Why smart cities never sleep

Spyros Salpeas, head of digital innovation and key customer programs at Orange Business Services, discusses.
Smart City, Dubai, Tech, Society

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Dubai.

The rise of new global cities is irresistible, as they become the branded destinations and drivers of innovation and entrepreneurship, culture and talent hubs. The Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2018 highlights this, attributing the growing importance of cities to their greater flexibility and ability to adapt to new trends and patterns – cities are nimble economic units where policy can be changed faster making them more attractive for talent, especially entrepreneurial talent. As the Dubai Smart City Accelerator launches its third edition, it’s clear that sustained innovation is key to smart city success in the Middle East.

The blueprint for a smart city may start with a browse through a smart services catalogue but it certainly doesn’t stop there; every smart city is a unique network of integrated services that may grow and develop organically over time as new use cases emerge and then evolve, supported by new bursts of innovation.

In the smart city, the search for innovation never stops but it is the integration of services across the eco-system that creates the real ‘smartness’, whether this is to enhance customer experience, generate new revenue streams, or create new operating cost efficiencies. So, a smart cities services catalogue may be a starting point – but it’s the innovation process that it stimulates that is really interesting.

And you also have to be smart about how you innovate.

Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum or without collaboration. Increasingly in the Middle East, the starting point of the smart cities services catalogue is the beginning of a dialogue about innovation – the unique use cases and the personas they address. It's also the point at which collaboration and co-innovation begins, as the developer and ICT partner collaborate to innovate; this is an essential component of the smart city. It’s a never-ending process as the smart city itself develops into an incubator of new solutions and applications, and as the network creates new data pathways and opportunities to innovate with solutions and apps, integrated into the eco-system and focusing on customer experience, lower costs or revenue streams from new paid services.

In the Middle East, we see co-innovation and incubation playing a key role in the development of smart city innovations created with developers and municipalities - from Arabic chatbots to smart city apps. Of course these innovative solutions are then added to the smart services catalogue as it builds and develops over time.

In a smart city such as Dubai, the innovation commitment includes the Dubai Smart City Accelerator now launching its third edition to select 10 startups from across the world to join the program, and develop innovation around everything from 5G to  connected stadiums, smart retail, smart airports, and smart payments, as well as IOT and connectivity, urban automation and mobility, artificial intelligence, blockchain, open city data, and smart government. The program has already spawned innovations that have been added to the Orange Business Services smart cities catalogue. Just as importantly, these innovations cover the associated business models as well, not just a solution in isolation.

What else determines the success of a smart city? Vision for a city-wide transformation. Some cities in the region have clear visions and have moved to implementation, collecting a lot of data from public agencies and private companies and creating new use cases. Among municipalities (a vitally important source of smart city leadership) the vision may be the vital difference in achieving real success and this may be based on the core mission and purpose of the development.

Innovation extends to finance and in the Middle East, new financial models are being developed as governments try to mobilise private investment to realise these visions, make them more cost efficient for government and create unique opportunities for operators to partner municipalities or district operators, following a build, operate, monetise model.  

A smart city is a complex long term commitment with shared risk and reward. Smart cities combine smart digital services and create real value only when the project purpose vision and purpose - and its complex user journeys - are clear. This needs deeper analytical skills as personas are not always apparent but based on our experience, we have now created models for utilities and parking management, for example and can quickly connect these into digital systems – even in more complex projects.

Sustained success relies on sustained innovation and maintaining and building the services catalogue helps stimulate the imagination with new ideas - ideation –  scouting the environment for what’s possible. Solutions with merit are added to the catalogue and become part of the advisory process for customers. Too much focus on the catalogue risks limiting the imagination but the real smartness comes from the integration of use cases.

Is this smart city innovation process working in the Middle East?

Yes. From our work as a partner to the Dubai Smart City Accelerator, expert mentors from our smart cities regional centre of excellence in Dubai are actively supporting two startups as a pilot customer, and Orange Business Services is running a live demonstration in the HQ car park in Dubai Silicon Oasis for a parking app, to monitor staff and guest parking behaviour through a live feed. Our proof of concept for a bespoke city management App (called IOT Cockpit) delivers amazing visualization via an immersive, interactive experience as it hovers above the city. The IoT Cockpit App virtualises connected objects and tangible objects, enabling the municipality to see, interact with and manage the smart utilities network, including water, electricity, and fibre, as well as monitoring assets on the ground in the urban environment, such as street lights and public transport.

The Middle East region really is a test bed for smart cities innovation – from Silicon Park, Dubai’s first integrated smart city project including a broad range of integrated services, to Jeddah Economic City (JEC) in Saudi Arabia, where the smart city digital master plan will seamlessly integrate solutions for businesses, residents and visitors.

The scale of the region’s smart cities ambition is matched by the vision, leadership and resources needed for success – and the innovation to drive new business models and new thinking in the smart city.

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