An interview with Katalin Gallyas from Amsterdam’s Chief Technology Office
Katalin Gallyas is an Open Innovation Programme Manager in the City of Amsterdam. CITIE interviewed Katalin to understand how Amsterdam has built its teams and leadership inside city government to support innovation and entrepreneurship.
CITIE: Thank you for joining us today. Looking across the cities we have assessed, Amsterdam is one of the leaders in implementing smart initiatives. Why does Amsterdam’s city government put this focus on innovation and entrepreneurship?
“We focus on attracting high growth technology startups to the city which has a direct impact on jobs and growth.”
Having a vibrant entrepreneurial and innovative community is also essential for combating complex urban challenges.Katalin Gallyas: Amsterdam considers innovation and entrepreneurship to be central to the development of the city. We focus on attracting high growth technology start-ups to our city which has a direct impact on jobs and growth. Start-ups also help to attract domestic and foreign investment to the city.
CITIE: Why did the city decide to create the role of Chief Technology Officer?
Katalin Gallyas: We created the role in March 2014 and Ger Baron became Amsterdam’s first CTO. There were a number of important factors behind why we did this.
First it was to break down silos between initiatives and support the co-ordination of city-wide ICT efforts. The CTO is responsible for providing the overall leadership and strategic direction to how technologies will be utilised to improve the livelihoods of Amsterdam’s residents.
Co-ordinating projects across multiple government agencies is difficult. Indeed, every office has different stakeholders and incentives which need to be taken into account when formulating proposals. The CTO provides a consistent face and access point for our external stakeholders and facilitates integration between various governments agencies involved in the initiative.
Finally, significant navigation of the political landscape is required for initiatives to be successful. By nature, political decisions are not always focussed on the long term or purely based on evidence. As an example, a traffic accident involving smart-traffic applications could set back a programme several years, even if it makes economic sense. The CTO position was in part created to help solve some of these challenges and put the innovation agenda at the top of the city’s priorities.
CITIE: Looking across city governments we have seen a number of different ways innovation teams structure themselves. How does Amsterdam structure the CTO role?
Katalin Gallyas: We work with the Chief Scientific Office and the Chief Digital Office to coordinate our efforts. Importantly we are given liberty to work across functions horizontally and directly report to the Mayor with no middle management. This is vital to ensuring our work is kept at the top of leadership agenda and we are able to successfully run complex, multiagency programmes.
“We want to support all civil servants to become change makers.”
CITIE: Amsterdam has a significant number of smart city projects, 44 at the last count. How do you deliver such a large number of initiatives?Our team does not work in isolation. The CTO encourages all civil servants to become innovators. We aim to create an inclusive office space where civil servants are encouraged to submit ideas or join the office for a period of three months. This creates better linkages within City Hall and influences the decisions civil servants make in their day-to-day jobs. Ultimately we want to support all civil servants to become ‘change makers’.
Katalin Gallyas: Our approach has been collaborative from the outset, motivating and co-ordinating multiple stakeholders both outside and within government. At the start of the Amsterdam Smart City initiative, the city encouraged both the local telecommunications providers and the electricity company to develop infrastructure that would support city-wide applications. The local infrastructure providers offer funding and manage the infrastructure while Amsterdam city government co-ordinates the open innovation projects. This formed the foundation for all the later Amsterdam Smart City initiatives.
“The city may need to push things in the beginning, find incentives for different groups to work together and then give space to let things evolve.”
The city is unique in this role as there is no other entity in the city that can provide this sort of co-ordination. In this way we have shifted our role to acting as a platform for innovation. The city may need to push things in the beginning, find incentives for different groups to work together and then give them space to let things evolve.A basis for our work is in public-private partnerships and we now have eight full time staff matchmaking city initiatives with academia and private businesses. This team reaches out and defines the value proposition for each stakeholder. For example, each one of our three living labs has been established in partnership with technology companies. In total across our initiatives we work with more than 70 external partners.
CITIE: Amsterdam has been running smart city programmes since 2007. How has the city’s thinking and approach evolved over this time?
Katalin Gallyas: We used to look a lot at technical feasibility, particularly in our first stage that was largely about piloting projects and practicing collaboration efforts in the community. Now that we have a strong network and platform, we focus on things like scalability and the business case behind each new project.
“We focus on things like scalability and the business case behind each new project.”
CITIE: What lessons from these experiences would you give to other cities looking to follow in Amsterdam’s footsteps?In the current second wave of initiatives we are working with city-run and affiliated entities, such as schools, energy providers and housing agencies, to focus on using open architecture with a smart focus. This helps us scale-up projects to meet the needs of a much larger population. In many cases the private sector now offers initial funding for potential solutions in exchange for future revenue streams.
Katalin Gallyas: There are three lessons I would highlight from our experience in Amsterdam.
First is that you should move to identifying good business plans and using modelling to understand economic impact as quickly as possible. This includes focussing first on the challenges you are trying to solve and the solutions needed, rather than the technology that moves too quickly and cannot follow. This will help facilitate city planning.
“Cities should not be afraid to talk about and learn from failure.”
Finally cities should not be afraid to talk and learn from failure. There are winners and losers when creating new business models and cities will need the ability to openly address failures. This is particularly true as solutions get larger, more complex and involve an increasing number of stakeholders.The second lesson is embedding openness into everything you do, from city infrastructure to the policy making process. Throughout the development of different initiatives cities should work to maintain engagement with citizens. They should also use multi-financing models made up of different stakeholders from industry and academia.
CITIE: One final question, looking to the next couple of years what is coming next for Amsterdam and what challenges will this bring?
Katalin Gallyas: We have many initiatives in the pipeline but one of the next big things will be i-beacons. We want 1,500 of them across the transport network that can push personalised information to citizens.
This however leads me onto one of the larger looming challenges – privacy. The more personal data we collect, the more questions we raise about the security of the data and the way it is used. This is something cities are going to have to grapple with over the next couple of years.
CITIE: Katalin, thank you very much for your time. It has been a thoroughly insightful look into Amsterdam’s success.
Katalin Gallyas: No problem at all. Please do keep me updated with your work on CITIE as I would like to start using your materials with my team.