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A smart city is driven by a single view of the customer

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As urbanisation increases, the rising population figures place greater pressure on the successful management of cities. It is for this reason that the concept of the ‘smart city’ is rapidly shifting from merely being a talked about future concept to one that is becoming a critical necessity. South Africa is one of the continent’s leaders when it comes to smart city technology, with several of the nation’s metros putting into operation various types of solutions that play into the smart city concept.

According to Kroshlen Moodley, GM for Public Sector at SAS South Africa, any move towards a smart city is good, but for municipalities to truly be successful in implementing this, they have to be able to obtain a single view of the citizen. This entails not only understanding who each citizen is, but also what services they consume and what devices they use to do this.”To obtain this single view, municipalities need to embrace citizen intelligence in the same way that the financial services sector has. Banks, of course, use advanced analytics to understand everything they can about their customer, in order to not only communicate with them more effectively, but also to deliver targeted services to them,” he says.

“Municipalities should be doing a similar thing – if they can obtain a single view of their citizens, they will be able to foster two-way communication, which is the foundation of creating a smart city. Such two-way communication would include, for example, targeting people who are behind on their electricity and water payments to help the city with its debt issues. Or it could communicate with citizens in specific areas about limiting their electricity use at specific times, to more easily manage strain on the grid.” Of course, continues Moodley, a municipality can only foster this type of communication when it knows exactly which citizens to talk to. To achieve goals like reducing electricity consumption at the relevant times or eliminating water wastage, it needs to be able to target the right people, in the right place and deliver the right message, he explains.

“At the same time, for a city to truly be considered ‘smart’, it also needs to foster citizen to government communications, by providing the right apps – some of which have already been introduced, to be fair – to enable residents to communicate with their municipality around issues like burst water mains, potholes and out of order traffic lights.” “Where analytics comes into the picture is that it will enable government to take things to the next level, by analysing data received from water and electricity meters, for example, to better understand consumption and usage patterns. This will enable the more effective management of such resources.”

As the Internet of things (IOT) becomes more prevalent, and more sensors deliver an increasing amount of data, so municipalities could use this information to better understand patterns of usage. This, in turn, would allow them to offer incentive-based tariffs to encourage citizens to structure their electricity use around off-peak times. This will not only make their lives easier by reducing strain on the grid, but also enable residents to better manage their own expenses and consumption. “Analytics can also play a key role in helping government to look after its infrastructure more effectively. Parsing data collected from sensors attached to water and electrical equipment would allow those in charge to more effectively predict when failures might occur. Therefore, they would be able to predictively schedule maintenance so that problems can be fixed before the infrastructure actually fails. At the same time, because the downtime is properly scheduled, citizens are not caught unaware, and thus there will be no ill feeling towards the council of the type that might occur if residents unexpectedly found themselves without water or power.”

Moodley indicates these are just some examples of the benefits of a truly smart city, adding the caveat that all of the above begins with crafting a single view of the customer, since the more that is known about each citizen, the easier it becomes to deliver these kinds of smart services. “A true smart city is one that is built around partnerships. It’s about the citizens and the municipality constantly collaborating in a seamless environment. Analytics and a single view of the customer will be what fosters such collaboration, although for this to truly succeed, change will also be required. Change on the part of government, where it moves from its highly regulated mind-set to more open ways of communication, and change on the part of residents, who need to become more active in how they collaborate with their municipalities,” he concludes.

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