BARCELONA, Spain -- Michael Donaldson, the Barcelona City Council Chief Technology Officer and CIO, said the Spanish city will continue its efforts to increase its digital capacity, highlighting that the COVID-19 pandemic was a turning point for the city’s digital transformation.
“COVID-19 was an opportunity in order to put forward our digital transformation. During the worst moment of the pandemic, the only sector that was growing was the IT sector," he said during an interview with The Korea Herald at the Smart City Expo World Congress 2022 last week.
The city had to deploy IT infrastructures to meet increasing demand, he said, adding that the municipality expanded telecommunication networks for public services, as well as startups and big companies. The budget of the city council’s IT department too went up by 12 percent to 70 million Euros ($70.2 million), according to Donaldson.
Barcelona, which Donaldson called a technological hub of Southern Europe, is also home to the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, which made its data tool available to scientists to counter the waves of COVID-19 over the past years.
A lot of economic activities have been created from the computing center, Donaldson added. Many researchers, as well as private companies, also come to the computing center to utilize the computing infrastructure, one of the biggest ones in Europe.
The biggest step forward, however, was made earlier this month when the office of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced that US tech giant Cisco would open a new semiconductor chip design center in Barcelona.
“We know that South Korea is very advanced in that (semiconductor) field, but we need to invest in (the area) as well, and that’s going to bring a lot of opportunities in Europe, such as creating new jobs,” Donaldson said.
Meanwhile, Donaldson noted the city of Barcelona has been trying to increase citizens’ rights when developing digital innovation policies. The city aims to come up with better public digital services.
Kang Yo-sik, president of the Seoul Digital Foundation, who also joined the interview, introduced Seoul’s approaches to overcome the city’s digital divide, including the foundation’s education programs that could bring older people into the high-tech fold.
Donaldson answered, “We are more or less working on the same issues that you are doing.” Barcelona also has ICT agents who are deployed to help people who have limited access to the internet, he said.
Barcelona will develop its digital capacity “in order to empower people through technology, in order to give the condition to get new jobs" and other public services, Donaldson added.
When asked if Barcelona has any technological tools to ensure public safety in city areas that are densely populated, Donaldson said the city is currently using drone technology, which comes “in combination of artificial intelligence and computer vision.”
Through the technology, the city can know how many people are in a certain spot at a particular moment so that the city take proper measures to lower the crowd density in tourist areas.