How (and why) to best leverage the ‘smart city’

SA companies must collaborate in providing holistic technologies and solutions for sustainable smart cities, says Greg Morris, CEO, MMG Holdings.

Innovation is no longer a nice-to-have. In the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution and smart cities, it may mean the difference between corporate life and death, says Greg Morris, CEO, MMG Holdings.

At MMG we believe, further, that a citizen-centric approach must lie at the core of any innovation strategy. To benefit the man on the street, SA companies must collaborate in providing holistic technologies and solutions for sustainable smart cities.

Here is some advice.

4th Industrial Revolution

First, the background. German economist Klaus Schwab is the thinker most commonly associated with the 4th Industrial Revolution. In 2007, he told the World Economic Forum (which he founded) that the world was entering a phase of digital shake-up that promised to turn on its head the past several decades of growth in electronics and computer technology.

What does this mean, specifically? Schwab’s 4th Industrial Revolution is characterised by profound shifts across all industries, the emergence of new business models, and the reshaping of production, consumption, transportation and delivery systems. Equally, governments and institutions are being reshaped, as are education and healthcare.

Enter: the ‘smart city’.

The ‘smart city’ refers to an urban development vision for managing a city’s assets by securely integrating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Internet of things (IOT) solutions. Smart cities work, in theory, by using technology to positively impact on the community; enhancing, for example, the quality and performance of urban services.

To become ‘smart’, local and provincial governments have to find practical answers to common challenges, from providing power, water, homes, roads and transport, to catering for the needs of a varying body of citizens. They have to seamlessly integrate:

  • Infrastructure and ICTs.
  • Creative economy and a knowledge-based society.
  • Sustainability.
  • Human infrastructure.
  • Skills development.

There is enormous potential, we believe, for SA companies to assist in this process.

What are the specifics?

In general, says Darren Oxlee, Chief Technical Officer at USC, smart cities yield benefits including:1. Better planning and development.

  1. Better planning and development.
  2. Speedier, cheaper delivery of eGovernment services.
  3. Local economic development.
  4. Better water management.
  5. Better energy management.

As such, smart cities need to find new ways to give their citizens the services they expect.

For instance, big data generated in a smart city can produce insights that authorities can use to improve transport, reduce crime, improve healthcare, improve public service delivery, and reduce wastage. Appliances and devices can be used to provide real-time feedback on the environment or perform tasks, and cities can deploy the necessary technology.

Consider, for example, a smart water supply system fitted with sensors to measure water pressure, chemical composition, and flow. When undesirable changes occur, authorities can take immediate corrective measures, aided by real-time data.

Sebata’s meter management technologies, which include smart water meters, have this potential, as does USC’s cloud-based water Advanced Metering Infrastructure system, which allows for the remote control, configuration and management of consumer water meters.

South African successes

Several South African cities have already embarked on a smart city journey.

  1. The City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality is working to transform Johannesburg into a smart city in terms of economy, environment, utilities, transportation, education, health, planning, governance and people. To begin with, it has introduced a smart transportation system and smart readers to reduce electricity losses.
  2. KwaZulu-Natal’s eThekwini municipality is the first public-sector entity to trial a smart city mobile app, integrating several services offered by the municipality.
  3. In 2003, the City of Cape Town’s SmartCape Access Project saw several libraries fitted with modern computers and free Internet access, to empower citizens to better carry out their daily tasks. Here technology is an aid and enabler for better service delivery.
  4. The City of Ekurhuleni has implemented a cutting-edge electronic metering-in-place system to track the movement of goods, allowing businesses to measure utilisation, manage consumption and remain within budget. This will soon be reinforced by a range of smart meters for electricity and water, to improve the efficiency of metering and billing.
  5. Two rural Eastern Cape municipalities, Alfred Nzo and Joe Gqabi, have implemented smart water management and revenue enhancement technologies – yielding significant efficiencies across the entire water value chain.

Outside of SA, Africa is “ripe” for smart cities but adoption is low. IBM’s ‘Smarter Cities Challenge’ works to help cities (Abuja, Lagos, Rabat, Sekondi-Takoradi) adopt the concept.

South African challenges

Carl Stroud, MD of Sebata, says: “While South Africa is advantageously positioned to adopt smart city due to urbanisation, youthful consumer population and an entrepreneurial culture,” it will have to manage challenges like limited infrastructure, an absent innovation culture, limited public funding for early adopters, and a fear of change.”
Stroud further advises that smart cities become a far more achievable objective if the following critical success factors are adequately addressed:

  • Embracing innovation, and novel and disruptive technologies.
  • Managing change in terms of consumer behaviour.
  • Creating a sense of ownership among citizens.
  • Empowering citizens with access to information.
  • A changed mindset about service delivery.
  • Collaboration between provincial, local and national government.
  • Partnerships between public and private.

Oxlee adds: “Interconnectivity between discrete systems is a challenge; think about what it takes to integrate a city’s transport system if it includes private vehicles, public transport (rail, bus, tram, taxi) and airports. There is also a concern around vulnerability – what if a smart city were ‘hacked’? Security and privacy are critical to effective implementation.”

How do we know?

Several of the MMG group companies are involved in delivering products and services that are used in smart cities. These include Sebata Municipal Solutions, NOSA, Freshmark Systems, Utility Systems, Amanzi Meters, Mubesko Africa, R-Data, Turrito and Cloud Ware.