Isfahan, Iran’s second city and a global Islamic cultural hub, has set its sights on becoming the Republic’s leading ‘e-municipality’ and a regional e-government leader.
The ancient city of 1.7 million people, which was once of the world’s largest cities, is four years into a five-year ICT masterplan to develop infrastructure and improve citizen services and government processes to boost competitiveness.
The same ICT framework is being adopted nationwide by all of Iran’s ‘mega cities’, but municipal authorities have been able to adapt the plan with local projects.
In an interview with FutureGov in Singapore last week (22nd October 2010), Vahid Heidarian, the municipality’s ICT Head, outlined his government’s priority projects.
One is to offer more public services online through its e-services portal, isfahan.ir. Building permits, property provisioning and all tendering processes will soon be accessible through the web site.
An English language version is also in the pipeline.
“More e-services will mean a quicker and easier experience for citizens, and fewer visits to government offices, which we hope will ease the city’s traffic problems,” Heidarian said.
A key part of masterplan is a spatial data infrastructure (SDI) initiative, which will be used to tackle Isfahan’s worsening road congestion - 400 new cars hit Isfahan’s roads every day, contributing to worryingly high pollution levels.
GPS tags have been deployed in public buses for traffic controllers to track their journeys. Taxis will be next, then trains on the new subway network - the first line is planned to be finished this year.
Information on public transport will be combined with data from CCTV cameras on the city’s roads and broadcast via short messages on roadside signs. This information will soon be accessible on mobile devices, Heidarian said.
There are also plans to feed aggregated data from citizen ID smart cards, which can be used to pay for travel on public transport, into a central traffic management system.
More services will be added to the citizen ID card so that “most business transactions between government and citizen are possible using the ID card,” Heidarian said.
Teleconferencing will be another means with which to reduce journeys made by government officials, Heidarian added.
To provide extra computing power for the city’s e-government activities, the central government is building a data centre that will provide a shared facility for all of Iran’s large cities.
“We have data centres in every major city. But we want another data centre in place, built using the latest technology and standards, that can cater for rising demand as Iran’s cities grow,” he noted.
There is much work to be done to bolster Isfahan’s e-government capabilities, which have been developed in consultation with the government of Seoul, the South Korean capital, Heidarian noted.
Iran ranked 69 out of 70 countries surveyed in the 2010 Economist Intelligence Unit digital economy report, and 168th out of 181 countries in a 2010 survey of internet speeds by Speedtest.net this year.
“Isfahan is the cultural capital of the Islamic world. We have a rich history and a rich culture. Want to enjoy the same reputation for our e-municipality,” Heidarian declared.
This mission is not without challenges. “One of the main issues we face is capacity. Rolling out new online services is one thing. Getting people to use them is another,” he concluded.
“We have a fast growing population, and we need ICT to better manage citizen-government interactions. People are used to the traditional paper-based approach, which calls for a mindset shift - both among citizens and in government.”