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Schneider Electric exec outlines the future of smart cities in the Gulf

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On April 11, 2017, Schneider Electric inaugurated its annual Innovation Summit at The Atlantis on Palm Jumeirah, bringing together more than 2,500 attendees for the two-day summit that focused on innovations and technologies that cater to the future of energy management, industrial efficiency and environmental sustainability.

With speakers and VIP guests that included HE Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, managing director and CEO of Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA); HE Yasser El Kadi, Minister of Communications and Information Technology for Egypt; Mamdouh Raslan, chairman and CEO, Water and Waste Water Egyptian Holding Company; Osman Sultan, CEO of du; and Dr Badr Al Badr, CEO of Dur Hospitality, the summit was an important platform to discuss and exchange best practices, experience and updates in the development of smart cities and the infrastructure and utilities that power them.

Given that the focus of the Innovation Summit 2017 was on how technology can be used to unlock the economic potential of improving energy efficiency, Big Project ME was keen to speak to Caspar Herzberg, president for Middle East and Africa for Schneider Electric, and one of the world’s most authoritative voices on smart cities.

A speaker of four languages – English, French, Arabic and his native German – Herzberg joined Schneider Electric in April 2016 as senior vice president, Business Development for the Middle East. In July 2016, he moved up to become zone president for Africa and the Caribbean. In his current role, he is president for Middle East, Africa, Turkey, Central Asia and the Caribbean Islands for Schneider Electric.

This comes on the back of a two-decade career with Accenture and Cisco, working across different regions in Europe, China, Africa and the Middle East. Within the technology industry, he is probably best known as one of the founders of Cisco’s Global Smart City business, which makes him the perfect person to speak to about the region’s smart city ambitions.

“The smart city is like a wave that is breaking,” he tells Big Project ME on the sidelines of the summit. “This is no longer an option – something that you can be in or out of, or decide that it’s not for you. It was the introduction of mobility [that changed things].”

“To have that ability to view data on mobile platforms, where you can see your smart grid data, your facility management data, and positively effect outcomes in the energy and building space, when you couldn’t do that before… it is this that underpins the strength of smart cities.”

This change has been a long time coming, Herzberg says, pointing out that governments and people have begun realising that if humanity continues to grow and develop at the current rate, we will not be able to generate the energy we need to power our cities.

“If our energy consumption is going to go up by 80% – which is what we think it will increase by – because we keep building buildings to house people, then we can’t continue to do that. As a company, we’ve been very fortunate to benefit from these trends, and we’re very fortunate to have helped shape these trends under the leadership of our CEO and the likes of Frédéric Abbal, executive vice president of Energy Business at Schneider Electric.

“The focus is on the smart grid and in this region now, specifically, it will continue to grow. You have some cities that are taking off, like Dubai. I think Abu Dhabi is also, in some ways [taking off]. You have a smart city reality here, against which we, as a company, are very well placed to continue to shape the market and provide solutions that bring all the different parts of the business together. That, I believe, is industry leading. I don’t think anyone has this.

“So yes, I’m feeling pretty good about smart cities in the region!”

Having joined the company during a refocus on the Middle East, Herzberg was given a mandate by Schneider Electric to examine and evaluate the potential in the market, then tasked with rebuilding the company’s focus in the Middle East and Africa into one coherent unit within Schneider.

“This is in order for us to invest more in our key growth markets, to benefit from the intra-regional business flows that we see between Gulf investors, builders and developers that work in East Africa or Egypt. There are Turkish contractors everywhere in Africa, they are building airports in Egypt and going into Algeria,” he explains, highlighting that the traditional way of doing things was no longer an option for Schneider.

“We wanted to create, within the company, a powerful region that allows us to represent our market and customers internally. But also, to capture more business than we’ve done to date. We’ve had a great growth story, but now it’s about going to the next level,” he asserts.

To achieve that, Schneider Electric will need to overcome several challenges, but Herzberg states confidently that the company is more than ready to meet the challenge, with the restructuring creating an agile business that can react and adapt to a variety of economic challenges.

“There are different sets of challenges. I think the biggest challenge isn’t technical, but it’s for cities to overcome the different organisational and technical silos that they have – either within a municipality or between the different departments that have to come together.

“This is something that this region is very well placed to overcome. Ultimately, what this region has is strong leadership and strong leaders that care about their cities and want to make them smart. They are going to be able to generate the right level of support, at the right levels of the business community, and of course the public sector. That’s where I think this region is special and that’s why it’s leapfrogging other parts of the world,” he explains.

One of the major technical challenges facing Schneider and other smart technology providers is making different systems work together. This is no simple issue; interoperability challenges, data challenges and legacy challenges all have to be addressed along the chain, often repeatedly.

Herzberg points out that companies like Schneider need to provide an integrated but open architecture and value proposition, which allows clients the ability to take different parts of one system and mix them with other systems, while still have everything fit together nicely.

“In simple layman’s terms, what we’re providing is a fully integrated architecture, all the way from the plug through to the smart building and all the way to the medium voltage, and then ultimately to the point where energy gets generated. I think that’s very attractive for everyone – for people who want to go greenfield and start something new, or for people who want to replace parts of systems. They can do that, safe in the knowledge that these components will fit very well.”

“Moving forward, what we’ll also be doing is providing the software layer, the application layer that allows you to take the data and harness it by turning it into services for end customers, turning it into value for the people living in a city. This comprehensive end-to-end approach is what is needed, I think.”

The use of data to benefit the end user is a topic of personal interest to Herzberg, who tells Big Project ME that the future cities of the world will be built using big data. Companies, developers and urban planners will need to learn how to harness this data and create a digital infrastructure that will support the aims and achievements of a modern-day smart city, he asserts.

“If I take the example of predictive maintenance. This is a huge part of enabling the efficiency of buildings. When you’re able to predict when stuff needs to be changed or maintained, [that makes a huge difference]. I think a significant part of energy efficiency comes from not just using less energy, but also by reducing the cost of operating machinery within a building.

“We had the chairman of Egyptian Water and Wastewater Authority here at the Innovation Summit this morning, talking about the massive challenge that they have in Egypt, and how, by using telemetry, they’re able to overcome it. It’s these kinds of solutions, these kind of usage data, that allows the very practical application of using data to make cities a better place.”

With his presence required back at the summit, Herzberg prepares to wrap up the interview, but before he goes, he is keen to point out that the strong turnout at the Innovation Summit 2017 reflects how deeply committed the UAE construction and infrastructure development industry is to the smart city concept.

“Schneider Electric prides itself, rightly I believe, in being a good partner and a good advisor to our customers and to the public sector. Generally, we’re someone you can come to, to discuss what you’re going to do next.

“We’re in this big region where a lot of people want to come together to discuss the trends that are affecting the region, they want to learn from each other and find ways of doing business with each other, and they want to see what the future trends are. This is a forum for senior people, people at the business execution level, and also junior people – the minds of tomorrow – to come together,” he concludes.

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