Smart cities have garnered a lot of attention in recent years. Pitched as paradigms of what future cities should be, smart cities are intelligent ecosystems that are enabling the efficient, convenient, and sustainable distribution of and access to services for citizens and civil servant employees. However, there are a number of tech solutions readily available that can transform existing cities in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) into high-tech establishments.
For many governments and public sector organisations in the region, this process of switching from an analogue structure to one enabled by technology was already underway before the pandemic. For some countries in the region, their journey of digital transformation was part of their long-term development goals and strategies, and as a result, this stood them in good stead when responding to the impact of lockdowns.
Saudi Arabia, for example, has found that technology helped authorities manage the pandemic more effectively and, as a result, soften its impact on the Kingdom. The Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence (SDAIA) partnered with the Ministry of Health to launch the COVID-19 Index. Using artificial intelligence (AI) and statistical analysis, the Index was able to support decision-makers in predicting developments around the pandemic and the immediate and long-term needs for health supplies.
For other nations, however, many state entities are still relying on paper-based systems and in-person interactions. This is often the case in Africa, where many public sector agencies are using legacy infrastructure that is in need of urgent modernisation. According to Africa Analysis IT analyst Derrick Chikanga, public institutions on the continent remain inefficient and prone to cyberattacks without the correct tech solutions. By simply starting with a migration to the cloud, Chikanga says governments can increase efficiencies and improve their security posture.
The smart city revolution
While some governments may have been behind in their digital transformation journeys, the pandemic has permanently changed this. Many have realised the benefits of tech-enabled government services and are now investing in the right tools to create a host of digital services for citizens. In fact, the IDC reports that IT spending across organisations in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa will top $40 billion in 2022.
The desire to enhance government services is evident and the demand grows greater each day. While the pandemic was the catalyst, the expectations of citizens in MEA are driving and cementing the need for digital transformation. They expect the same seamless transactions from government as they do with private companies.
As a result, local and national governments in MEA are driving key trends in the public sector. The first is the need for connected ecosystems to improve convenience and efficiency. In the case of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Abu Dhabi Digital Authority (ADDA) built an integrated services platform called TAMM. Supported by Microsoft Dynamics 365, Power BI and Azure solutions, TAMM brings together 1,600 government services over 55 entities. With Dynamics 365, ADDA has created an omni-channel experience that provides UAE citizens, residents, and tourists with a variety of government services through one access point.
Improving the quality of services and customer experience is top of mind and has given rise to state entities moving from in-person to virtual interactions. The Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) in South Africa is a good example of this. Rather than limiting its 10 million citizens to asking queries during working hours, the GPG deployed a chatbot with the help of Microsoft Azure and Dynamics 365 Customer Service. Now Gauteng residents can request information via the chatbot 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Meeting tomorrow’s sustainability goals today
These tech tools are not only aimed at improving convenience and efficiency, but sustainability too. The power of data and the way we choose to analyse and manage it can provide more insight into how cities use their resources. As countries in MEA become more urbanised, understanding the distribution of resources will become more vital to the success of smart cities in the region.
Upepo’s Internet of Things (IoT) solution is an example of how tech is being used to address challenges around Kenya’s water supply. By installing IoT devices within the Eldoret Water and Sanitation Company’s water meters, Upepo was able to monitor domestic, commercial, and institutional water use daily. This regular reporting helped to not only improve revenue collection but aided the discovery of significant pipe damage and water leaks – a vital factor in a water scarce country.
Intelligent cities anticipate needs
These moves toward digital transformation are enabling a larger trend of creating smart and conscious cities. Organisations in the public sector that are adopting digital strategies are ultimately trying to understand the needs of their citizens through multicity engagements, connecting multiple vertical industries and ensuring sustainable solutions are employed throughout.
Launched in 2021, Qatar’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications’ TASMU Platform is a one-of-kind solution that will help lay the foundations of not just a smart city, but a smart country. Built on Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure, TASMU has helped to streamline the coordination of public services across five sectors in Qatar. This is the beginning of the country’s smart city ecosystem which will see over 200 solutions and applications launched over the next decade.
As the world and our economy have become increasingly digital, our governments are having to ensure they are keeping up and staying ahead. Those that transform will be able to ensure seamless and convenient transactions, anticipate and understand their citizens’ needs, and meet their sustainability goals.