Dubai’s $5bn smart city opportunity

Cisco believes that Dubai could gain economic value of nearly $5bn from Internet of Everything initiatives by 2019, if the Emirate can achieve its vision of becoming a smart city leader.

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Dubai’s $5bn smart city opportunity Cisco has identified seven key areas where smart services can have maximum impact on Dubai, says Efrink. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  May 27, 2015

Dubai has set out its vision to become a truly smart city, but a new report from Cisco which highlights specific use cases, suggests the value to the city of the Internet of Everything could reach almost $5 billion by 2019. The report, titled ‘Dubai and the Internet of Everything’, outlines key areas and recommendations on how the city can harness widespread connectivity to create economic value across several key sectors.

Wim Efrink, executive vice president for Industry Solutions and chief globalisation officer for Cisco explained: “To create awareness, and show what is possible, we did a study based on 17 use cases, and we came up with the economic value over the next three years of $4.9bn. In the meantime, the government has now come up with one thousand use cases. We did a study for 17, and if that is an economic value of almost $5bn, then imagine what the potential for a thousand is?”

The report outlined seven areas that are key opportunities for Dubai, including improving municipal services and citizen involvement with the municipality; automation of ground transport; more usage of connected safety and security solutions for the police; a common unified platform for communications for national security and defence; smart services for travel and tourism, and promotion of retail.

Efrink said that Dubai is well positioned to realise these advances, thanks to the vision of its leadership and the desire to see exponential growth.

“I think that Dubai has the reputation of having a vision, and being able to execute on it. The moment His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai, said we are going to embrace the smart city concept, that Dubai would be the smartest city in the world, we felt that pressure to be there. The Dubai Expo 2020 will also be a big catalyst,” Efrink said. “It is an example of that exponential growth, to go from 17 use cases to one thousand, that is the new thinking in the digital world — don’t think linear, think exponential — governments who think exponentially will break away.

“If you look at a smart city, it takes five key elements, the first one is thought leadership — Dubai definitely has that,” he added. “The second one is that you have to, we think, work with companies who promote global open standards, and the third one is that a smart city will only be a smart city if they embrace smart regulation, which leads to an entrepreneurial environment which is regulated in such a way that you can take the opportunities of these new technologies.

“The fourth one, is public/private partnerships or participation — how do you fund these initiatives, how do you run them, how do you operate them — you have to think beyond traditional types of service providers. The fifth element is the ecosystem, the companies that create the value for the citizens.”

Cisco is keen to promote the ecosystem of partners, both through introducing international companies to the region and through helping develop local smart city and IoE start-ups. In December this year, the company will host its IoT World Forum to Dubai to further the discussion. The company is also committed to open standards in technology, to enable an open ecosystem of solutions.

Realising smart city development will mean tackling a number of issues. Security is a major concern to all stakeholders, with the need for a strong underlying technology architecture, Efrink said. Privacy is becoming a global debate, to address concerns as to whether a citizen can opt in or out of sharing data through systems.

Rabih Dabboussi, managing director and general manager, Cisco Middle East, pointed out that telecoms infrastructure is not a concern for Dubai: “We believe we are very well positioned from an infrastructure perspective, that is not our view, that is an industry view, the UAE has been rated for the highest 4G penetration and readiness, as well as broadband, where you can get multiple megabits per second down to the home. Infrastructure-wise we feel confident of Dubai’s ability to execute on the connectivity piece.

“One more challenge that we may face which is being addressed, is the laws and regulations of open data, where Wim has given us a lot of guidance on best practices from around the world and we have communicated those to the government. There is active work being done to address the sovereignty and security of data, but also the need to regulate sharing,” he added.

Another element to making smart city solutions successful is to engage the end user, Efrink said. A large part of the $4.9bn value at stake will be based on the savings made by having citizens serve themselves, therefore it becomes vital to convince them to use the services, and in turn provide feedback on them.

“Another thing we promote heavily is experience, proof of concept — do it — show your citizens what it is. To get the inclusiveness, people need to see the benefits. Let them see it is not a threat. Show people what you can do,” he explained. “Some ideas will fail, but people will see the benefits and they will come up with recommendations and new ideas.”


Cisco’s report includes the following recommendations to help steer Dubai’s smart city efforts:

- Develop a citywide budget allocation for smart city initiatives that is cross-agency in its governance and coordination to address the topic of concentrated costs and distributed benefits.

- Redesign services and government processes to consider new connected capabilities.

- Measure smart city success in a way that is different from the current departmental KPIs. A city dashboard would provide views for decision makers, operational staff, residents, and tourists with location and context-sensitive personalised information.

- Share access to systems, collaboration tools, and business insights across all agencies. This sharing calls for better virtualised technology capabilities in a ‘fog’ environment, and also calls for rethinking the context within which technology partners can add value.

- Direct Dubai’s Smart City Initiative and IoE framework messaging toward some of the existing priorities such as public sector excellence, city experience, and others.

- Identify an initiative owner with cross-agency mandate and coordination capabilities, and develop an overarching implementation roadmap with dependencies identified.

- Promote a priority ‘theme’ for more detailed use case designs and functional, technical, and organisational requirements.

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