Embracing Smart City Innovation
In research studies from IHS and Frost & Sullivan, it’s suggested that by 2025 approximately half of the world’s smart cities will be located outside of America and Europe, the advantaged territories that currently boast the highest concentration. Already well on its way, the Middle East has seen the development of its own smart cities as Tel Aviv delivers personalized city services to its citizens through its data analytics program Digi-tel, and Dubai aims to be the world’s smartest city by 2017.
Smart Cities a Necessity in the Middle East
By 2050, it’s expected that populations in the Middle East will double and urbanization rates may reach 70%. With Gulf countries already urbanized above 80%, infrastructure congestion is problematic, and governments are looking for ways to better manage transport, water, and energy service use. Smart cities, therefore, provide an attraction both through the enthusiasm for technological advancement as well as the possibilities for better urban management. Already the World Expo and World Cup to be held in 2020 and 2022 respectively are motivating hosts UAE and Qatar to advance their cities’ developments, though the risk of rushed tasks could mean inadequate Big Data implementations.
Developing Smart City Solutions
Dr. Elie Chachoua, tackling the logistics of smart cities with the World Economic Forum, considers the issue of who will be developing smart city solutions a subject worth addressing. Early on in the transformation, partnerships with infrastructure providers help governments access the services needed, but as the space becomes more competitive, partnerships with international vendors will likely drive developments. By 2025, it’s forecast that the smart city sector will see investments of up to $175 billion and we’ll have the likes of Cisco, a traditional cloud and IT infrastructure provider, as well as telecom companies such as Huawei and infrastructure providers like GE competing in the market. Suggests Chachoua, “For cities interested in becoming smart, such partnerships with international vendors can be a good way to build on international best practices while benchmarking performance against other cities in which the vendor might be working too.”
Big Data & Accessibility
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Open data policies could play a significant role in well-functioning smart cities, and says Mira Marcus, international press director at Tel Aviv Global, “The first thing we did was open our municipal database. Data is the basis for so many start-ups!” In Tel Aviv, collaborations with startups such as Waze are addressing traffic and congestion issues, and a startup accelerator financed by the city is targeting the development of smart city solutions. Another example of such support is the Center of Excellence in Smart, Sustainable and Entrepreneurial Cities at Abu Dhabi University, a $1.6 million initiative in the Abu Dhabi emirate that opened in September last year.
However, José Quádrio Alves, global government director, Future Cities Program Leader at CGI, believes that Middle Eastern countries will have to make their data even more accessible. He explains, “A trend we see in many cities [of other regions] is the move from defining what qualifies as open data to defining what data cannot be open data. The assumption now is that, by default, all data should be opened.” Though many Middle Eastern countries are currently low in the global open data rankings, progress is being made to share and open data between government agencies and third party users, and it’s suggested that in the future open data from the private sector as well as the government will encourage advancement.
Though privacy and security concerns remain, the smart city advances taking place are already benefiting the region and the innovative solutions being implemented continue to drive motivation and transformation.
By Jennifer Klostermann