An interview with Ergys Dema, start-up mobile applications expert

Rome’s second Smartathon is only days away. During the event, which will take place on 24 November 2017, residents from the Eternal City will have the chance to test out the prototype of the smarticipate platform, trialling the app for the first time. Ergys Dema, a web developer and start-up manager, took part in the first Smartathon and has been designated as a “smart implementer” – an IT expert that will help to refine the smarticipate platform.

Ergys, a resident of Rome who likes the city “imperfections and all”, will also take part in the second Smartathon. He sees smarticipate as a way for the city to put citizens at the heart of the decision-making process.

“I think that the council has made numerous attempts, but still struggles to successfully involve citizens. Personally, I have to say that I have had several interactions with the council,” says Ergys.

He did not have high expectations when entering the first Smartathon, which took place on 21 January 2017 at Casa della Cittá, but at the end of the day left satisfied.

“The Smartathon differs from other events because it is based on building something real. When the app is finally available, citizens will have tangible proof of where this jointly undertaken journey has led,” says Ergys.

“When I arrived in Casa della Cittá, there were posters about the app on billboards, as well as information explaining the work to be undertaken during the day. We then received several presentations from the project members and the City of Rome outlining the smarticipate platform. We formed teams composed of several participants and a team leader (which I was selected to be), who then discussed what was presented. At the end of the Smartathon, each team presented the strengths and weaknesses, as they perceived them, of creating the smarticipate app. There was a lot of interesting feedback.”

While positive about the smarticipate project, which he calls “innovative and ambitious”, he has concerns about the long term viability of smarticipate:

“I think the smarticipate platform is something very positive and a good idea, something realistic with a high chance of success. However, technology is constantly changing, unfortunately or fortunately, and I think it would be better to focus on a website rather than an app since the future trends go in that direction. The market for apps is saturated and I hope the project will involve a website because the app alone will not make a difference – I am certain of it.

“Moreover, we will have to see if there is any kind of clash with territorial or governmental policies when it comes to collecting open data.”

Perhaps the most significant challenge is getting the word out about smarticipate to residents within Rome. Creating a valuable app is a pointless exercise without real world users.

“The issue of dissemination should not be overlooked,” says Ergys. “I firmly believe that there is a need for good promotion to inform citizens about the project. In addition, we cannot underestimate how important it is for keywords to appear in the various search portals. Search Engine Optimisation is a key success factor.

“It would be a shame that such a project would not go on to gather a high-level of attention.”

As for the second Smartathon, Ergys says that similar to the smarticipate app itself he has “high expectations”.