Is Westminster Setting a New Smart City Benchmark?
MyWestminster portal is the most recent element of Westminster City Council’s smart city initiative. Housing Industry Leaders investigates Westminster’s smart city and looks at how it will benefit the people of Westminster and beyond.

The portal aims to utilise technology, drive innovation, and help achieve net-zero carbon targets. It offers residents a faster and easier way to access Westminster’s services such as libraries and City Save offers.

As part of improvements to the MyWestminster account, the MyWestminster Digital Card has been launched. Using Apple Wallet and Google Pay, the card can be downloaded and prevents the need for physical cards.

Aruj Haider, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at Westminster City Council

Westminster Aims To Be An Inclusive City

Housing Industry Leaders sat down with Aruj Haider, Chief Digital, and Innovation Officer at Westminster City Council, who described Westminster’s personality on smart cities as “being an inclusive city.”

Explaining how Westminster’s smart city initiative was created through research, Aruj said: “We spoke to cities across the world – Barcelona, Amsterdam, New York, but also local – London, UK as well.

“Also, we looked at other sectors. We took our inspiration because everyone is different, and we wanted to see what works best for Westminster. We also spoke to our residents in different forms of communities.”

From this research, Westminster Council was able to understand the outcomes and what their residents not just want but need. Aruj explained that through research, technology has shown to be important. However it is key to Westminster that technology is used for a specific reason: “We don’t want to be tech for tech sake, we really want to think about our citizens at the heart of everything we do, and then bring in considered technology.”

The Digital Card Will Benefit The People Of Westminster

One of the main themes in the smart city programme is Extraordinary Experiences and technology plays an important role. With the launch of the digital card, Westminster hopes that anyone who works, lives, or visits the city, will be provided with an extraordinary place and that it will be unique for everyone. Aruj described the digital card as a “one-stop-shop for how you access all of the council services.”

To begin with, the digital card features library services and City Save offers, and then features such as leisure and parking will be introduced: “Our vision is that all of our council services will be in it – be it leisure, swimming pools, gyms, parking, housing, food waste, whatever it is.

We want to bring it all together in the same single place, all through your digital card. You don’t need to carry multiple physical cards.

Another element of Extraordinary Experiences is through attracting and engaging both visitors and residents through fun activities. Aruj said that the core focus of Extraordinary Experiences comes down to how a unique experience can be created for every person in Westminster: “How can we create that extraordinary place for them and an extraordinary that is unique to everyone. That is where the inclusive element comes in.”

Being a smart city means that we need to understand the needs of our residents and reach out to them. Aruj Haider, chief digital and innovation officer at Westminster City Council.

Using The Digital Card Will Save People Time

Aruj continued to explain that there is plenty of data that the council have on their residents and through working on the digital card, Westminster Council has learned a lot. Using this existing data means that people don’t have to fill in multiple application forms. Therefore, it makes filling in information much faster and more efficient for people.

She said: “We have tried to use the existing data we hold on our customers, at the moment to access all of these services, they have to fill in multiple application forms. So, we first of all are trying to remove that filling of any information.

Let’s learn from the data that we already have, that makes it easier for them. Once they have done it, we validate that information and that’s it.

It Is Essential That The Needs Of Residents Are Understood

To Westminster, empowering people is essential and is all about how they make sure their communities, whether that be social care, children, or young people feel supported.

Aruj expressed how it is key that these communities can access enough information as soon as they need to: “They are not reliant on us, so they can just get on with it themselves, they have enough information to access it the right way.”

As part of empowering people, the council created the Westminster Innovation Challenge: “Typically, with these kinds of things, there is a start and an end, but this is a never-ending thing for us and there was a lot of pre-engagement done because we wanted to reach all of our diverse communities.

You know that Westminster is so diverse. We have got some of the least deprived areas like Hyde Park, but some of the most deprived across the country like Church Street. I don’t think people realise that.

Being a smart city, it is essential that the council understands the needs of their residents and reach out to them. As part of this challenge, Westminster Council has done a lot of engagement by heading out to their communities and using their digital ambassadors to reach out to the vulnerable.

Through the process, Aruj continued to explain that the council received almost 200 ideas and the winner would see their idea become a reality but will continue to engage with the rest of the ideas.

Westminster’s smart city and the launch of the digital card, ensure that those who live and visit the city feel more connected and show that Westminster is setting a new smart city benchmark.