People power: why successful smart cities need digital identity and multichannel

Sahem Azzam is vice president Middle East & Africa, Orange Business Services looks at the challenges and opportunities for enterprises looking to capitalise on their smart city projects
Smart City, 5G, OBS, ENTERPRISE, Orange Business Services


Successful smart city projects feature optimised traffic patterns, smart parking, efficient lighting, intelligent office buildings and improvements to public works, but they will be powered forward by citizen engagement. According to Gartner, citizen engagement, the enhancement of services and citizen experience will all be critical to the success of smart cities. How will we ensure that?

Throughout the Gulf, smart city projects are the new driving force behind the region’s economic diversification. A key aspect to whether these projects are a success or failure is the involvement of the people who live and work there. Citizen engagement is a big deal: citizens can provide invaluable feedback for the improvement of existing services and power the development of new ones. So smart city authorities need to educate and inform citizens about their city’s smart transformation and encourage feedback on pilot programs and other initiatives. How do you do that?

It begins with digital identity

Smart cities maximise their chances of success and sustainability when they are able to drive citizen engagement: digital identity is one way to get that started. Digital identity is the ability to prove an individual’s identity via any government digital channel, and it is essential for driving inclusion and giving citizens access to government services. As government becomes more digitised, digital identity will need to become more reliable to serve as the core for all digital transactions and will enable citizens to access core resources and services. And it allows citizen engagement.

It has been predicted that up to 70per cent of the world’s population will be living in smart cities by 2050, and strategic management of citizens’ digital identities will be central to that. According to Gartner, governments and public sector bodies that communicate with citizens via their preferred channels – over 50per cent of government website traffic now comes from mobile devices – will be those that meet citizen expectations and achieve their desired project outcomes. “Government CIOs must provision digital identities that uphold both security imperatives and citizen expectations,” Gartner has said.

Data-powered approaches will succeed

To thrive, and secure buy-in for smart city projects from residents and visitors, smart city managers must deliver an enjoyable and memorable citizen experience. It can be a process that is built around digital identity, proactive citizen engagement and multichannel communications.

Citizen engagement through multichannel

Governments and smart city authorities need to address citizens using their preferred communications formats and channels: that could be in person, over the phone, using augmented reality chatbots, social media or other mechanisms. But meeting citizens on their terms and using their preferred communication methods greatly increases the likelihood that the interaction is positive.

Your smart city project is already built on data: smart cities generate huge amounts of data from connected sensors and other devices, and cities capture, store and analyse all that real-time data from millions of devices. Artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics tools enable cities to deliver an unforgettable citizen experience based on in-depth understanding of the needs and desires of citizens.

The multichannel element involves meeting citizens on their own terms to engage them, and that means numerous communications channels. For example, understanding the range of services offered by a smart city can be confusing for people, so a chatbot could help. A multichannel AI-powered bot can enhance experiences for citizens by communicating in a natural, conversational way. And by combining it with digital identity, the AI is able to remember people who are authenticated, learn their likes and habits and provide tailored services based on previous experiences. All while reducing operational costs for the city.

MEA smart cities setting the pace

There are many examples of progressive smart city projects underway throughout the MEA region, one of which is the Dubai Silicon Oasis. Orange is working with the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA) on its flagship smart city initiative, designed to transform how businesses, residents, visitors and workers interact, using digital technologies. The project includes energy management using smart metering, smart irrigation, and smart street lighting, plus smart facilities and infrastructure such as parking and building maintenance as well as visitor and event management. Dubai is now able to offer an enhanced user experience and quality of life to employees, residents and visitors using smart solutions and services.

It’s an example of the kind of seamless, end-to-end approach that smart cities must take if they want to flourish: without a unified digital identity scheme, it becomes difficult for smart city managers to plan effectively. It’s all about data.

Digital identity powering and powered by multichannel

Digital identity underpins the enormous potential of smart cities and enhances a project’s chances of success and sustainable change. If you want a smart city project to succeed, governments must communicate with citizens to convey the benefits of the smart city – and that requires two-way communications over secure digital channels. With digital identity and multichannel, there is a mutually beneficial thing going on – each enables and powers the other.

Digital identity connects your citizens to your smart city, turning it into an Internet of both things and people, where the connected objects provide the data that creates the insights that enable the new services that give citizens an enhanced experience. IDC forecasts that global spending on smart city initiatives will amount to around $124 billion in 2020, an increase of 18.9per cent over 2019. To achieve a return on this investment, the smartest smart city projects will use multichannel citizen engagement to deliver quantifiable benefits and realise the importance of digital identity in all communications.

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