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Smart Cities: Technology meets next gen infrastructure for a truly predictive citizen-centric approach

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Technology is significantly changing the way people perceive and experience life and digitisation presents a powerful opportunity to enhance how they live within cities. As a result, governments and city officials are building ‘Smart Cities’ by leveraging the latest technologies supported by next-generation scalable and adaptable city-wide infrastructure to better engage with their constituents or citizens. Success in Smart City development, however, demands a phased, holistic, citizen-centric approach. By facilitating the creation of Smart Cities, which use advanced infrastructure and digital solutions to deliver services, technology can help policymakers address the economic, social, and environmental challenges of urbanisation. Smart Cities make digital technology, networks, and apps a central part of operations and constituent interactions.

Such advanced technology-enabled projects are moving ahead around the world. In the Netherlands, for example, data analysis is helping to predict floods, avoid water shortages, and reduce water management costs by 15 per cent. In India, real-time adaptive traffic control systems are resulting in a 12 percent reduction in average traffic time. In South Korea, smart technologies are enabling waste management, remote healthcare, and interactive learning as an initial slate of services. In the UAE, the Dubai Smart City Vision aims to create a city where all its resources are optimised for maximum efficiency, and everyday services are integrated seamlessly into daily life, thus creating a more connected, sustainable life and business experience possible for all.

Dubai Plan 2021 prioritises innovation as the key driver of the economy across all sectors. It further highlights “The Place” as one of six core themes with the aim to achieve a smart and sustainability city. Making this a reality and allowing for the full transformation to this state, however, requires advancement and realisation of certain essential elements. Booz Allen Hamilton has identified these as – an engaged citizen; smart services; next generation infrastructure; and digital foundational enablers.  An engaged citizen: Smart Cities engage citizens or residents through multiple channels: TVs, smartphones, tablets, wearable devices, and future technologies and access points yet to be imagined and developed. For these channels to be effective, people need to be aware of services and comfortable using the technology. An engaged citizen is necessary for “mass” usage and uptake of Smart Services and for ensuring engagement with a smart city.

Smart services: Smart services transcend services provided by city governments to encompass services also provided by the private sector. Not all smart services, however, are created equal, and each will have different degrees of “Smartness”. The lowest degree of service smartness is the “Connected Service” whereby Services are connected to the Internet and available to end-users anytime, anyplace. Taking it up a notch, the “Integrated Service” is integrated with various systems and relayed to a centralised command and control center, enabling seamless communication and flow of information (e.g. a centralised disaster notification system that integrates emergency communications and responses across safety/security agencies).

The next degree of smartness is the “Personalised Service” which is customised and delivered to citizens, residents, or tourists based on their characteristics, historical preferences, location, consumption habits, etc. The ultimate smart service is the “Predictive Service” which is proactively delivered to citizens, residents, or tourists by forecasting their needs based on hard field intelligence (predictive analytics) allowing for preemption, preparedness and/or precaution. Next gen infrastructure: In order to instill a superior quality of life to a city’s citizens, residents, or tourists, the city’s next generation infrastructure should be based on open data and predictive data analytics. Smart analytics platforms covering big data analytics, predictive and decision analytics are critical for superior customer experience in a city.

Of critical importance as well is a smart infrastructure covering sensor and M2M networks around the city, ultra high – speed connectivity, and convergence platforms to ensure that Smart Services are seamlessly accessed and properly integrated to deliver a holistic service, irrespective of which public or private sector entity is providing the service. Digital foundational enablers: The foundation of a comprehensive smart city digital ecosystem hinges upon eight key enablers, covering: governance, open government and analytics, innovation and entrepreneurship, e-literacy, cyber security, policies and standards, private-public partnerships, strategic communications and usage incentive mechanisms. These enablers ensure sustainability and advancement of smart city services and offerings.

Using the above stated essential elements as a reference, it is clear that GCC countries are in the lead towards the transformation towards smart cities, especially with the UAE (Emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi), KSA (Riyadh) and Qatar (Doha) advancing their agendas in recent time.  However, there is still one area where the MENA region is lagging behind – and this is in data science capabilities. So far, this is still scarce and depends to a large extent on importing know-how from either Europe or the US. More is needed to nurture, groom and grow data scientists in the region. Most organisations are still unclear about the value data analytics can bring, and are reluctant to start engaging in any sort of analytics program.

To overcome this challenge, it is essential for organisations, be they in the public or private sector, to work towards developing and nurturing a truly data-driven culture. To capitalise on the power of citizen or customer analytics, organisations need to place innovation, analytics and citizen– or customer-centricity at the core of their corporate culture. A stronger and more effective digital economy will be a cornerstone of regional economic growth and development for the future. In a region where approximately 60 per cent of the population is under the age of 25 and increasingly tech savvy, we already have an enormous number of people who have a powerful online and digital mindset. And in a region where oil-dominated economies are now actively diversifying, embracing the digital age will prove a powerful driver of growth – a driver that can only become more effective with the right regional capabilities developed, particularly in the data analytics domain.

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