Blockchain as Key to Vienna’s Digital Future — Interview with Ulrike Huemer, CIO of Vienna, Austria

Austria is Europe’s leader in terms of applying modern day technology to better the all-around welfare of its citizens. Making cities “smart” and digital is a key part of transforming public goods and services in order to reach that goal. Vienna is especially keen on innovation, trying to find new solutions by way of digitization. Easy access and clear-cut benefits are key aspects to finding broad acceptance among Vienna citizens, making them willingly partake and help to better the transformation process.  

To further the breakthrough of digital technologies and make them the backbone of society, Vienna called into existence the so-called “Smart City Vienna” initiative in 2014, which aims to better the lives of its general population. The Smart City project isn’t meant to merely foster technology, though. Rather, the latter is supposed to be a tool, helping to achieve social change and making the city more livable overall. Technology as a servant to humanity, not the other way around.

The Smart City Vienna strategy takes into consideration multiple fields that need to be transformed, such as energy, mobility, real estate and others. Every single aspect of the strategy has well-defined target objectives in order to provide transparency and a sense of urgency. In total, 38 target objectives are set out until 2050, while different milestones are to be met by 2025, 2030 and 2050.

Blockchain is a key factor in realizing these goals. As such, it has been applied to different use cases that pertain to the strategy in one way or another. One of them is the notarization of Open Government Data (OGD) — to facilitate the use of food stamps by local government employees. Electric supplier Wien Energie, which is run by the city administration, has also been exploring the use of blockchain technology for quite a while now, trying to make distribution along its grids more efficient. Last but not least, Vienna is setting up a blockchain-based token that is part of an incentive driven initiative, rewarding citizens for “good behavior.”

In which ways can blockchain contribute to Smart City Vienna further? Will the capital city get its very own cryptocurrency eventually? Why is digitization so broadly accepted among Vienna’s population? Cointelegraph Germany sat down with Ulrike Huemer, the chief information officer of Vienna, to answer these questions and to further elaborate on what’s to come.

Smart City Vienna — the road to digitization

Cointelegraph: What is your vision of Vienna as a “smart” city?

Ulrike Huemer: Vienna does score favorably well in many different rankings already, some of it due to our comprehensive approach to the Smart City initiative, which constantly drives new projects and gets monitored on a regular basis. Our comprehensive approach isn’t just a means to an end, though. It is much rather our guiding principle to cover all our bases when making our city “smart.” It’s not just about technological innovation for the sake of it — instead, we are looking to use it as a vehicle leading us toward social change and environmental sustainability. It’s all about providing the best quality of life to all our citizens, thus we are incorporating every office of city administration, linking them up with companies from the private sector as well, to set up a broad network as a basis for the transformation process.

“It’s all about providing the best quality of life to all our citizens.”

We don’t just emphasize these points toward the general public, we also make sure to reiterate this concept internally to really make it stick. Driving research and development-oriented policies is key, but so is getting everybody on board with what we’re trying to do. Consulting-firm Roland Berger ranked our digital agenda number one in its recent “Smart City Index” publication, especially praising our continued efforts to better the health care system through technological innovation. Open Government Data and our progress in areas such as mobility, environmental sustainability and education put us in the top-spot according to the study. We’re looking to continue to build on this, truly making Vienna a “smart city” indeed.

CT: How well is Austria positioned in terms of the smart city concept? Is Austria in a good starting position for this?

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