks to work out how such services can coexist with current manual routines.

Stockholm, Sweden, is one of the cities participating in the INFOSOND project, with an emphasis on setting up systems that will allow the general public to order public services, such as daycare center registration or a building permit, using their personal PCs and modems or via cable TV or public terminals.

In Barcelona, Spain, an "integrated offices" project seeks to integrate different municipal services so that inhabitants won't have to deal with several different departments in their business with the municipality. Also, a number of kiosks in libraries and other public buildings will make information from the city easily accessible to people who do not have access to a computer and modem.

In Berlin, a databank is going online containing some 14,000 pages of information on current building plans, job vacancies, agendas for meetings in the provincial Parliament, the city's entertainment and cultural activities, and much more. The public can access this through terminals in public places or from their own computers. In addition, during office hours, the general public can put questions to civil servants in the administration and receive immediate answers by e-mail. And in the future, local inhabitants will be able to enroll in courses, apply for subsidies, submit tenders and much more through the network.

Some of the projects focus on developing enhanced infrastructure and a number of European cities are being wired with fiber-optic cable. Antwerp, for example, is being fiber-optically wired.

Universal access is also being addressed. Bologna, Italy, has established a local network for the free use of its citizens that includes e-mail, news, and access to the city's Web server. And this is being expanded to full Internet access. The goal is to ensure that all its citizens are brought into the information society and that there is a guarantee that everyone has the same opportunity to take part in the city's social, economic and political life.

Some of the more interesting projects lie in the area of long-distance learning. The Systematic Multimedia And Remote Training (SMART) program in Antwerp, for instance, aims to adapt training courses to the electronic environment for the benefit of the city's 18,000 employees. To be properly trained for their different work tasks -- tasks that are constantly undergoing change -- the city feels that employees should not have to wait for a suitable course to be arranged for them. Instead, "they should be able to acquire more knowledge themselves, as and when they need it." This project seeks to revise and adapt material to self-study using computers. And where lectures and other study meetings are still needed, five lecture rooms equipped for videoconferencing will allow employees to take part in a course, conference or lectures without actually being in the same room.

In Barcelona, the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) has established the first "virtual campus." This project allows students to receive constant guidance from their professors through e-mail. And now it is being expanded further so people outside the university area -- adults who study part-time, people with academic qualifications who are in mid-career, and students who live far from the university -- are able to receive the same service.

The Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University, which specializes in distance learning business programs, has launched a project to demonstrate that electronic, long-distance delivery offers the same educational gains as regular university attendance. This year, some 90 students and 10 small-to-medium sized enterprises are involved in testing electronically delivered, distance learning MBA-level courses. The ambition is to develop a method for low-cost delivery of university-level education on a global basis.

In Lyon, France, the New Generation Upper-Secondary school is experimenting with multimedia education to allow small classes to be taught in rural areas. Pupils aged 10 to 18 are being given extra lessons in special subjects without the teacher being present in the classroom.

At the University of Stockholm, the Distance-96 program seeks to make higher education as independent of time and space as possible, so that more people can have access to it. Sometime this year, it plans to offer interactive academic education to some 200 students at 10 or so locations throughout Sweden.

Similarly, at the Telecommunications Institute at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, students are being offered interactive education through joint teaching sessions in cooperation with Stanford University in the United States. Some lecture rooms have been equipped to serve as studios. And plans are in the making to equip other campus premises so that students will be able to follow lectures from abroad and receive tutoring via computers and videoconferencing facilities -- in effect creating, the Institute said, a "university in cyberspace."

And in Gothenburg, Sweden, where the upper-secondary schools are well-equipped with computers, it was found that there is a scarcity of software on which to base successful teaching approaches. Although some schools are on the Internet, teachers found it of limited use in the classroom. So Gothenburg City's School Administration and IT Centrum West set out to involve both pupils and teachers in developing a model for the Virtual School. The project is designed to tap teachers' knowledge of teaching methods to create software that will "give pupils the knowledge they need quickly, simply and in a stimulating way." The project also seeks to identify the best way for teachers and pupils to interact in the Virtual School.

Several projects may eventually have widespread impact on the quality of health care. Antwerp's general hospitals, for example, are now linked to the city's high-speed network. This means that no matter where or when patients are treated, doctors will always have access to their medical records. Recently, the ability to add pictures to patient's records was introduced, and by the end of 1996, three hospitals will be able to exchange X-ray pictures electronically. This networking means that medical expertise can be concentrated in one hospital without affecting the quality of care in other hospitals.

In Bremen, Germany, a national mammography screening program is being developed that will allow distance evaluation of X-rays. This will also allow teleconsulting (second opinions), the introduction of computer-aided diagnosis, and extended research on medical and technological problems. The aim is improvement in the overall quality of the diagnostic process.

In Sweden, more than 25 ambulances and 15 hospitals have been equipped with Mobimed, a system designed to give patients with cardiac infarction faster treatment. En route to the hospital, ambulance personnel can perform an EKG, send messages, edit the ambulance record and fill in forms and checklists. All the information is transferred to the hospital where specialists can read the information and assist ambulance personnel during the journey. The hospital can also prepare for the patient's arrival so that appropriate treatment can start without delay.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, midwives at a maternity center have been equipped with a briefcase containing a notebook computer integrated with a CTG monitor which shows the baby's heart sound, and a blood pressure monitor. The notebook computer can communicate with the hospital's database. This means that wherever they may be, everyone involved can access, read and update patient records at any time. Also using the system, midwives and general practitioners can now get assistance from specialists when the pictures of the fetus are transmitted via an interactive videolink direct to the hospital. And while the system was developed for maternity services, it can be adapted for other medical disciplines.

Many of the Bangemann Challenge projects are designed to offer alternatives to the way businesses operate in the Information Age. At the Institute for Telecommunication, a part of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, work areas have been redesigned for the new age. Fixed workstations have been abolished and the offices have been turned into "open landscapes." Fifty staff members have chosen to work from their homes, using their personal computers to link up with the institute or with the electronic networks at their disposal. And soon, videoconferencing equipment will be installed in their homes.

In Paris, it is estimated that 400,000 people could work from home one or more days a week. Now the Regional Time Management Agency of the Conseil Regional d'Ile de France is making teleworking easier by opening "neighborhood offices" on the outskirts of the city. Five of these offices will be opened in 1996, and a total of 80 offices are planned within five years. Each office will contain about 100 workstations which enterprises can rent for varying periods of time. The first workstations will be used by staff working for the Ile de France Region.

In Lyon, France, the Citius business-to-business electronic commerce project provides an electronic marketplace where enterprises can use their computers to purchase anything from pens to office furniture and other equipment -- a total stock of two million items.

In northern Belgium and southern Holland, some 50 small- and medium-sized businesses are now free from most of the paperwork involved in order processing. Participation in this pilot program means that they can carry out almost all their ordering routines electronically. The project, organized by the Antwerp Chamber of Commerce and a regional development organization, hopes to pave the way for other enterprises to change over to electronic operation. Information, practical advice and templates for various kinds of documents are being made available on the project's Web pages.

In Hannover, Germany, where some 190,000 people commute into the city from surrounding areas, the city has started to install a traffic management system. Extensive information regarding traffic flow will be collected in a road-traffic control center. Dynamic signs along motorways and main roads as well as radio, portable computers (laptops) and display terminals located in public buildings will provide this information to motorists.

The Bangemann Challenge projects go on and on. Their diversity will make it hard to pick "the best IT application." But as the organizers indicated, the Challenge is about far more than winning or losing a contest.

Andreas Stellmann, who heads up a project to develop software for logistic and transport support in Bremen, Germany, said, "It is not only that cities compete against each other. I have learned about many good projects in other countries with approaches and visions which are quite similar to ours. Contacts are made with these projects that might lead to closer cooperation, or at least an exchange of thoughts on different approaches."

Ken Currie, IT Director at the Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University, agreed that despite fierce competitiveness, a new level of cooperation is also emerging as a direct result of the contest. "The Challenge has forced the competitive nature of cities to the fore," he said. "No one wants to be left behind on as exciting a development as that outlined in the Bangemann Report. The result is not a knee-jerk reaction to do something, but a rapid emergence of strong ideas and partnerships to put something in place now."

Martin Smith of Edinburgh Business School perhaps summed up best what is really going on here. "The real value of both the new telecommunications technologies and the Bangemann Challenge is their ability to catalyze and enable new forms of collaboration between all types and sizes of organizations," he said. "This has to occur within a wider scope than a purely economic or commercial one, and this is the true value of what the Bangemann Challenge is achieving today."

More information on the Bangemann Challenge can be found on the World Wide Web at .


Blake Harris Editor
Platforms & Programs