Public transparency for the City of Amsterdam

Migrating to the public cloud with Azure

In the city of Amsterdam, all issues of our modern society come together. Although Amsterdam has a reputation of being a forward-looking city, its IT infrastructure wasn’t in line with this image and was unable to meet the demands of its many audiences and clients. The municipality concluded three years ago  that digitization of services and a cloud transition were necessary to provide an answer to all these questions. InSpark made that inspiring vision an innovative reality. 

The challenges of the City of Amsterdam 

Residents, entrepreneurs, and visitors expect a modern, well-functioning city and an inclusive and transparent digital urban infrastructure. Although major steps had already been taken in recent years, the City of Amsterdam was reaching the limits of its systems. As a result, multiple interlocking challenges arose. Its IT infrastructure wasn’t capable of scaling as much as needed. Outside threats to its digital network increased. Continuity and uniformity could not always be guaranteed. And further digitization was limited by a lack of expertise and flexibility. 

In addition to these challenges, the municipality of Amsterdam saw an opportunity to take a guiding role in the Netherlands, and possibly internationally, by not just tackling these issues piecemeal, but encompassing them in a full transition to the public cloud, bringing transparency and accountability to the next level. 

When the City of Amsterdam started their transition to the cloud, InSpark was approached, alongside with KPN, to take on the development of the new public cloud platform and digitize a wide range of services. And in doing so create a new standard for other Dutch municipalities looking to improve their digital infrastructure in a safe, open, and flexible way. 

Migration to the public cloud 

Amsterdam’s cloud transition is part of a wider reimagining of their municipal digital services and IT organisation. Indeed, centralization of IT infrastructure was already well under way. The municipal IT infrastructure was until 2015 completely decentralized and consisted of 40 separate IT landscapes: hardware, software and IT employees were organized separately for each department or city district. An integrated process of application rationalisation was started, reducing the number of applications from almost 6000 to a little over a thousand. Furthermore, policies to work more data-driven and innovative were implemented across the board. And private-cloud data storage and IT management had mostly been unified and consolidated. 

The next giant leap was migrating data and applications to a newly created public cloud platform, developed for the City of Amsterdam in a period of about three years, in accordance with the Cloud center of excellence (CCoE) as far as possible within the needs and regulations specific to Amsterdam.   

InSpark and KPN developed this cloud platform based on a Microsoft Azure-first strategy. This is more specific than merely cloud first. In an Azure-first situation, when a new service is developed, the first step is to re-use on the Azure platform before buying or building. Furthermore, the City of Amsterdam no longer looks at private cloud solutions for cloud technology projects. As the public cloud is more secure than ever, this is not just the most flexible and forward-looking strategy, but also the safest. 

Conceptually, the cloud platform was built according to a layered structure developed by the City. Upon the Azure infrastructure a data structure was deployed that spans across all municipal domains and complies with legal and ethical norms, with special attention to the privacy of citizens. It also provides a safe and reliable environment for the development of new data services. These two fundamental layers support a layer of consolidated ‘generic applications’ such as document management and identity access. The fundaments also support applications that are specific for certain civic domains such as the social domain (applications related to themes like equal opportunities and social cohesion), public space (urban development, sustainability), and safety (preventive interventions, targeting high-impact crime). 

The result is an Azure public cloud platform that is the most open, innovative, secure and cost effective municipal platform of its kind in the Netherlands and can easily compete with similar solutions in corporate and industrial sectors. 

Advantages and new opportunities 

Migrating to the public cloud has several immense advantages for the City of Amsterdam. The increased speed in development of new digital services is one of them. As Azure enables the city to work in a more task-oriented and agile way. Amsterdammers can expect services that are easier to use and easier to find, and that meet their needs more specifically. The city’s digital services have transitioned from the role of technical back-end to user-facing enabler. 

The full suite of out-of-the-box Azure components is indispensable to facilitate the city. Business questions can now be addressed with standard components, which is somewhat of a culture shock within the governmental sector. As a partner, InSpark plays an important role in this. For the development of the cloud platform, but also for co-sourcing, advice, and support. 

One other crucial advantage is increased data transparency. As a response to a diminishing sense of public trust in governmental institutions, Dutch municipal regulations continually urge for more and more openness. Amsterdam is now able to rise to this challenge like no other city in the Netherlands. The open data platform the city provides empowers city districts, departments, and partners to provide interactive services based on real-time data. An example is IoT enabled waste containers that send out a signal to the municipal waste service when full. Geo-mapping with live traffic data is then used by a recycling truck on its way to empty the full waste container. But the platform may also be used in other domains, such as the social domain, for instance to easily identify multi-problem households and offer the right kind of support pro-actively. 

Results and next steps 

The opportunities arising from Amsterdam’s new public cloud platform are endless and will become more and more impactful over time. The biggest change may be the organizational change: from a fragmented IT landscape, across different departments, to a central department. By facilitating standardisation with the platform, we have already achieved savings of 10 million euros on an annual basis with the implementation of the Amsterdam Assignment Information System. This system supports the management of assignments, projects and programs, especially in the physical domain of the municipality of Amsterdam. More crucially, migrating to the public cloud also kickstarted a change in perception of what kind of municipal services are possible. This includes opening up the municipal organization to the needs of residents, entrepreneurs, and visitors, and providing each of these audiences with what they need, quickly and efficiently.  

InSpark is in many ways the accelerator of these transformations. Its team has also been a partner of the City of Amsterdam in sharing its experiences and show how other parties – inside and outside of government – can learn from the renewed sense of transparency a migration to the public cloud can bring. 

Ultimately, the goal is for InSpark, KPN, Microsoft and the City of Amsterdam to collaborate on offering the entire Dutch public sector a solution where governmental organizations can exchange information with each other in a joint repository. Because being transparent and trustworthy does not just mean being open to the public, it also means facilitating innovation and cocreation, and supporting other governmental bodies to create value for their entrepreneurs, visitors and citizens. 

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