Unlocking the next level of smartness

Danny Karam of Booz Allen Hamilton discusses how smart cities need to leverage the value of the data that they are collecting to create the next generation of customised, predictive smart services

Tags: Big dataBooz Allen HamiltonSmart cities
  • E-Mail
Unlocking the next level of smartness Data analysis will enable cities to create smarter, customised services for users, says Karam.
By  Mark Sutton Published  December 6, 2016

Data will be the key to reaching the next stages of development in smart city projects, according to Danny Karam, vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton. While initial efforts in smart services have focused on connecting users with data and integrating services between different government agencies, to continue with the evolution of smart government and smart city projects, smart city leaders must look to harnessing the power of data to deliver the insight required for the next level in ‘smartness’.

“The data is the fuel of the future, the more access you have to data and the better ability you have to harness its power, the happier your citizens, the better performance you can achieve, and the more focused you are in personalising the experience for your customers,” Karam said.

Smart city projects have focused on many different areas with different motivations, and as urban populations continue to grow, digital solutions and advanced infrastructure will become increasingly important in delivering services and aiding city management in keeping cities functioning and ensuring that residents are satisfied. Going from simple provision of services online, or improving efficiency by connecting services will require using data to make the digital life more customised, predictive and smart, Karam said.

In considering the development of smart cities, Booz Allen Hamilton has identified four degrees of smartness in its 2015 report, Smart Cities; A Gateway to Digital Life. With the wide variety of different projects and programs underway around the world under the banner of ‘smart cities’ — “everybody claims to have a smart service,” Karam noted — it is important that decision makers are able to understand what really constitutes ‘smart’, and that there is a framework for city officials to understand the progress they have made so far, and to guide them to the prerequisites for the next stages of development.

The four degrees of smartness, according to BAH start with ‘Connected’, where agencies make services and information available online, such as through a website or app. The second degree, ‘Integrated’, is where operations that were in silos are now connected to a centralized control structure, with seamless data flow across the system, enabling multi-agency services.

The third degree is ‘Personalised’, where users are able to access customised services, such as services based on their location, or preferences, and agencies can prioritise communications to specific users.

The most advanced degree of smartness is ‘Predictive’ where sophisticated data collection and analytics enable agencies to take the data they have, and to create predictive insights based on that intelligence. These services allow the agency to predict a need or an outcome, and be proactive in addressing it.

Developing personalised and predictive services requires much more sophistication in handling data, Karam explained: “The last two are not possible without data analytics, without having the proper infrastructure and data architects, data scientists and business analysts to deliver these services.”

One prerequisite of being able to access the value of data is to have the proper regulatory and governance framework to enable the data to flow between entities. Dubai’s development of data laws are a pioneering effort in this area, Karam said, and defining the type of data that can be shared, who can access the data, creating the platform and infrastructure for data sharing and managing the process, are all positive steps toward better co-ordination and performance.

Once the data has been gathered and shared, expert staff are required who can conduct various analysis processes for several different goals,  Karam added. There are three different skillsets and three different roles required to take action.

“You need data architects, these are the people who understand how data is constructed and where to extract it from; you need data scientists, these are the people who develop the algorithms that give us the insights that we need; and you need business analysts, who make sense out of this data, and present it to the business owner to make strategies,” he explained.

At present there is a shortage of all these data capabilities, Karam noted, which will persist for at least the next two to three years, and government organisations should look to appoint partners who can supply the need in the short term, and also help government to build their own capabilities and resources, in the same way that e-government resources were fostered to meet growing demand.

There are other prerequisites for successful smart city outcomes. Central government can play a role in defining standards and regulations, and sharing expertise, but it should be up to the individual cities to develop the projects that fit their own requirements and circumstances.

“Each city has its own nuances and peculiarities so they need room for manoeuver in implementation, and the more margin of manoeuver that you have, the higher chances of success,” Karam said.

At the same time, initiatives at the national level, such as Saudi’s Vision 2030, are essential in defining the objectives and direction for development, and also in creating economies of scale and providing resources such as centres of excellence to share expertise.

Another area of consideration is the inclusion and involvement of the private sector, to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship to ensure ongoing momentum of projects, as well as to take some of the burden of financing. BAH is already advising on a number of these sorts of projects across the GCC in different areas such as smart cities, smart utilities, healthcare, transport and so on, Karam said. Low oil prices are making public-private partnerships more attractive to government, and enabling increased participation from the private sector.

PPPs could prove to be very interesting for government in areas where they do not have the capacity or capability to fully manage or operate a project, and which could be lucrative for a private sector partner, and government entities in the region are cautiously exploring the opportunities, he added.

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code