Building the business case into smart city projects

Orange Business Services CEO Thierry Bonhomme discusses how the company helps to make smart city projects a sustainable and profitable proposal

Tags: FranceOrange Business ServicesSmart buildingsSmart citiesUnited Arab Emirates
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Building the business case into smart city projects Orange has opened its smart city innovation hub to capitalise on regional growth in the sector, says Bonhomme.
By  Mark Sutton Published  June 12, 2018

The secret to smart city success is to understand the business value, according to Thierry Bonhomme, CEO of Orange Business Services.

Speaking to .GOV at the opening of the company’s new regional HQ and innovation hub in Dubai, Bonhomme said that smart city players need to focus on delivering real world results and addressing customer pain points.

“We have been trying for years now to demonstrate that thanks to technology, anything is possible,” he said. “You have tens of thousands of POCs that have been deployed around the globe, but the challenge is understanding ‘what is the use case and what is the value that you can create?’

“One of the reasons that it is taking time to hit fifty billion connected objects in the IoT — and we are far from that today — is because we are not focusing enough on value creation and use cases.”

One of France’s biggest technology companies, with 21,000 employees, 3,000 multinational customers and 7bn euros in revenue, Orange Business Services is already closely involved with smart city projects, both in the region and in other territories, but the new innovation hub will focus directly on smart cities and on helping customers to evaluate their needs from smart city projects.

The company has a long history of involvement in smart cities in this part of the world, including projects such as Saudi’s KAEC, and the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD), and it has recently been appointed to develop the ICT blueprint for the world’s next tallest building, the upcoming Jeddah Tower.

Orange is also one of six strategic partners for the Dubai Smart City Accelerator, which was launched last year by Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA), as part of its wholly owned Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Centre (Dtec), the largest hub of its kind in the Middle East.

Given these achievements, the company decided to open the new facility in Silicon Oasis, with a focus on smart cities. Bonhomme pointed out that the company’s strategy is to become a part of the regional and global ecosystem for smart city technologies, and to work closely with its customers and partners in each region.

“There are three main points to the way we deploy our strategy,” he said. “There is co-innovation with the customers — we really think that the way we should position the company is not on a standalone basis with our own innovation topics, it is with the customers and with their topics.

“The second is partnership, being able to integrate the best products and the best technologies whatever the size of the company providing those services. We are very interested by the dynamism of the startup sector.

“Lastly, it is about merger and acquisition, the third way to execute the strategy is to acquire new companies. We have a vehicle, Orange Digital Ventures, a corporate fund of 150 million euros which will be expanded to 500 million euros, to give us the capacity to invest in any company,” he said.

Orange has not invested in any ventures locally at present, but Bonhomme says it is entirely possible in future, and the company is very pleased with its participation in the Smart City Accelerator, which has created a global program with a local flavour. He also noted that DSOA is working with local universities to further develop the ecosystem for new technologies, something which has been a focus for Orange Business Services in France.

“In France, we are the leader in any domain related to digital transformation, and we consider it our responsibility to influence and prepare universities and schools to develop the training program we need for the future. If it is not available, we decide to set up our own academy — this is something we did for cyber defence, for Citrix for VDI, and it is something we are considering for AI as well,” he said.

For the world’s upcoming tallest tower project, Orange will create a blueprint for the ICT infrastructure of the tower, from the plan and design, to the build and run phases, on behalf of the Jeddah Economic Company.

Luc Serviant, Senior Vice President, for Orange Business Services Middle East & Africa said that the project will focus on helping Jeddah Economic Company to develop the value from the project: “We are advising the developer on how to make money with the tower, it is as simple as that. Technology can do anything, most [smart projects] want the latest technology to attract businesses or smart citizens, but we are also advising them on how to sell parking management, lighting management, these kind of things. We have a multi-disciplinary team of consultants, and the advice that we provide is more on the business case for the tower, rather than technology.”

Bonhomme commented: “It is about consultative selling, it is a completely different job to the one we do in the telco ecosystem, wherein we sell products and solutions, here it is more listening and helping the customer. It is not a solution or a technology, you should concentrate on customer pain.

“We are not only able to design and build something, we know how to make it work, 24-7, in a profitable and sustainable manner, that is one of the different skills we have in the company that we learnt from the telco networks,” he added.

The company is no stranger to major smart building projects, and it has proven its own technology and approach at its Research & Development campus near Paris.

Orange Gardens is home to over 3,000 staff, which is intended to enable staff to benefit from all of the advantages that the company’s digital tools provide, in both working and living experience. The highly-digitised campus has a number of services across IT, communications, facilities and HR, which have been designed based around use cases for different user groups of the campus.

A mobile app provides various functionalities, including GPS and a map of the campus, meeting room reservations, news, transportation information, while the campus has smart facilities, showrooms and studios for staff to get to grips with the solutions.

“It is a real place, a real building where we try and test, optimise, and operate our technology. It is a good internal sand box for testing anything,” Bonhomme said.

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