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This article can be found in the June edition of the IBM Inspire Beyond Today’s Technology magazine. Download the magazine here.

The Euro Green IT Center, a private-public partnership announced in 2010, aimed to support a wide range of sustainable technology-based research and development across Wallonia. With the benefit of three years of experience, the project has now been rationalized into a more actionable project focused on building sustainable towns, cities and villages: In January 2013, the newly rebranded “Futurocité” was born.

In January 2010, the Euro Green IT Center in Mons was launched by the Walloon government, IBM and Cisco, with the aim of creating a center of expertise at the intersection of ICT and urban development.

“Euro Green IT was designed to support and drive the development of a more sustainable economy in Wallonia,” explains Frank Butstraen, CEO of what would eventually become the “Futurocité” project. “Its goals were wide-ranging: to inform the region’s people about energy consumption and CO2 footprints, acclimatize them to alternatives, and then run projects that brought improvements in sustainability.”

The birth of Futurocité
Three years in, the project has now found itself with a reboot. “At the end of 2012, we realized we needed to put our resources into the areas that now offered the most potential for impact and growth,” he explains.

Out of this came a new strategy – to stimulate economic growth and technological innovation in Wallonia by speeding up the development of Smarter Cities and Smarter Villages – and a new name: Futurocité. “We settled on Smarter Cities because it has become such a major agenda item since Euro Green IT launched. Plus, Smarter Cities is a huge competence area for IBM, which had been asked by the Walloon government to take a more leading role in the revamped initiative.”

Futurocité’s new aims are already big: On technological innovation, it has committed to creating awareness of Smarter Cities’ potential in all Wallonia’s cities and to have launched concrete initiatives in its 40 biggest cities within the next three years.

On the economic front, its goal is to create a Smarter Cities market worth €100 million – through training, the creation of 20 new start-ups, and by widening the activities of existing businesses. “Our final goal is to create or maintain 200 jobs in Smarter Cities over those three years as well,” says Butstraen. “So we’re aiming at real, concrete and significant change.”

Bringing the public and private together
Futurocité is clear that its greatest leverage lies in bridging the distance between the public and the private worlds. “Through Euro Green IT, everyone learned what it takes to drive a public-private partnership. The rules of public bidding are fairly strict in government administration, for example. So learning how public and private institutions could collaborate without conflicting with those rules was the really big takeaway.”

The most profitable role for Futurocité now will be to sit in the middle of those partnerships and become an enabler. “Futurocité will enable private companies to coach governments to write RFPs themselves such that these sustainability ideas become real, concrete actions.”

It is early days, but the signs are good: “Someone from the Liege government recently told me that their City Management team has 800 buildings to oversee, but very few resources to calculate their energy efficiency nor the expertise to improve it. We’re going to help them find an approach to gaining the concrete data and visibility on the issue that they need.”

Another early adopter is Mons – Europe’s “City of Culture” in 2015. “Other cities in the same role have suddenly had 3,000-5,000 visitors a day and 100,000 attendees at events. For Mons, that might double the whole population overnight! So we are working with them on how to navigate these potential mobility nightmares by drawing on the proven solutions and research capabilities of private companies in the region. And that’s how we can really change life in Wallonia – by bringing the excellence of major companies to bear on the needs of those in public service. Because Futurocité is not going to be a selling organization; we will be a neutral bridge between two disparate worlds.

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