The City of Antwerp is bringing its services and communication closer to citizens with an innovative app: “This will raise the city’s international profile.”

The Cronos Group will develop and build the innovative city app for the City of Antwerp.

Given the fact that 94 percent of Antwerp’s population own a smartphone today, the City of Antwerp opted in favour of a “mobile first” strategy in its digital transformation, to bring its services closer to people. After an in-depth user survey, development is now in full swing. The app is expected to be launched in autumn 2022. “The city’s ambition is to have 35 percent of the residents using the app by 2024, and as much as 70 percent by 2030. As an Antwerp company through and through, we are particularly committed to this project, working closely with the city to ensure that it is a success,” says Kris Kemland of icapps, the digital product agency that was selected along with Cronos Public Services as the strategic partner for this project.

Today, a great deal of the City of Antwerp’s services and communication already takes place digitally, through the city’s website and e-counter. Most city users (residents, visitors, students, entrepreneurs) have excellent digital skills, the younger generations especially. As a result, they make extensive use of the city’s online services.

To improve inclusion and increase digital literacy, the City of Antwerp now wants to bring its services even closer to all of its citizens. Since the majority of the population owns a smartphone today, the City of Antwerp wants to bring the city’s services and experiences closer to all users via a mobile app.

Mobile first

After a thorough preliminary preparation, during which not only the citizens of Antwerp but also an expert panel shared their feedback on the future city app and their expectations of it, the city and its IT partner Digipolis launched a tender in December 2021. The aim was to find a developer and strategic partner capable of transposing all these wishes into a user-friendly app to be used by as many people as possible.

Cronos Public Services and icapps, both subsidiaries of The Cronos Group, were selected as a strategic partner to build and further develop the innovative city app. The Cronos Group is a group of innovative, creative companies that each strives to generate added value for organisations and citizens, starting from their own expertise.

One such company is the digital product agency icapps, which has more than 12 years of experience building apps and other digital products. “With this project, we confirm our commitment to provide support to the City of Antwerp, and by extension the Flemish government, in the further digitalisation of its services,” Dirk Deroost, co-founder of The Cronos Group explains.

Dirk Deroost, co-founder of The Cronos Group (©Jonathan Ramael)

“Most cities tend to focus on their website as part of their digital transformation, starting from there to extend their online services to an app or other mobile application. The City of Antwerp has consciously opted for a ‘mobile first’ strategy, with the mobile app serving as the first digital communication channel. The main reason for this is that 98 percent of Antwerp citizens have an internet connection in their home and 94 percent own a smartphone. So an app can reach the largest group of people. Another advantage is that the app facilitates two-way communication between the city and its users. A website does not offer that type of interaction,” explains Kris Kemland, Managing Partner at icapps.

“Moreover, each municipal department has its own strategy and way of working for reaching its target audience. It is better to concentrate all communication in one app, which will be used by more people as a result.”

Today, 98 percent of Antwerp’s citizens have an internet connection in their home, whereas 94 percent own a smartphone. An app reaches the largest group of people.

At launch, the city app will have a number of functionalities as part of the current services: requesting documents, making appointments, filing notifications (e.g. of illegal dumping) or receiving notifications (e.g. a reminder of your appointment), following up on the status of notifications, etc.

Users will also receive an overview of events in the city and districts and the A-card will also be integrated in it. The residents of Antwerp use this card - which today is still a physical card - to access the city’s various services, in addition to saving points for benefits and discounts.

“Other services and functionalities will be added as part of the continued development, such as communication specifically for entrepreneurs, renting bicycles, borrowing books from the city’s libraries, and so on. In this way the app is intended to make life in the city easier and more pleasant for residents and visitors alike,” Kris Kemland explains.

And because the city app will take certain repetitive jobs off city employee’s hands, they will have more time to provide qualitative service.

70 percent by 2030

The app is scheduled for launch in autumn 2022. The city’s residents can of course still use the website and e-counter, call the city’s call center, or physically go to one of the city counters. The idea, however, is for the new app to become the first communication tool. The city authorities have lofty ambitions: by 2024, 35 percent of the population should be using the app and by 2030, 70 percent. The Cronos Group and icapps therefore have a great responsibility.

“The project was prepared particularly thoroughly, and this is not something we often experience, so congratulations to the City of Antwerp and Digipolis (laughs). One of the great strengths of this project is that all the stakeholders were very closely involved right from the start. We collected a lot of feedback during an extensive user survey, to understand what citizens expect a city app to look like and what they intend to use it for.

“We also participated in many of these panel discussions ourselves. Thanks to all this preparatory work, when we got started on building the app, it went very smoothly. We have a lot of experience developing inclusive apps, for example for clients in the banking and TV sectors. Currently a team of 10 of our employees is working full-time on this project,” Kris Kemland explains.

Kris Kemland, Managing Partner at icapps (©Jonathan Ramael)

Dirk Deroost points to another benefit of working with The Cronos Group: integration. “Cronos Public Services has been a trusted partner of various Flemish government institutions for over 20 years now. We develop, maintain and manage business applications and IT solutions. This means we can easily link the city app to other applications such as Mijn Burgerprofiel. As a result, users will no longer have to enter their data in the app, making it much more user-friendly,” he explains.

In the longer term, the goal is to link the app to other city applications and platforms, such as that of the police and the emergency services, or the entrepreneurs platform.

Because Cronos Public Services is a trusted partner of the Flemish government, we can easily link the city app with other applications such as Mijn Burgerprofiel, increasing ease of use.

International profile

Cronos Public Services and icapps have been asked to build and further develop the app over the coming six years. “For now ,we are focusing on the basic version for launch in November. We began developing it just before summer, so the coming months will be rather busy until the planned launch in November (laughs). But we are already thinking about add-ons and expansions for the future. One idea is to make available a crowd barometer in the app for shopping streets.

“We often look to other countries and cities but we don’t know of any other European city that has made such progress in terms of digital services. We have however seen many interesting developments in Asia, which we have taken on board,” Kris Kemland emphasises.

Kris Kemland and Dirk Deroost are convinced that the city app will raise the City of Antwerp’s international profile even further. “The app will offer significant added value for residents in addition to increasing the city’s appeal for visitors and tourists. As one of the leading app builders on the Belgian market, we are greatly honoured to have been asked to contribute to this project for the city where we are based, in our offices with a view of the MAS museum. We are deeply committed to the successful completion of this ambitious project,” Kris Kemland concludes.