“Today, Muscovites can get more than 380 services on the Mayor's portal mos.ru. In fact, it is a large-scale digital ecosystem that helps the citizens tackle almost any life situation”
Moscow holds leading positions in various ratings, including international ones, as one of the most beautiful, comfortable, and safe cities. Moreover, this year the Russian capital was again included in the top 7 smartest cities in the world, according to Intelligent Community Forum. High commendation from the professional community and residents of the capital became possible not only because of the implementation of digital services in all spheres of life in the metropolis but also because of the constant dialogue between the government and the citizens.
Eduard Lysenko, Head of the Moscow Department of Information Technologies, told Smart City Journal why a megacity needs to be smart, how this affects the quality of life and well-being of its residents, and how the approach to digital solutions in Moscow has changed because of the pandemic.
Moscow has been developing as a "smart city" for many years. What are the goals of its development?
This development has a principal goal: to improve the quality of life of city dwellers. That is the task of any smart city and any technology. More than 12.5 million people live in Moscow: every day they move, work, study, communicate, take care of their health and pets, solve communal issues, and go to museums, theatres, cinemas, and libraries. The city’s mission is to make sure that residents are not inconvenienced in any way. So that people can get the service they need at any time, without having to process paper documents or waste time visiting a department. We call it a "city as a service" - a city focused on a person, on the needs and life situation of each citizen.
This is the direction in which Moscow has been developing for the past ten years. In 2011, we began by converting some city services into electronic form and building a system of interdepartmental interaction, which allowed the authorities to receive all necessary documents online instead of requesting them from the citizens. Today, Muscovites can get more than 380 services on the Mayor's portal mos.ru. In fact, it is a large-scale digital ecosystem that helps citizens tackle almost any life situation. We were able to create it through the systematic, progressive development of the city's IT infrastructure and the implementation of technologies in all sectors of the urban economy and social sphere.
We have just published information that Moscow has received two ISO certificates. What does this mean for you?
Obtaining ISO certificates is another objective confirmation that modern Moscow complies with high world standards of sustainable development and implementation of technologies for improving the quality of life in the city. During certification, experts assessed dozens of real, practical indicators that clearly confirm the level of development of key sectors for city residents - from the provision of services and housing & utilities to healthcare and transport. These are the areas that almost every Muscovite faces on a daily basis, and it is important for us that Moscow is among the world leaders.
What will Moscow be like as a smart city after COVID?
We can say for sure that Moscow, just like any other megacity, will no longer be the same as it was before the pandemic. First of all, the pandemic served as a powerful stimulus for the development of digital services. For us, it is particularly important that the transition to online has not inconvenienced the city's residents. Recently, we conducted an analytical study that showed that the vast majority of citizens did not even need to learn any additional digital skills: Muscovites were such advanced users already before the pandemic.
But at the same time, we can see that residents have become much more active in online activities that they used to do offline: buying food and other goods in online shops, holding meetings via video conferences, using telemedicine, and online courses. The developers of these services reacted quickly to the growing demand and needs of users, upgrading their products and creating new services. This includes the city - last year we launched more than 20 new services and apps, which includes services for entrepreneurs, for whom it was vital to continue working even in conditions of temporary restrictions.
As a result, even after the restrictions were lifted, many people who before the pandemic preferred to receive city services in person at public service centers, chose to stay online, appreciating the convenience and speed of the digital format. Incidentally, in many ways, it was the pandemic that spurred the development and use of remote electronic voting. While just over 10,000 people took part in the online voting pilot in 2019, more than a million participated in the summer of 2020. And in the mid-September elections to the Russian State Duma, more than 2 million Muscovites expressed a desire to vote electronically.
In addition, the pandemic was a catalyst for the development of solutions using artificial intelligence technology. Above all, AI has helped doctors, who faced a sharp increase in both the number of cases and the volume of medical examinations in the spring of 2020. For example, when analyzing lung CT scans, digital vision algorithms pre-analyze the image and highlight areas where pathology is likely to be found. This reduces the time the doctor spends analyzing the images and helps him or her to make a more accurate diagnosis.
AI has also helped the city to respond as quickly as possible to questions from Muscovites, including the measures that have been taken in the city in response to the rising disease incidence. In March-April 2020, the number of calls to the citywide contact center increased several times, and it was important for us to respond to every resident. The voice assistant was able to help with this, by taking over most of the calls through the use of voice synthesis and speech recognition technologies. It has been in operation since 2014, but during the pandemic, we promptly trained it to answer the most common questions concerning COVID-19, and Muscovites could get these answers immediately, without waiting to talk to an operator. The robot received more than 14 million calls on the line of the Single Help Desk last year. That is 14 million prompt and high-quality answers to the questions Muscovites were concerned about. In addition, in a similar way, we used a chatbot on the mos.ru portal. It has become another effective tool for residents to communicate with the city.
Finally, the third aspect that has become particularly important for all megacities of the world is the availability of high-quality, reliable IT infrastructure. In many respects, it was the infrastructure that we have been systematically developing in Moscow over the past ten years that has allowed us to promptly deploy a set of technical measures aimed at combating the coronavirus. This includes communication networks, broadband internet, the city's free Wi-Fi network, the Data Centre, equipment of social institutions with modern technology, and much more. Infrastructure is the foundation for building a smart city, and Moscow will continue to pay special attention to it in the future.
If you had to rank importance, what would be the priority: mobility, governance, or environment?
Moscow has never considered some sectors of urban life as a priority over others. The only priority for the Mayor of Moscow and his team are citizens' convenience, comfort, and safety. This cannot be ensured by the development of one or several specific sectors. Therefore, digital transformation concerns all sectors without exception, even such conservative ones as construction and urban finance.
At the same time, in the city, an important place in decision-making is given to collecting and analyzing the opinions of Muscovites. To this end, Moscow has built a digital feedback ecosystem. For example, the Active Citizen project gives Muscovites an opportunity to take part in voting on the city development issues. In six years, more than 5.5 million people registered on ag.mos.ru. The City of Ideas platform is a full-fledged crowdsourcing project where Muscovites can express their proposals on the city development. This is more than 110,000 ideas, many of which have already been implemented in the capital. And the "Our City" portal allows residents to report any problems in the sphere of public utilities. Messages received through the portal are promptly transmitted to the city services, which take action and necessarily report back to the citizen.
You have created an industrial cluster for 5G development, taking the first step into the future. What will be the next one?
The city of the future is a megacity with a huge density of diverse sensors, user devices, and, consequently, lots of digital traffic.
We have already created a 5G Demo Centre in Moscow, where developers can test their solutions in an operational 5G network. The next step is to create 5G testing grounds in the city, where promising services can be tested in real-world conditions at specific urban facilities. The first such testing ground will be Botkin Hospital. Here, various digital services aimed at helping doctors and patients will be tested. For example, round-the-clock monitoring of the patient's condition, creating VR and AR models, 3D modeling of X-rays, ultrasound and CT results, real-time remote consultations, including those using VR, and training of medical personnel.
In general, I believe that the future of Moscow lies in the further implementation of technology for the benefit of people. We have already reached the level of digitalization when almost any issue can be solved online. Now, it is important to improve the existing services and solutions, to make them even more convenient, personalized, open, and stable. And in this work, we are taking on end-to-end technologies: artificial intelligence, blockchain, and big data analysis. And 5G will contribute to their accelerated development.
An interview by The Smart City Journal