Smart City Barcelona goes open source

When talking about smart cities Barcelona has a special place in my heart. You might recall my blog from Barcelona late last year, reporting on the changes in that city.

Barcelona was one of the first to tackle so-called smart city issues. Over the years  they received  internal criticism – claims that it was all about big business and the ego of the previous mayor. Nevertheless they did score, with real projects in telecoms, transport, waste management, city safety and others.

Now they have a totally different government – one which couldn’t be more opposite. They didn’t abandon or vilify the smart city project they inherited to score political points, something that seems to be the trend nowadays. Instead they took two years to study the situation and decided to make it far more people-focused. They implemented a citizen-led approach. At times this was a disastrous process and they in its turn attracted a great deal of criticism, as getting citizens involved is not easy – it is messy. You often only get the ‘action people’ involved (from the right or left) and most of their projects are therefore very hard to implement. But after much trial and tribulation Barcelona now has at least a somewhat workable citizen-based system in place.

In the process the mayor Ada Colau has been personally involved and the technical leadership provided by Francesca Bria – Barcelona’s new CTO – reflects the new direction. I reported on her initial presentation of the new vision for Smart City Barcelona.

She is now ready to start with the technical implementation. This was reported by the Spanish newspaper EL PAÍS under the sensational headline:  City of Barcelona Kicks Out Microsoft in Favour of Linux and Open Source.

As foreshadowed last November Francesca Bria has now prepared a roadmap that is aimed at migrating its existing system from Microsoft and other proprietary software to Linux and open source software.

According to the news report the city plans to first replace all its user applications with alternative open source applications. This will go on until the only remaining proprietary software will be Windows, and then that will also be replaced with a Linux distribution system.

The City has plans for 70% of its software budget to be invested in open source software in the coming year. The transition period will be completed before the mandate of the present administrators comes to an end in Spring 2019.

For this to be accomplished, the City of Barcelona will start outsourcing IT projects to local small and medium-sized enterprises. They will also be taking in 65 new developers to build software programs for their specific needs. From the very start of her mayorship Ado Colau has indicated that she wants to make the new smart city strategy far more inclusive for local entrepreneurs, local innovators and local businesses.

One of the major projects envisaged is the development of a digital market – an online platform – which small businesses will use to take part in public tenders.

According to Bria the move from Windows to open source software promotes replicability. Cities suffer, both nationally and internationally, from a system in which they all try to reinvent the wheel. This has created many ‘death by pilot’ failures. You can only develop viable business and investment models if smart city projects are scalable and replicable, and with this initiative Barcelona is again showing leadership.

In relation to this IT project the programs that are developed in Barcelona could be deployed to other municipalities in Spain or elsewhere around the world. Obviously the migration also aims at avoiding large amounts of money being spent on proprietary software.

Will this new direction work? We don’t know yet. Will there be lots of problems? Absolutely.

To show how ambitious this move is, the City of Munich, after first abandoning Microsoft, is now bringing the company back in again. Nevertheless I fully support the Barcelona direction as we will all be able to learn from it (the positives and the negatives).

The city is willing to go in a direction not taken by any other city so far (at least not so deeply). Rather than criticising them when things go wrong – and there will be plenty of people ready to do that – I will cheer them on to learn from it, finetune and move on. In the end – as mentioned in another blog – if we don’t develop a city that is led by its people, what is the purpose of creating a smart city? But it is certainly not an easy task. From a technology point of view it might be easier to give a whole smart city project to Google or Accenture, or the whole IT implementation to Microsoft or Cisco. But is that the right solution? Again, I am not criticising those proprietary projects developed by large ICT companies  as in the end different scenarios give us a good picture of what works and what doesn’t, and we can all learn from that.

Paul Budde




Scroll to Top