We live in a changing world, where megatrends such as population growth and rapid urbanisation mean cities are increasingly competing with each other to attract trade, capital and human talent. At the same time, cities are confronting an increasing array of challenges from congestion and overcrowding, to tackling security concerns, as well as rising energy demands. These trends are driving investment in smart technology, as savvy governments and municipalities seek to create highly livable, productive cities that the world’s best talent want to call home.
With global smart city technology spending anticipated to hit $80bn this year, growing to $135bn by 20211, the drive to succeed is tangible. Connectivity is at the core of the modern world, and sustained investment coupled with the evolution of big data, analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) is having a transformative effect on smart city initiatives here in the Middle East, and around the world.
A big driver of this competitive edge is data and real-time information sharing through cloud technology, which helps create high-value actionable insights, improves city operations, increases the quality of life for residents, and facilitates economic growth.
There are many ways to achieve ‘smart’ outcomes for a city. Regional governments are leveraging the power of IoT and data-driven insights to address disparate challenges, which can be considered in three main categories: sustainability, safety, and productivity outcomes.
Cities already consume a staggering 80% of all energy produced globally2, and electricity demand in the Middle East is set to double by 20403, led by rapid growth in GCC states. To address this challenge, IoT-fueled technology delivers real value to achieve some of the ambitious sustainability and energy efficiency objectives outlined by regional governments – such as UAE Vision 2021 or Saudi Vision 2030. This includes championing smart and energy efficient buildings, and promoting sustainable urban and economic development.
For example, lighting alone can account for an average of 30% to 40% of municipal electricity budgets4. To remedy this, IoT-enabled intelligent street lighting systems in various cities are dimmed automatically in parking lots, pathways and public venues when they aren’t occupied. This sustainable, data-driven functionality can be linked to several inputs, including in response to traffic volume, time of night, special events or the presence of pedestrian crossings. Using sensors, dimmers and a data management platform, it is possible to remotely manage a city’s lighting in a sustainable way, and reduce expenditure substantially at the same time.
In Dubai, data from smart metering and smart grid projects is helping consumers across the board better understand and control their energy consumption, reduce their usage and manage costs. The smart grid is a key component of the strategy to develop advanced infrastructure to support Dubai’s growth ambitions, as well as its efforts to become a sustainable and happy city. Similar projects are beginning to take shape in other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
To attract the necessary talent and investment for economic growth, cities need to be safe and secure environments that promote a high quality of life. Many Middle Eastern cities are using city-wide data from cameras, sensors and even drone technology to power advanced software-based IoT technologies. These include video and predictive analytics, license plate recognition, GPS-based asset tracking and monitoring, thermal imaging, along with crowd monitoring and database-linked facial recognition systems.
At airports, shopping malls, hotels, on the roads and in public buildings, data from these technologies enable smart command and control centres where city authorities can monitor activity, boost security and maintain order in real-time. Through IoT and data analytics platforms, these systems help solve many daily municipal problems such as illegal parking and lost vehicle identification, while promoting pedestrian safety and crime prevention. Robust cybersecurity systems are also operated across networks to add to the safety aspect, protecting government entities and critical infrastructure facilities from malicious attacks and data leaks.
A city cannot be considered smart if residents don’t feel safe, and many Middle Eastern cities successfully maintain low crime rates by leveraging cutting-edge IoT technology. By using data, city officials gain access to an incredible wealth of insights that act as a deterrent to would-be criminals, while allowing faster responses to public safety and cybersecurity incidents.
Smart cities are also engines of productivity and economic activity, helping residents accomplish more in less time by leveraging technology to create value. Robust web-platforms are already in place to streamline ‘smart’ government and commercial processes and procedures, helping us save time through e-services for identity management procedures, permits, renewals, licenses and bill payments, amongst many other services.
Moving forward, IoT connectivity will help us save more time by creating efficiencies in areas like healthcare and transportation. Connected health and telemedicine services are leveraging wearable sensors and cloud-based medical records to remotely relay data from patients to doctors. This helps patients manage their medical conditions without long commutes, time spent in waiting rooms or the need for hospitalisation.
In transportation, city-wide data from cameras, sensors and drone platforms are providing city planners with the data needed to reduce transit times. By optimising transport systems, commuters can take the shortest possible path between destinations, which also reduces congestion. More intelligent parking systems also save motorists valuable time, using sensors that feed data to smart phone applications to simplify the search for parking. These solutions also promote sustainable outcomes, by reducing fuel consumption and lowering carbon emissions – creating a cleaner environment and happier residents.
Virtuous cycle of prosperity
In the quest for competitive advantages, we will continue to see cities leverage new IoT technologies, and connect countless new devices and sensors to the internet as solutions evolve and improve.
The gradual removal of barriers to data sharing will enable city-wide digital platforms that will help achieve even more sustainable, safe and more productive outcomes. This deluge of data will change the landscape for smart cities, and will lay the stage for the widespread adoption of platforms powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) that deliver automatic data analysis and cognitive abilities that will take IoT and data analytics to the next level.
By fully leveraging data from systems promoting sustainable, safe and productive outcomes, smart cities can evolve and place themselves one step ahead of the competition, creating a virtuous cycle of prosperity that that will sustain a high quality of life, while attracting businesses and investment, and enticing the top talent needed to drive forward industry and innovation.
Thanks to clear government visions and sustained investment, cities in the region are well placed to get smarter by leveraging the power of IoT to increase competitiveness for the benefit of their people and their economies.
1. International Data Corporation (IDC) - Worldwide Semiannual Smart Cities Spending Guide 2018
2. World Bank - Cities and Climate Change: An Urgent Agenda 2017
3. Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) – Environmental & Energy Policies & CO2 Emission 2017
4. Vinci Energies - Public Lighting: Between Economy and Ecology 2017