Making global initiatives local
Microsoft is bringing its CityNext program to key cities across the Gulf region
In the drive for smart city development, many technology vendors are developing their own initiatives to position themselves to partner with government in this sector, and to promote how their solutions can help tackle the challenges of smart urban development. Microsoft has aligned its efforts under the CityNext banner, an initiative launched in 2013, to address the challenges of urbanisation and city growth, through the development of smart city solutions focused on a number of key technologies and development areas.
While CityNext has been launched as a global initiative, the focus is very much on bringing it to local markets. Ali Nimer, regional government solutions director, Microsoft Gulf explained: “City Next as an initiative is kind of new, we launched it in 2013, but we have been trying to evolve and customize it per country and per region. The pillars are still the same — healthcare, education, digital city, modern city and safer city — and we align all of our partners, ecosystem and solutions around these five pillars.
“In the Gulf region, we have started customising it per country, aligning it with the priorities of the country, we have what we call internally Dubai Next, Abu Dhabi Next, Doha Next. These are the most active initiatives within CityNext for the Gulf. They are similar in a way, but it depends on the government activities, and how we align with their own initiatives, budget and priorities,” he added.
Nimer said that in Dubai, Microsoft has been working to align itself with the plans for Smart Dubai. He said that the Dubai Government has already launched an RFI from technology vendors about eight months ago, and that hopefully by the end of this year the various vendors, systems integrators and telecoms provider partners will be appointed.
There are a number synergies between CityNext, Dubai Next and the aims of the Dubai government, Nimer said, although the fast pace of the government can be a challenge. “Dubai is kind of different in a way that you can really feel that the public sector is ahead of the private sector, so it makes it very challenging for vendors to cope with such an active government and leadership.”
He gives the example of the Dubai Happiness Index as an area where CityNext shares goals with Dubai Government, and said that Microsoft has been working closely with government entities on enabling customer engagement through dashboards, building workflows, measurement and mobile apps.
“Our CityNext globally is more focused on citizen engagement, all our engagements, including all the customised CityNext for the Gulf countries, is also focused on citizen engagement, we truly believe that a smart government and a smart city cannot be achieved without citizen engagement and involving citizens in all aspects,” he said.
As a global program CityNext, the common pillars are intended to focus on common areas of development for cities around the globe, so that Microsoft can replicate success stories from around the world in different regions, and bring in partners from different countries to share expertise.
“The Dubai Happiness index has started to be replicated outside the Gulf. We have a lot of partners from Barcelona, New York, London, Japan, who have been engaged heavily with some of the government entities in the region,” he said.
Another concept area where Microsoft is involved with Dubai government is the development of a personal dashboard. The government has a concept of a combined dashboard, which will combine an individual’s work requirements such as calendar, meetings and travel with a social and personal data assistant, and an assistant for government engagement. The dashboard would be interactive and could integrate virtual assistant technology like Microsoft Cortana, to create an intelligent solution for reminders, scheduling, automatically access to online services and so on across, all three areas of engagement.
New legislation, including the Dubai Data Law, will help provide the open data basis necessary for these sorts of smart city programs, Nimer said.
“We are very excited about the announcement that went out. It will provide the platform for a smart city, we are definitively supportive, and we are looking forward to the go live, to see what sort of data will be public, and what the transparency mechanism will be,” he said.
“What this will will drive at a later date is the classification of data, what is private, what can go public, what can stay on premise, and that is where Microsoft with our hybrid approach can tackle this in a strong manner. Dubai can only achieve a smart city by leveraging the power of the public cloud, which I think is an area where Microsoft can add a lot of value.”
For Qatar, Microsoft’s Doha Next is working with many government agencies, to align with the key priorities of the country including healthcare, infrastructure including air and rail; and a major process of digital transformation which is being led by ICT Qatar. Another major focus is the FIFA World Cup, set to take place in 2022.
“The whole country is working towards the big event that will happen in 2022, when Qatar is expecting millions to come for one month and then leave, and how they can accommodate this — from a security perspective, accessing services from government, infrastructure, and hospitality,” Nimer said.
Across the Gulf, Microsoft sees countries experiencing similar trends with technology, and Nimer said that the company is well positioned to help tackle those issues, through its investments in mobility and devices and cloud. Internet of Things is one major area where Microsoft is showing concepts on how it can address challenges for vertical sectors. Another area is dashboards and performance measurement.
“There are a lot of initiatives that came from the economic crisis, governments doing more with less, so we see a trend for performance management, and productivity and efficiency management and we are working with many government entities on that, from individual entities to PMO type engagements to monitor the whole government performance,” Nimer said.