FuturoCité: Bringing a sustainable way of life to Wallonia by 2016

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Par IBM Inspire Magazine

The Euro Green IT Center, a private-public partnership announced in 2010, aimed to support a wide range of sustainable technology-based research and development across Wallonia. With the benefit of three years experience, the project has now been rationalized into a more tightly focused – and more actionable – project focused specifically on building sustainable towns, cities and villages: In January 2013, the newly rebranded “Futurocité” was born.

In January 2010, the Euro Green IT Center in Mons was launched by the Walloon government, IBM and Cisco (with support from Deloitte, Alcatel-Lucent, Mobistar, and Microsoft), with the aim of creating a center of expertise at the intersection of ICT and urban development.

“Euro Green IT was designed to support and drive the development of a more sustainable economy in Wallonia,” explains Frank Butstraen, CEO of what would eventually become the “Futurocité” project. “Its goals were wide-ranging: to inform the region’s population about energy consumption and CO2 footprints, acclimatize them to alternatives, and then run projects that brought improvements in sustainability.”

The birth of Futurocité

Three years in, the project has now found itself – older and wiser – with a reboot. “At the end of 2012, we realized we needed to take those learnings and begin to put our resources into the areas that now offered the most potential for impact and growth,” he explains.

Out of this came a new strategy – to stimulate economic growth and technological innovation in Wallonia specifically, by speeding up the development of Smarter Cities and Smarter Villages – and give it a new name to match: Futurocité. “We settled on Smarter Cities because it has become such a major agenda item since Euro Green IT launched. Plus, Smarter Cities is a huge area of competence area for IBM, which had been asked by the Walloon government to take a more leading role in the revamped initiative.”

Launched in January 2013, Futurocité’s new aims are already high: On technological innovation, it has committed to creating awareness

of Smarter Cities’ potential in all Wallonia’s cities within the next three years, and to have launched concrete initiatives in its 40 biggest cities (i.e., covering 50 percent of the Walloon population) over the same period.

On the economic front, its goal is to create a Smarter Cities market, worth €100 million within the same timeline – through training, the creation of 20 new start-ups, and by widening the activities of existing businesses in Wallonia. “And our final goal is to create or maintain 200 jobs in Smarter Cities over those three years as well,” says Butstraen. “So we’re aiming at real, concrete and significant change.”

Bringing the public and private together

It is turning good intentions into such concrete outcomes that has become Butstraen’s dominant focus. “A number of projects were mobilized thanks to Euro Green IT,” he explains. “But its scope was so wide, it was hard to drive real change through.”

To achieve more this time, Futurocité is clear that its greatest leverage lies in bridging the distance between the public and the private worlds. “Through Euro Green IT, everyone learned what it takes to drive a public-private partnership. The rules of public bidding are fairly strict in government administration, for example. So learning how public and private institutions could collaborate without conf licting with those rules – how private companies could help governments create RFPs that attracted useful bids; and how governments could draw on the resources of private companies to improve their effectiveness – was the really big takeaway.”

The most profitable role for Futurocité now, therefore, will be to sit in the middle of those partnerships and become an enabler. “Even if you write a proof of concept on the ROI of intelligent building management, it’s traditionally been very difficult for a political administration to translate that into real action. So Futurocité will enable private companies to coach governments to write RFPs themselves so that these sustainable ideas can become real, concrete actions.”

It is early days, but the signs are already good: “At a conference last week, someone from the Liege government told me that their City Management team has 800 buildings to oversee, but very few resources to calculate their energy efficiency nor the expertise to be able to improve it. So, using private resources, we’re going to help them find an approach to gaining the concrete data and visibility on the issue that they need.”

Another early adopter is Mons – scheduled to be Europe’s “City of Culture” in 2015. “Other cities in the same role have suddenly had 3,000- 5,000 visitors a day and 100,000 attendees at events.

For Mons, that might double the whole population overnight! So we are working with them on how to navigate these potential mobility nightmares by drawing on the proven solutions and research capabilities of private companies in the region. And that’s how we can really change life in Wallonia – by bringing the excellence of major companies to bear on the needs of those in public service. Because Futurocité is not going to be a selling organization; we will be a neutral bridge between two disparate worlds.”