Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, has been the major scientific and technological hub of the country for decades. Today, the city is leveraging its technological talent to assert itself at the forefront of the movement to make Ukrainian cities more tech-savvy.
Over 22,000 IT professionals work for 300 small and medium IT enterprises in Kharkiv, says the report IT Ukraine released by Ukraine Digital News together with other local industry players, including Kharkiv IT Cluster. The average software engineer’s salary here is $2,000 per month, according to DOU.ua, a Ukrainian portal for developers.
In Q1 2016, the city attracted $132.9 million of foreign direct investment.
“Kharkiv is one of the ‘smartest’ cities in Ukraine in terms of development, Europeanization and ensuring a better life quality for its inhabitants based, among other things, on IT,” says Irina Pochapskaya, the deputy head of the image-building projects department at the Directorate of investment development and image-building projects.
Driven by the idea of transforming Kharkiv into “a progressive innovative European city which integrates IT solutions into urban management,” as stated by Viktoriia Hretska-Myrhorodska, the head of investment development and image-building projects department, the city has a comparatively long history of using technologies to make Kharkiv a better place to live, work and invest.
How Smart Governance Works In Kharkiv
Digital technologies were implemented for the first time in the city’s management back in 1997. A year later, in 1998, inspired by the example of the French city of Lille, Oleksandr Popov, the director of the City Information Centre of Kharkiv City Council, started improving Kharkiv’s connectivity by linking all the city services into a single system via the web.
“All the smart city projects have been developed here [in Kharkiv], with 90% of them being financed thanks to the reinvestment of funds earned by the utility [itself]. Nearly 20 of our professionals have been involved in the project,” says Popov.
As part of the data digitization project, information on municipal property, including the value of each of its objects, as well as the Information System of City Planning Cadaster has been made publicly accessible online.
Such an approach helps increase the transparency and accountability of the city government. To enhance the dialog between the urban authorities and the city community, a monitoring service dubbed “1562” was launched almost a decade ago, in 2007. Since then, residents have been able to register any complaints or make suggestions with the city council via phone or email.
To further boost citizen engagement, a local IT company, Artjoker, upon the request of the city managers, has designed a mobile app dubbed “An Active Kharkiv Citizen.” Kharkiv residents can petition, vote and provide feedback on any aspect of city life via the app.
Kharkiv was one of the pioneers among the Ukrainian cities to launch a one-stop-shop center for entrepreneurs known as the Administration Service Directorate in 2011. Later, other Ukrainian cities followed the lead and opened similar centers. Applicants can submit an application and attach documents via their online personal accounts, as well as track their progress through the levels of authority. “You can choose the time and place which are the most convenient to you to submit and then receive your documents,” adds Viktoriia Kytaihorodska, director of the administrative services and consumer market department. As of today, as many as ten such centers provide their services to some 800 citizens per day. Unsurprisingly, most clients would rather talk to a human operator than book online. Despite the readiness of the center to deliver all of its services via the Internet, so far as little as ten out of 160 services are available online. Ukrainian legislation only considers paper documents to be legally legitimate, whilst electronic documents are seen to be of a lower status, according to Iryna Yurieva, head of the Administration Service Directorate.
However, in November President Poroshenko signed a law which allows Ukrainian exporters to sign a contract with foreign partners via email or invoice, with no paper document required.
All of the customers’ data from the ten centers is stored in the cloud, which makes it accessible from any of them. As of today, clients can contact the centers via email, phone or Skype. The city authorities, however, are planning to launch a call center in the future.
A new open plan Administration Centre will be opening soon to serve some 2,000 clients per day, with 450 types of services to be offered. One can apply for and receive such documents as a residence registration or entrepreneurship registration certificate, a duplicate of a driver’s license or an extract from a Land Cadaster within just one day. A full range of services will be provided in English for foreign citizens as well.
Kharkiv’s citizens benefit from a network of 34 online social security offices, with an additional two offline ones set to start operating soon. With their passport data and personal tax reference number uploaded online via any Administration Centre, clients can later submit them to a range of other institutions with no need to upload them again. Popov believes that nearly 5% of Kharkiv residents are ready to benefit from the electronic services, including the option to submit signatures electronically.
Unlike a number of Ukrainian cities, Kharkiv still does not have a Citizen card, which would allow its holder to benefit from a range of discounts. It may also be used as a means of personal identification. Popov explained that such a card has to have a legal basis, which does not exist in Ukraine so far.
To enable Kharkiv citizens to give feedback on the performance of urban services, as well as to connect them with local utility services, the 1562 monitoring service has been introduced. Remarkably, if a certain application to the service is not addressed within a stated period of time, it is automatically forwarded to the Deputy Mayor.
To expand two-way digital communication between Kharkiv authorities and city inhabitants, an interactive map of the city has been developed. It aims to enable the residents to track their applications to the utility services, as well as to be informed about any accidents or roadworks in the city.
Kharkiv residents can also inquire about those roadworks which are not marked on the map.
In the future, Kharkiv-based citizens will be able to track their interaction with the urban services through a single personal online account, which can be accessed by entering a bank ID or a username and a password received at any Administration Centre.
Urban Infrastructure & Security
Forty-five of the city crossroads are equipped with adaptive traffic control systems, with every crossroad having its own passport. The traffic is also visualized on an electronic map, which makes it easier to reorganize, if necessary. All public improvements, including cleaning areas, playgrounds, parking slots, etc, are mapped online. Thus, the urban management can always ensure the cleanliness of the territory, be it private or public.
OpenStreetMap, an open source roadmap designed by openstreetmap.org, allows you to find your way around the city. In addition, the map is used by the city council to keep track of and contractors who work on the city roads. As part of the “Safe City” project (2016-2020), the main sightseeing attractions will be equipped with a video surveillance system.
Documented violations will be reported to law-enforcement authorities. So far, several schools throughout the city are equipped with such systems.
Connectivity is considered one of the underpinning characteristics of a smart city. To ensure consistent connectivity, a cloud service offered by local player OnAir has been introduced as the basis for a range of other services. As of today, it is being tested in a variety of locations around the city. However, the company expects a full version of this service to be implemented in the near future. According to Popov, transforming Kharkiv into a smart city will involve optimizing internal city management processes.
A new model of transport management is currently being introduced to make it easier and more efficient for the citizens to travel. It aims to ensure that the schedules of both land and underground transport comply with each other. Another innovation which has been presented recently is an automated traffic management system. It allows the tracking and controlling of road traffic via GPS.
A single electronic ticket, valid for all the means of public transportation, is expected to be introduced soon to replace tokens, which are currently used by the inhabitants. It is worth noting that Kharkiv was a pioneer among Ukrainian cities in introducing the usage of the then-innovative tokens in the 1990s.
This December, the first electronic display to reflect the schedule of public trolleybuses has been installed in the city as part of a pilot project initiated by the city government.
The schedules of the other means of public transportation will be provided via such displays at a later stage. “We will need to install nearly one thousand of such displays. The traffic will be tracked via GPS. Although the project will take years to accomplish, we have made a good start,” comments the Deputy mayor Yevhen Vodovozov.
Kharkiv’s software developer community is actively engaged in transforming Kharkiv into a smart city. For example, in cooperation with the city council a local mobile agency, Itomych Studio, has designed a free app named Marshrutki, which provides citizens with real-time data on the city’s buses and minibusses. At present, the agency is working on an open data platform to enable citizens to make suggestions on better pricing and itineraries for public buses. If everything goes well, the initiative, which so far does not have any equivalents in Ukraine, could be implemented four other Ukrainian cities.
To prevent citizens from queuing for hours at the city health care institutions, a pilot online appointment booking system has been trialled for more than a year at one of the city hospitals. Once registered, a patient can choose the most suitable time for an appointment and get a text reminder beforehand.
Presently, the innovation is being introduced in another three health centers located close to the city. A unified system of online medical offices at the city universities, containing patient data, is currently being developed, with an electronic patient card possibly on the horizon.
Every school in the city has been connected to the Internet and equipped with a computer classroom at the expense of the local budget. In addition, Kharkiv IT Cluster, a regional non-governmental organization that unites Ukrainian and international IT companies located in the city, promotes IT-related professions by conducting a series of workshops for schoolchildren, as well as meetings with students and training courses for school teachers. “The process of teaching computer science at school is becoming more innovative thanks to Kharkiv’s IT business. We partnered with the academy to continue education and teach school teachers from regional towns new programming languages.
As of today, they are being taught Python,” explains Nataliia Vynogradska, the Managing director of Kharkiv IT Cluster. Currently, 29 companies are members of the cluster.
Kharkiv IT Unicorns, a series of teaching and training activities to help students put their ideas into practice, was launched by the cluster earlier this year. “We seek to enhance the development of the IT ecosystem in Kharkiv, as well as to structure and strengthen the local IT community”, comments Vynogradska.
Attracting Tourists & Investors
“We have been actively promoting an image-building project dubbed ‘Smart City,’ which celebrates the integration of technologies into city life. At the outset, the initiative aimed to make Kharkiv an attractive tourist destination, with ‘smart’ standing for ‘social, modern, art, research, tourist.’ However, today the concept has saturated every aspect of life in the city,” said Viktoriia Gretska-Myrgorodska, head of investment development and the image-building projects department.
As part of the “Seven wonders of Kharkiv” project, six city objects have been equipped with QR-codes, with fifteen more objects to be covered next year. This technology allows the department to track the number of tourists and their interest in any particular object.
Remarkably, the project has been initiated by a group of volunteers. Another initiative, christened “Investor’s Navigator”, guides an investor step-by-step through the process of launching a business in the city: from finding the right location to obtaining a business license. As part of the project, the section “Investor’s Portfolio” highlights potential targets, both public and
private, for attracting investments. In addition, an investor would be offered consultancy support at every step, explains Irina Pochapskaya, deputy head of the image-building projects department at the Directorate of investment development and image-building projects.
Kharkiv Developers Bring Smart Technologies To Europe
A number of companies located in Kharkiv harness their technological expertise to make city life better not only in Ukraine but abroad as well.
CodeIT, a Kharkiv-based software development company with clients worldwide (32% of them come from North America), has developed two applications for Swiss municipalities. The first one is a local Swiss platform that helps municipalities to organize efficient disposal. Through the application, local municipalities solve the problem of how to effectively inform citizens about the upcoming recycling of various materials. The app also reminds users about the schedule of the next disposals via push notifications. Moreover, municipalities can send users custom messages, for example, local news bulletins. Launched and operating successfully in one of the Swiss municipalities, the platform has rapidly expanded to three other cities.
The second one is called Grippe. It provides its users with the ability to check their health by undergoing an online test. It also allows users to manage a centralized ‘health calendar’ and a map flu epicenters across Switzerland.
Another local company, Itomych Studio, which was mentioned before, has designed a similar app to track public transport for a client from Delaware, USA. Dubbed “UD Shuttle,” the app is available on App Store and Google Play for free.
In cooperation with talented local developers, the Kharkiv authorities are determined to help the city perform even better in future and become the next smart city.