Smart city vision

The idea of smart cities, with intelligent, interconnected systems that improve the way we live, is on its way to becoming a reality in the Middle East

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Smart city vision
By  Mark Sutton Published  May 10, 2014

With the announcement that Dubai intends to further develop its eGovernment initiatives in to ‘smart government’ and its ambitions to become a ‘smart city’, there is an increased focus on smart cities in the Middle East. The region already has a number of projects to create smart cities, such as Saudi Arabia’s Economic Cities, Masdar in Abu Dhabi, Energy City in Qatar and Bahrain Bay.

Leaders in these countries are looking to harness the power of advanced systems and connectivity to create living environments that will be more attuned to the needs of residents and that will bring benefits in terms of efficiency, safety, better living conditions and more.

According to Pike Research, Smart City technology deployment, in areas such as transport management, building management, e-government and public safety is set to grow rapidly as more and more populations are concentrated in cities. The company says in its “Smart Cities” report, that as more and more people live in cities – about 50% of the world’s population today – city management will increasingly turn to smart city initiatives, which integrate technology in development strategies, to ensure ongoing sustainability, citizen well-being and economic growth.

The smart city technology market be worth more than $20 billion by 2020, the study says, and the impetus is increasingly shifting from vendors to city executives in driving deployments.

“Over the last twelve months, the market has shifted away from being shaped largely by technology suppliers and city developers,” said research director Eric Woods. “Today, the market is being driven by the enthusiasm of city leaders. Mayors and other city executives have seized on the smart city concept as a rallying point for the technological, commercial, and social innovation needed to meet the challenges and opportunities facing their communities.”

In the Middle East, the growing young population, coupled with limited resources, is making the need for smarter living environments even more pressing, according to Dima Kandalaft, Smarter Cities Leader, IBM Gulf & Levant.

“Cities in the region are experiencing significant growth which will not only put pressures on the existing infrastructures and services but also on the city leaders to innovate for an economic development shift. While citizens are becoming increasingly more connected and technology savvy, there is also a massive amount of data that are created every day from systems of all aspects of the city: infrastructure and services. Cities need to figure a way to harness and drive insight from these data and provide tangible business value for their cities… this is the driver for Smarter Cities.”

While the smart city concept has been around for a while, there are a number of elements that go to make up a smart city infrastructure. Laurent Marini, managing Director of Orange Business Arabia, which is involved in a number of the smart city projects in the region, define the concept: “Smart cities integrate digital technology into traditional city services such as utilities, public transport and buildings, and support sustainable development whilst helping improve the quality of life of citizens and residents, and attracting business and tourists.

“Developing smart services for the community means optimising the flow - and making smart use - of information; telecommunications networks are one of the building blocks for the development of smart digital services, typically based on Smart Grids and Smart Buildings.”

According to IDC, smart cities will require systems that aggregate and gather data in real time, from a range of sources such as sensor and social media; the ability to discover and analyse information and the ability to plan and execute on that data.

Most smart city concepts involve elements such as monitoring of public safety, traffic flows, environmental conditions, connection to government services and so on, and with the advent of the Internet of Everything, smart sensors and big data, the technology required to make the vision of a smart city a reality is now available.

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