In 1996 the Regional Government of Valencia (Spain) launched
a project to improve the region's overall competitiveness by
implementing an Information Society strategy for all of its four
million citizens and public and private entities. So far the
project is expanding successfully, and nine cities are already
using this model. The basic principles that made it successful
are explained in the paper below.
There is a strong push from governments around the world to
promote access to the Information Society. This is as a result
of an increasing awareness of, and concern about, the digital
divide between those citizens who are connected and those that
The benefits of adopting this new model are enormous. It will
enable citizens to have better access to public services in a
more cost-effective way. It will also, by integrating access
to public and private services, such as Healthcare, Police, Schools,
Employment, Shops, Associations, etc. enable the Information
Society to become a reality, increasing the quality of life and
productivity of its participants.
There is a clear political reward in promoting this new model.
2. The Importance of the Local Portal Concept
The importance of a portal (a door into the virtual space
of the Internet) is that it is the only place where a user is
under some degree of "control" or guidance. By creating
an attractive portal, with a high degree of retentiveness, users
will be willing to use it as an entry point to conduct their
transactions. Portals are valued on the basis of the number of
subscribers or users they attract, and are becoming highly valued
Local portals are becoming increasingly important as they
have the potential to attract a large sector of the population
that until now has had little interest in participating in the
Internet revolution. This sector invariably requires more local
than national information. For example, such users might not
be interested in accessing the web site of the National Education
Ministry to learn matters of general interest. However, they
might often access a local school's site to learn how their children
are progressing and discuss their school's methods or activities
with teachers and other parents.
The Region of Valencia in Spain felt that the creation of
a local city portal would be extremely beneficial to its organisations
3. Implementing Infoville
Infoville was initially launched with the aim of modernising
the Public Administration in the Region of Valencia. Almost immediately,
it became a more ambitious programme with the chief objective
of increasing the Region's overall competitiveness through the
adoption of Information Society tools and methods. To make things
happen, the regional government (Generalitat de Valencia) enlisted
the help of two entities. OVSI (Oficina Valenciana para la Sociedad
de la Información) was responsible for the sociological
aspects of the project and TISSAT, a private company, partially
owned by Generalitat, created the solution from the technological
point of view. A number of public and private organisations with
a regional or national presence were invited to participate including
for example, Telefónica, which became a major sponsor
and contributor to the project. Infoville also won the support
of the European Commission within its 4th Framework Program,
and other European cities became participants.
The city of Villena was chosen as the pilot site to launch
the program as its sociological mix and degree of awareness of
information and communications technology was considered to be
representative of the whole region. This first implementation
took six months and enabled the creation of a model that would
be replicated by other cities in the region. OVSI learned the
best way to deal with citizens and deliver training, as well
as promoting the success of what was being achieved. TISSAT partnered
with leading IT and communications providers to join components
and make the developments of what was going to be a real city
portal. Some of the most important technological decisions were
made at this time, such as the use of Java throughout as the
programming language. Also, the Network Computing model proposed
by Oracle, that would allow portal access to be independent of
device, and the use of Oracle's database to solve potential scalability
Villena's citizens as well as public and private entities
enthusiastically supported the initiative, and a good number
of services were quickly added to the portal, most of them with
a high degree of personalisation. By the end of 1997 Villena
was the most advanced city in Spain, in terms of its citizens'
involvement in the Information Society. People living in Villena
could make a restaurant reservation, ask for a certificate from
the Town Hall, send a mail to a relative, update personal data
with the bank, participate in a discussion about a local school's
performance, receive local news, create personal web pages, or
even select a time slot on a doctor's agenda. It was also a huge
change for local organisations. Without major cost they became
content providers: banks, hospitals, clinics, the local police,
shops, private associations, the football team and most of the
existing businesses were connected and started experiencing the
Information Society for themselves. All this made the Villena
experiment very popular in the region and paved the way for the
other cities that applied to follow the initiative.
Since its launch in 1996 Infoville has been implemented in
nine sites in the region: Villena, Catarroja, Torrevieja, Altea,
Oliva, Gandía, Burriana, Vall d'Uixó and University
Miguel Hernández, while some others are been implemented
these days (Benicarló, Castellón, Alaquás,
Biar). Using Oracle technology to offer inherent flexibility
and scalability, Infoville is rolled out via each local authority
incorporating specific local information and data, simply, quickly,
and cost-effectively. This technological platform also enables
local businesses and local administrations to add their own services
to Infoville with minimal investment.
User access was originally via PC, but it is now possible
through interactive TV, and soon through WAP technology as well,
driving down the cost of participation for the citizen.
Uptake has been impressive. Some 7,000 terminals already provide
access for more than 20,000 users, and Infoville is also available
in over 130 schools where children learn how to use the system
and understand the power of the Internet. The average time connected
per user is 49 minutes each day, with 85% of this time spent
inside Infoville and 15% outside on the World Wide Web. Average
training time is just four hours.
Typical activities, in the cities where Infoville has been
implemented, include requests for certificates from the municipality,
access to personal data (such as paying bills through a local
bank account), viewing balances and changing address details.
Local businesses - even small shops - have created Web pages
and promote their businesses through the portal. Citizens participate
in chats and discussions, both in public and private. Local authority
queries can be dealt with online and citizens can even contact
their children's teachers for school reports and other information.
A local news service keeps the population informed of up-to-the
minute news in their city, and there are specialist areas for
farmers and agricultural businesses which provide access to bulletins
from the regional government covering everything from the weather
to pest control and the latest market prices. The local Electricity
Company allows people to enter their meter readings online and
local hospitals provide information and an appointments system.
Both public and private sector organizations find that they
can add their services to the portal at minimal cost and this
has encouraged new growth paths. In the private sector, e-commerce
participation is higher in the region than would normally be
expected. In the public sector, self-service and access for twenty-four
hours a day, seven days a week, has relieved pressure on local
administrations. Many citizens will now make enquiries via the
Internet instead of visiting or telephoning the town hall, enabling
administrations to focus resources on those citizens who feel
they need a more personal service.
4. Lessons Learned from the Infoville Project
Advanced as it is from the technological point of view, probably
the best lessons came from the human and sociological aspects
of this implementation. Everything was conceived to minimise
the fear many people would have of using a computer. As far as
possible, the system avoided the use of concepts such as navigation
(substituted by a two-dimensional menu always present in the
screen) or the use of hyper-links, cut-and-paste, or other technical
tricks, maximising at the same time simplicity and personalisation
features. The aim was to make the portal personalised and as
attractive as possible so that each individual felt it was his
or her own portal.
At the same time, great effort was dedicated to include some
segments of the population typically left out of the most innovative
new solutions. New sub-projects to develop specific sets of services
for them were launched, such as Infosenior for older people,
Infodona for women, or Infocole for teachers and children at
Another important lesson was that there are no "killer
applications" in this type of system. Each person will use
it in his or her own way, and only having a critical mass of
services guarantees the portal's attractiveness and frequent
access. Infoville also solved the problem of how to create a
local content-based portal with an industrial scope or vision.
This means that it can conjugate both the artisan-type of solution
for local services while maintaining a highly effective approach
to replicate this model in many places at a very fast pace. This
is shown by the following statistics:
- While the first implementation (city of Villena) took six
months, the most recent ones are becoming operational in just
two to three months.
- An initial offering of about one hundred services are easily
available each time a new city portal is launched.
- Telecom usage (paid by users) has increased threefold in
the cities where the project has been implemented.
- While in the region of Valencia the service has already been
implemented in nine sites, the telecom operator (Telefónica)
is promoting a similar approach to 35 other cities across the
- Other European cities and regions are considering the same
model. It has proven to be a highly successful one amongst the
many initiatives launched in this area.
Thanks to the relatively low implementation costs associated
with the model, there are many different approaches where government,
telcos, utilities, services or any other type of organisation
can play a role, either leading or partnering in these projects.
The common interest is for the City Portal to become the place
citizens will connect to.
5. The Oracle Proposal to Build a Smart Community
Because of our participation in many of these initiatives,
we are well placed to help with general recommendations and specific
details on the partners, and much of the technology used.
Our aim is to become an active contributor to the success of
these projects by reinforcing the initiatives that have proven
to work well, whilst avoiding the usual traps that, in other
cases, have delayed the implementation of solutions and put whole
projects at risk.
For Smartcity projects the Internet model has to be re-thought
and carefully deployed to guarantee a critical mass of users,
services and content providers, and highest level of use by the
citizens. These two factors determine the success or failure
of a Smartcity project. A number of measures and actions can
be taken to maximize both.
To obtain a high rate of usage, everything must be conceived
from the average citizen's point of view. Therefore, concepts
such as user training, citizen's interface, personalisation,
data protection, cost, affordability and others, have to be built-in
to the solution. To achieve a critical mass of services and content-providers,
the early involvement of every potential content provider is
key, but it is essential to avoid relying exclusively on their
commitment or ability to make their services available through
the new portal but, provide the tools to integrate their legacy
systems with minimal effort and cost instead.
In summary, Oracle can contribute to the success of these projects
- Partnering with the key project players and proposing solutions
based on our experience.
- Bringing adequate products and partners that can guarantee
the achievement of the projects objectives, while transferring
the know-how that will ensure its continuity with local resources.