Gencho Kerezov was Chosen for Innovator of the Week by the Bloomberg Philanthropies

10 December, 2021

The global network of cities of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Foundation named Gencho Kerezov, Sofia’s deputy mayor for digitalization, Innovator of the week. Kerezov is also one of the 52 global leaders this year to be recognized by the global network for innovation in Sofia’s governance.

We publish a translation of the special material that Bloomberg made on the case. The original source can be found here.

When Gencho Kerezov took over as Sofia’s deputy mayor in charge of digital transformation last year, he set out to find how many people use the city’s electronic services. Unfortunately, the answer was not many. In the first six months of 2020, there were 71 services that were used less than 400 times in a city of nearly 2 million inhabitants.

“We did have digital services, but nobody was using them”, Kerezov said. “They are not built in a way that a user can use them without difficulty. Their architecture is unnecessarily complicated. The team of Digitalization, Innovation and Economic Development, led by Deputy Mayor Kerezov, is personally taking on the challenge to change this.

Participation in the Bloomberg Philanthropies Digital Innovation Initiative in Europe provides a good place to start change. The project in which Sofia Municipality participates is electronic change of address registration.

The first step towards the realization of the project is the acquaintance with the users themselves. The team interviewed over 100 property owners, tenants, students and others who have used the old system. Data was collected on steps confusing the user and complaints about lost time because they had to physically go to the municipal services to sign documents. What people are sharing is that they want a clearer process that can take place without unnecessary steps.

The team of Innovative Sofia has built a new way to achieve just that with the help of a smartphone. The big breakthrough includes finding the only provider whose digital signature verification technology complies with the current Bulgarian legislation. Users only need to scan their identity and show their face on the phone’s camera so that the mayor’s office can confirm their identity. The municipal council is supporting the effort by eliminating a small administrative fee that consumers typically have to pay for this transaction. “It really saves a lot of time for citizens so that they don’t have to enter their credit card details, etc.,” Kerezov said.

The city is testing the new process first in several neighborhoods and the uptake is substantial. In just two weeks and only for the Studentski district, more electronic applications have been made than in the entire municipality since 2015. This means that in 6 years the requests made are less than the ones made in the last 14 days – something that clearly shows how great the need was for the service to be digitized. In just a few months, a quarter of all registrations in these areas were completed digitally. Kerezov hopes to use this momentum not only to expand the address service to the rest of the city, but also to completely upgrade other digital services in the city. “We need to make these services user-oriented, with a design that is very simple, elegant and straightforward,” says Kerezov. “We need to make it easy to use so that it’s actually a pleasure to get what you need from the smart city.”

Gencho Kerezov also shares: “You have to be really relentless when doing a transformation project. Everyone likes change, but no one likes to change”.