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The reality of smart cities


Urbanisation is a reality – by 2050, eight out of 10 South Africans will be living in cities.

Smart cities could help to manage this move, but budget and resource constraints are also a reality.

“So technology needs to step up,” says Mark Walker, associate vice-president: sub-Saharan Africa at IDC.

Some of the goals for smart cities include openness, sustainability and citizen engagement.

This means there will be a lot of stakeholders: public sector, planners and developers, private companies, and ICT suppliers – and the citizen has to be in the centre.

Cities move from a low level of smartness to an optimised smart city on the IDC Smart City Maturity Model.

At the top level, systems would be completely integrated. “There are a few of these worldwide.”

In South Africa, cities are still at the level where they are starting to enable connectivity.

In the early stages, as South Africa is, cities should be asking if they have invested in pilot implementation projects, if lines of business and city managers have been engaged, if they have taken inventory of the technology assets so they know what they need to manage.

“It is key to understand these things before you embark on the journey,” Walker says. “It is a difficult journey.”

In the later stages, cities need to develop cross-departmental workgroups, implement customer-focused metrics, and create a centralised team to ensure that the systems work fluently and the momentum is maintained.

Sohail Varim, expert value advisor at SAP, points out that technology is pervasive and almost every person uses it in their day to day lives.

“Citizens are starting to expect the same from government services as they get from private companies. They expect different ways of interacting.”

This creates something of a perfect storm, Varim says. “Citizens want realtime responses, and they want governments to almost predict their needs.”

And cities are just as competitive as private companies today. They are competing for resources, industries and markets.

The road to smart cities has to start with strategies, understanding how to use available technology to deliver solutions.”

Varim says this would involve a technology platform, a city business network and applications and analytics that will deliver services.

Cities have different priorities, he adds. In Africa they tend to start with 24/7 connectivity and access to services. In the Middle East the priorities lean towards services for tourists. European and American cities tend to focus on resilience.

Other areas of focus are transport, infrastructure and service delivery.

With massive numbers of people living in the city, we need to have adequate infrastructure in the places that it is needed, Varim says.

The big question, he adds, is why cities think it’s important to become smart.

“This technological disruption of turning things on their head has influenced the public sector as well. Their business models are changing as well.

“It is about how do I engage an individual citizen, individually with personalised services. And how I can use technology to do this.”

Smart technologies can help cities to save money as well. They are also able to plan for effectively, Varim adds.

Government is not only a deliverer of services, but needs to be an enabler of growth. They should therefore match workers wth employers and create an environment where businesses can thrive.

In addition, the data generated by city activities can be used to generate additional revenue.