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Herne is on the way to becoming a Smart City

People in conversation, mayor stands in the middle and talks to interested citizen

Constructive exchange between the Lord Mayor Dr. Frank Dudda and citizens, citizens and businesses in the course of the strategy phase. Photo: City of Herne, Frank Dieper, Thomas Schmidt

In the middle of North Rhine-Westphalia, between Essen, Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen, lies Herne - a municipality that, at first glance, does not appear to be sufficiently located on the map in terms of smart cities. But a second look is worthwhile. Because: "We have already taken numerous steps to make the city future-proof," says Pierre Golz, Managing Director of Herne.Digital GmbH. Two years ago, the city decided to found the GmbH "in order to create a single point of contact for the group and the city administration in matters of data platforms, sensor technology and sensor networks as well as open source applications", says Golz.

But already in 2018, the broad strategy process towards a smart city started under Mayor Dr. Frank Dudda. The result is the future impulse Herne 2025 - "The background to this is that digitalization is now affecting all areas of our lives, both private and professional. The city administration of Herne is taking an active steering role on the path of digitalization. Building on this, we have developed the Digital Strategy 2030+ in a two-year process, in which important strategic and operational decisions were made by politicians in September," says Golz. "Digitization will inevitably be a next pillar of services of general interest in the long term."

On course for a smart city in terms of personnel and structure

In order to send a clear signal in the direction of smart city development, Mayor Dr. Frank Dudda set up the Digitalization Unit in 2018. Since February of this year, the city has even had its own department for digitalization with over 80 employees. Here, the topics of e-government, register modernization and smart city are thought out and advanced holistically from a single source within the administration. Connected to this is the so-called digital advisory board, which consists of all strategic units of the "group" city of Herne and has around 40 members. Every municipal unit and company is to be involved in the topic of digitalization. Finally, Herne.Digital GmbH is the head of the whole, a contact for all topics related to digitalization. Together with the association IDEASFORUM e.V., the GmbH has opened a FIWARE Innovation Hub of the European Commission. This is one of the few innovation hubs funded by the EU to drive the adoption of open-source platforms.

Herne also has an online service portal where citizens can access more than 200 services digitally - from registration certificates to dog tax to official medical examinations. Numerous data silos have been broken up in the last five years and digital twins have been created, says Golz. The smart city data platform is thus the future data hub for the city group, which aggregates, standardizes and distributes smart city data. BSI-compliant data transfers are now also possible here. Herne is also involved in the development of future DIN standards at the Fraunhofer together with Munich and Münster, for example.

The digital benefits for citizens and tourists are also very practical in the Herne app. This is where citizen services, news, information on buses and trains or even events come together.

The city has also implemented initial projects in the areas of gas grids, electricity grids and smart parking. Together with RWTH Aachen University, Stadtwerke Herne has launched the "SeGuRo - Secure Grids" project. At its core, the project aims to promote so-called energy tracking. The climate district of Stadtwerke Herne is a real laboratory and is not only to measure, but also to actively control the networks and components around the topic of energy. Energy consumption in Herne is to be optimized and reduced in this way in order to achieve Mission Zero 2050, says Golz.

And the field of artificial intelligence is not being ignored in Herne either. Three pilot projects are currently underway in the city:

  • AI for road condition recording with the help of tracking of municipal vehicles, combined with damage reports from excitation management.
  • AI for investment cost planning as the first innovation partnership in Germany
  • Herne is part of the EU funding "BeOpenAI" on the topic of High-Availability Data Sets to ensure AI use. Here, Herne is working with cities such as Athens, Naples, Porto and Vilnius to develop and define High-Availability Datasets to prepare for AI use.

On the technical side, Herne and Herne.Digital GmbH rely on FIWARE technology, such as the so-called Orion Context-Broker, to map and structure the Smart City area. To work with various sensors in the city, there is an "Active Directory" from an international partnership as well as some in-house developments. To ensure that all the collected data can be transmitted securely, Herne, like many other smart cities, relies on LoRaWAN in addition to the usual WLAN.

"Digitisation is a marathon not a sprint".

One of the most important insights for Pierre Golz after many years of development work: digitization is a marathon and not a sprint: "In this process, we always pay attention to the long-term preservation of digital sovereignty, the use of Open Source and Open Code. The new type of networking leads to constant impulses and continuous improvement processes with simultaneous know-how acquisition by citizens and companies. Because you can digitize a lot, but the question of the benefits and the willingness to teach the application takes time."

Golz himself was surprised at how much the people and companies in Herne want to participate: "Everyone gets involved, wants to be taken along, tests, gives feedback in order to improve together. We didn't expect it to be this strong, even in this way. Through our pillar of digital education, skepticism has thus changed into a culture of trying things out, giving feedback and developing ourselves."

Digital benefits for every target group

To ensure that no one is left behind in this fast pace of digital development, Herne works closely with the local education networks and involves politics, social actors and the Adult Education Centre, says Golz: "However, this is only possible if not only the affinity for technology is increased, but also if there is a concrete benefit for this target group. Here, completely new offers are also emerging in the neighborhoods. In addition, we are working on so-called digital pilots in the neighborhoods so that young people can teach older people and vice versa. In 2024, there will also be further structural offers and places of learning.

Digital Strategy 2030 and then?

A first major milestone will be reached in 2030. By then, the digital strategy - "Smart People City Herne - Digital Strategy 2030+" will have been defined. Then the city will take stock, and necessary adjustments will be continuously checked while controlling. However, this will not be the end of the "Smart City" project: "Since it can be assumed that the digital provision of services of general interest will be maintained and is part of the responsibility of the public sector, we assume that its importance will continue to increase over the years and look forward to developing the follow-up strategy together," says Golz.

  • Even more information from the Smart City Herne and Herne.Digital GmbH will be available on November 8 at the Smart Country Convention: Pierre Golz will report on Smart Cities in practice at 3 p.m. on the Arena Stage in hub27.

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