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Smart cities 2.0

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Sikhumbuzo Ngcobo, Deloitte.Sikhumbuzo Ngcobo, Deloitte.

A city can be considered smart when three conditions are met: investments are being made in human and social capital; money is being spent to improve traditional infrastructure; and, finally, disruptive technologies are implemented to fuel sustainable economic growth and promote a high quality of life. All of this must be accompanied by the prudent management of natural resources, of course.

According to Sikhumbuzo Ncgobo, associate director for technology, public sector at Deloitte, smart cities typically enjoy a lower unemployment rate, a higher office occupancy rate and a boost in ICT investments, which has been shown to drive GDP growth.

The increased connectivity brought about via smart cities not only enhances efficiency within the public sector, which, ultimately, improves service delivery to all citizens, but also has great potential to reduce the perceived gap between the citizenry and elected officials, says Boxfusion’s Ian Houvet, technology and solutions director, and Xolile Ndlangana, Boxfusion’s director for sales and marketing. This results in an improvement in satisfaction with public services, a reduction in service delivery protests and the creation of a society that is bettered thanks to digital solutions.

Digitising public sector processes has several knock-on effects when it comes to efficiency, the pair adds. Smart cities by definition are efficient cities, where daily processes, especially those functions managed by municipal officials each day, are digitised. Houvet and Ndlangana believe that implementing smart solutions at the heart of a city ? in local government offices ? ideally creates a snowball effect through the rest of the region, spreading digitisation to citizens via already existing infrastructure and devices.

The present

A 2016 report titled ‘The Smart City Playbook’, commissioned by Nokia, detailed how 22 cities around the world are leveraging the power of digital technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) to become smarter, safer and more sustainable. Cape Town is one of the cities on the list.

Implementing smart solutions at the heart of a city ideally creates a snowball effect through the rest of the region.

The recent water crisis across the Western Cape is a prime example of how smart solutions are changing cities today. By providing more information to decision-makers, smart water meters have helped the city keep tabs on water use. Usually, by the time an individual or business discovers they have a leak, they would already have run up an expensive water bill, says Phathizwe Malinga, MD of SqwidNet. But thanks to IoT, that same individual or business is alerted about the water leak in near real-time and can act immediately. This technology also proved valuable when the citizens of Cape Town were only allowed to use a certain number of litres each day. Smart metering makes it possible to ensure that these daily quotas aren’t exceeded. These IoT sensors can be used to monitor other resources, not just water.

They can also be utilised to keep people safe. OpenText’s country sales director Lenore Kerrigan cites Shot Spotter, a gunshot detection system, as an example of how smart cities improve security. First piloted in Cape Town’s Hanover Park and Manenberg surburbs in 2016, this real-time gunshot detection and alert system has helped authorities drastically reduce gun-related crimes.

The possibilities

Smart cities aren’t built overnight. The move towards smarter ways of running cities happens over time.

For IDC Sub-Saharan Africa associate VP Mark Walker, there are several ways that IoT-enabled sensors and automation can enhance public services. For example, when a city provides electricity to citizens, there are multiple players involved in the process. In a smart city, active metering services allows municipalities to be more precise in terms of billing, electricity provisioning and electicity management. This makes it easier to detect fraud. So, if people are compromising their meter to get free electricity, the city can detect these discrepancies in consumption. Getting this kind of ecosystem right requires seamless integration between the billing department at the municipality and the supplier. Truly successful smart cities enable complete connectivity, enhancing communication, improving security, monitoring the movement of people and speeding up interdepartmental communications in the process, he adds.

Smart cities of the future aren’t only focused on managing scarce resources; they actually aim to multiply those resources, says Malinga. The key is to identify specific challenges and then to address them using technology. Take traffic as an example. With more and more people moving into cities, traffic congestion is only set to get worse. But with IoT sensors in place, officials can monitor what’s happening on the roads in real-time, drivers can be alerted about accidents and receive alternative route information and traffic signals can even be adjusted where necessary to ease congestion.

The experts agree that the private sector plays a crucial role in developing and implementing smart cities. The key is for the private sector to demonstrate to governments how IoT and ultimately smart cities will improve the lives of citizens through practical use cases and proof of concepts, says Walker. This will showcase the true benefits of smart cities and give the public sector the proof they need to move ahead with projects of this nature. Achieving smart city success is about so much more than technology or IT, he continues. Ideally, smart city initiatives should be government- or city-led, with serious decision-makers who work across different functions within the city driving the project.

Smart cities aren’t built overnight.

One of the primary ways the private sector can advance smart cities is by increasing investment in technology SMMEs that are developing and driving home-grown digital solutions to the unique challenges we face as a country, note Houvet and Ndlangana.

The problems

The baseline infrastructure for any technology today is high-speed connectivity, notes Vino Govender, executive of strategy, mergers and acquisition and innovation at DFA.

Houvet and Ndlangana agree.

One of the primary stumbling blocks is ubiquitous access to broadband. Initiatives to provide free WiFi access are already in place in several South African cities (Pretoria, Cape Town and Stellenbosch come to mind), but these initiatives aren’t without stumbling blocks. They also highlight the impact of the digital divide, which sees some people having access to mobile technologies and some lacking this access. But with mobile device penetration across Africa on the rise, increasingly people can interact with the government via digital services, especially if access to WiFi in public spaces improves.

While e-government solutions have already been deployed by many municipal governments, adoption is still in the early stages, states Kerrigan. As such, the benefits are yet to be fully realised. What’s holding up the process? For many local governments, the issues resolve around reduced budgets and capacity, bureaucracy and privacy/security-related issues. In line with this, legacy tools and solutions pose another challenge. In many major urban areas, which were built over a long period of time using siloed systems, the process of redesigning infrastructure proves complicated. Coupled with this, the people who have always looked after legacy infrastructure are now being tasked with executing these new digital strategies. As a result, smart city initiatives can be hampered by the fact that current staff members are just expected to ‘do their best’ with the knowledge they have.

For Riaan Graham, sales director for Ruckus Networks, the biggest barrier is acceptance of change. This is particularly true as smart city initiatives require IT and ‘business’ to work more closely together and essentially speak the same language. But business strategy is usually longer-term and in order for IT to innovate and stay ahead, they need to move quickly. Finding a balance between immediate gain and long-term sustainability is critical. Additionally, most IT strategies aren’t business-orientated, but rather completely technology-centric. “In fact, IT strategies are usually bolted on to the business strategy rather than being created as part of the business’ centric nervous system, which can make it challenging to align without re-hauling legacy systems and processes,” he says.

As citizens become more discerning and tech-savvy, governments are forced to transform their processes. They need to change their outdated methods of communicating with people into more dynamic, digitally-driven interactions that make communication fuss-free. Citizen-centricity lies at the heart of e-government, says Kerrigan. Digitising public sector processes has several knock-on effects when it comes to efficiency, say Houvet and Ndlangana. The smart cities of the future will see all citizens having immediate, inexpensive access to digital solutions, improving public services across the board. This enables the public sector to focus its time and energy on what it was actually elected to do.

Digital transformation can’t be ignored and it doesn’t matter if you’re a business owner or a member of the public sector, if you don’t innovate, you’ll be left behind, says Graham. There needs to be greater acceptance to do things differently. If you have buy-in from people, who are willing to accept the changes that are on the way, half the battle is won. We have to move from the old way of thinking and the traditional status quo into a broader approach – with IT at its heart – so that governments and businesses can evolve as the market changes.

Providing a digital blueprint for government

For Deloitte’s Sikhumbuzo Ncgobo, the South Africa Local Government Association (SALGA) sets the agenda for efficient municipal service delivery and ensures that leading practices in local government are adopted. With most local municipalities understanding the concept of Smart Cities, and the impact they have, Ncgobo believes SALGA is perfectly positioned to become a local government digital evangelist, ensuring that municipalities:

  • develop an ideal journey for service delivery
  • embrace data-driven policy-making because this leads to more focused interventions and provides evidence to measure effectiveness
  • develop blueprints that local government can follow to build smart municipalities
  • help municipalities eliminate wasteful expenditure caused by poor controls and a lack of technological capabilities.

Smart from the start

Ever heard of Palava in India? India’s first greenfield integrated smart city, construction of Palava began in 2010, with the first citizens arriving in 2014. One example of how city planners constructed this city near Mumbai in a smart way was to reduce the need for cars. They did so by basing their design on the 5-10-15 principle. This means that everything citizens require daily should be a five-minute walk away, what you need every three to four days should be within a 10-minute walk and items and services people use every week or month should be available within a 15-minute walk.

Why we need WiFi

For Ruckus Networks’ Riaan Graham, African cities may be seen as being behind developed nations, but they actually have the opportunity to bypass older and more established cities elsewhere in the world because they can just start with the latest technology. And if you look at the strides that Africa has made from a broadband capacity perspective, not to mention the fact that we’re seen as a mobile continent, we’re fast moving into a connected framework from personal, business and even governmental perspectives, he adds.

Connectivity means citizens have access to information, they have knowledge to innovate and the chance to do business differently. WiFi connectivity provides the foundational layer for a smart city, says Graham. WiFi enables smart cities by:

  • Providing an amenity for residents, students, visitors and tourists: Modern citizens expect to be connected at all times. WiFi makes it possible to offer this level of connectivity no matter where citizens may be.
  • Bridging the digital divide: More than 30% of the global population is still without internet access. In today’s digital economy, it’s imperative that anyone who wants internet access should be able to obtain it. Offering free WiFi in public spaces helps cities bridge these access gaps.
  • Enabling IoT services: We all know IoT will be huge. But the IoT market is fragmented and placing bets today on which technology to implement can be risky. WiFi supports IoT applications and is an enabler of IoT solutions.

The business case for smart cities

While smart cities can bring value to the economy by embracing modern infrastructure, and these smart spaces hold the ability to attract new businesses, the real value of smart technology is based on revenue generation and improvements across the local economy. As part of a recent report released by Ruckus Networks and business technology research firm World Wide Worx around WiFi in South Africa, IT decision-makers at 106 large local businesses were asked what they believe the key business case is for smart cities. These were the top benefits cited by the participants:

  • Boost the economy – 39%
  • Attract new businesses – 38%
  • Reduce operating costs – 31%
  • Improved infrastructure (future proof) – 25%
  • Improved living conditions – 19%
  • Community-wide connectivity – 15%

This article was first published in the January 2019 edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.

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