Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialization 2014-2020
In 2015, a multilateral team of stakeholders and consultants created the “Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialization 2014-2020” (ISSS) of Sofia. It outlines the sectoral specialization of the capital city’s economy. The Strategy aims at enhancing the added value and competitiveness of the city’s economy on the international markets.
The ISSS of Sofia set the framework for smart specialisation of the city through the establishment of Sofia as a Smart City. It creates an environment of high quality of life for its citizens and good governance. Furthermore, it stimulates the synergy and partnership in the innovation ecosystem and the effective use of ICT.
The ISSS of Sofia contains specialisation areas at the horizontal and vertical level. The horizontal policy strengthens the innovation ecosystem in the city and the region, whereas the emphasis in Sofia is placed on the development of two thematic areas for smart specialisation, which are specified by the national ISSS, namely: Informatics and ICT and new technologies in the creative and recreative industries.
The Strategy for Digital Transformation for Sofia (2019), created as part of the Digital Cities Challenge, is a natural next step in this vision.
Digital Cities Challenge (DCC)
Digital Cities Challenge is an initiative of the European Commission with the main purpose to support the cities in their path to digital transformation. DCC offers policy advice and support to 15 cities in Europe. The support to be offered will speed up the digital transformation and the industrial modernisation of cities in order for them to take full advantage of the 4th industrial revolution.
The selected Digital Cities received support in the form of field advisory services provided by a group of high-level experts and peer reviewers, and offered the possibility for city representatives to participate in a series of capacity building and networking seminars.
Altogether, 35 cities were subject to the initiative. Sofia and 14 other European Challenge cities won the opportunity to participate in the programme for free . In addition, there were 6 mentor cities that inspired and advised the rest in digitalising their local institutions and enterprises. Sofia’s participation was managed by Sofia Investment Agency.
Challenge cities selected from 92
applications. Sofia was a Challenge city.
Fellow cities took part in the initiative
using their own resources.
Mentor cities volunteered to inspire and mentor:
Amsterdam, Barcelona, Hamburg, Lisbon, Nice, Espoo.
- Establishing long-term collaboration network with other cities that will popularise digital transformation and shared knowledge.
- Create cooperation mechanisms between innovation centres, clusters, labs, incubators, accelerators, VCs and municipal institutions.
- Help introduce new business models that enhance local entrepreneurship and know-how.
- Work for stable investment in the local digital transformation.
The cities followed a methodology, specifically-created for the programme by the European Commission. The main steps were:
- Assessment of Sofia’s digital maturity
- Development of the Strategy for Digital Transformation for Sofia
- Development of models for governance, monitoring and evaluation of the Strategy.
In Sofia over 100 local stakeholders were involved by taking part in interviews and workshops. Sofia Investment Agency took part in 5 academy seminars together with the other cities participating in the project.
Sofia’s Strategy for Digital Transformation
Sofia Investment Agency, together with the expert-consultants, the local stakeholders and the consultants managing the programme, created the Strategy for Digital Transformation for Sofia. The Strategy is based on the main finding of the initial digital maturity assessment of Sofia: the local ICT sector is very advanced but the companies in it are export-oriented.
Therefore, the mission of the Strategy is to encourage the local institutions and industries to become clients of the local ICT companies. The mission is to define an action plan and actions that strengthen the business ecosystem of the ICT sector located in Sofia, in order to:
- Develop and offer solutions supporting the digital transformation of the city;
- Identify or create markets for digital services, at local, national or global levels, and facilitate the access to these markets;
- Support the system of innovation enabling the development and absorption of new digital services and smart solutions.
The Strategy for Digital Transformation of Sofia focuses on four priority areas: e-government, utilities, transport, and ICT startup ecosystem. The creation of local demand for e-services in the first three areas (blue area on the graph) is the core driver for smart growth and the ability of the local ICT ecosystem (green and orange areas on the graph) to supply those e-services is the facilitator of smart growth.
Suggestions by the Strategy – Governance
Sofia Investment Agency will be responsible for the Strategy’s execution together with external advisory boards. However, the Strategy strongly advocates for the establishment of a new division within Sofia Municipality – Sofia Digital Agency. The latter should maintain the long-term digital and smart city transformation of Sofia by identifying the needs of the local market and managing the process of digitalisation. The new team can be part of an existing entity which will make its initial formation easier.
Another recommendation by the experts consulting Sofia is the development of an open-source database system – a storage repository holding various types of data for Sofia which is open to the public. In order to achieve that, Sofia should consider establishing an Office of the Chief Digital Officer (OCDO) to be led by a newly appointed Chief Digital Officer (CDO). This person should be given the executive authority to mobilise the different departments in the Municipality to create and maintain the database. The OCDO’s objective will be to establish a system for data management and the policies and practices that ensure that data is collected, stored, analysed and shared consistently across the municipality and the organisations collaborating in the database system.
Results so far
Sofia was often praised as one of the most active members of the initiative. Several cities saw Sofia Investment Agency as a reliable partner and invited us to cooperate on other digital projects.
Invest Sofia CEO Vladimir Danailov presented Sofia’s experience of the DCC at the DCC Final Conference held in Brussels in June 2019. The event gathered 450 city administrators, industrial and business experts, “smart city” companies, international organisations, politicians from European countries and the European Commission. Watch the video from the “Cities as Market Creators” panel (with Bulgarian subtitles).
Sofia is currently waiting for the Intelligent Cities initiative – the DCC successor program that is expected to be launched in December 2019. The new initiative will invite 50 more cities to join the participants of the Digital Cities Challenge.