Amid conflict in Ukraine, Lviv teams up with Microsoft to help businesses, tourism and make a better place to live with e-governance portal and the cloud
For many international observers used to images of the unrest and violence afflicting the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, it might seem an odd time for one local authority in the country to be launching an IT project it hopes will make governance easier and boost tourism.
The city of Lviv, located close to the Polish border in the west of Ukraine, is working with Microsoft on a number of education, administration and communication projects that authorities hope will improve the quality of life for citizens, enhance the visitor experience and save money.
“Despite the situation in Ukraine at present, and the general lack of IT infrastructure in our cities, working with Microsoft and its partners we have been able to realize an ambitious project that is improving the lives of citizens and visitors,” Lviv City Council told TechWeekEurope.
The main component of this project is a centralised portal based on the Azure platform. It launched in March 2015 and will eventually be used for the publication of the city’s budget, local government projects and other information to improve transparency and help local businesses.
But for now, it is being used for tourism – a top priority for the city’s ongoing development. Lviv was one of the host venues for the 2012 European football championships and the number of visitors has increased from 900,000 in 2010 to 1.7 million in 2014.
The system contains more than 60,000 requests to tourist information centres over the past four years, making it easy to analyse visitor flows and other factors. Automatic reports and graphics can be built, allowing organisations to predict and prepare for peaks in popularity, such as Christmas, or to compare visitor numbers from one year to the next.
Currently, the portal is only available to Lviv City Council employees, but the plan is to open it up soon.
“The next step is to make the service available externally for businesses, citizens and city visitors,” said Nadiia Vasylieva, Ukraine general manager for Microsoft. “For example, owners of restaurants will soon be able to access analysis of tourism industry data, enabling them to make informed decisions regarding how they run their business. This could mean changing their opening hours or the languages they choose to use for their menus.”
Microsoft says Lviv civil servants have so far saved 55 days’ worth of time thanks to the faster and more accurate reporting process facilitated by Azure, while the government has been able to save money on equipment and software licences.
“We are already seeing results from applying the Azure system to tourism and we are excited to see what it can do in other areas,” said the council. “The scalability of the solution means that taking this step-by-step approach is easy and effective. What’s more, it means we can also share it with other cities – one other Ukrainian city has already enquired about the possibility of sharing Lviv’s Azure resources on the basis of early results.
“We’re looking forward to realizing additional benefits once we expand its use beyond the tourist sector.”
The next step is to expand the portal to other areas of governance, allowing the city to gain insights from data to influence other civic decisions. It is hoped this will improve the business climate, attract investment and make Lviv a better place to live, even at a time of great political uncertainty in Ukraine.
Microsoft says its ‘CityNext’ platform has the capability to modernise “nearly every part” of a metropolitan environment with scalable and customisable technologies. Future projects include cloud based communication channels, education projects and IT training for civil servants.
“Overall, in light of urbanization growth and the limited resources, the Microsoft solution has helped Lviv city to do more with less,” claimed Vasylieva.
Is it secure?
But given the current climate in Ukraine, and the reported use of cyberwarfare in the ongoing conflict, there are inevitable questions about security. If technology is going to be used to perform more tasks and handle more data, citizens need to be assured there are measures in place.
“Of course, when deploying next generation eGovernment projects it’s essential the right security provisions are in place so that systems and data are protected against potential malware issues,” explained Vasylieva. “In the case of L’viv, the portal is running on the Azure cloud platform and, as such, benefits from Microsoft’s relentless commitment to ensuring security for our cloud customers, offering five layers of protection: data, application, host, network and physical.
“In addition, we proactively monitor to identify potential unknown threats by predicting malicious behaviour and monitoring for irregular events that may indicate threats. To further mitigate risk, access to production servers is restricted to a small number of identifiable operations personnel. What’s more, we are continually expanding encryption across all services to provide the best solutions for data in transit between a user and the platform or service.
“The bottom-line is that our customers typically benefit from enhanced measures of security when they move from on premise solutions to our cloud.”
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