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Few cities have experience to deliver smart city systems

14th November 2017 BY: Schalk Burger
Creamer Media Contributing Editor

Transforming the world by 2030 to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals will require the establishment of more smart cities, information and communication technology multinational Huawei industry, marketing and solution department CTO Joe So told delegates at the Smart City World Congress, in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday.

While there are many examples of cities worldwide implementing specific smart city initiatives and systems, and although there is common acknowledgement that the role of smart cities is key in achieving the development of the envisioned modern, more equitable and sustainable societies, only 19 of 87 cities surveyed by German global consultancy Roland Berger scored more than 50% in their development of a defining smart city strategy.

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“The lack of experience in planning, executing and implementing smart city systems, worldwide, is one of the reasons for this dearth. However, the benefits of effective smart city systems include safer cities, more effective emergency response and command, better traffic management, support for the digitalisation of business operations, the city economy and society, and the enhancement of government capabilities to manage the city and systems.

“Better connections between the disparate aspects and actors of a city will help to drive its economy,” he said.

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The specific model that Huawei proposes to clients is that of an iterative build-out of supporting systems, based specifically on the core development objectives of the city and region, forming a “brain and limbs” system.

The brain, an intelligent operations centre, must aggregate data from various government and city administration agencies, departments and their partners, perform analysis of the data and serve as a decision support platform; in essence making sense of the status of the city.

The “limbs” are the network of sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) systems that provide the data for the “brain”, Huawei industry and marketing and solutions president Victor Yu explained at a Huawei media briefing held on the sidelines of the Congress on Tuesday.

However, one of the most difficult and challenging parts of developing smart cities is the development of an effective intelligent operations centre, he emphasised.

“Establishing an intelligent operations centre requires comprehensive coordination, effort and support from the city’s administration, departments and partners. Four key elements we have identified in successful smart city projects include strong central leadership, such as from the city mayor; a strong, competent execution team; sufficient investment and funding; and a good digital partner,” said Yu.

Weifang, in Shandong province, China – a city region of 9.7-million people – has implemented smart sewage, smart street lighting and smart intensive agricultural initiatives through the use of sensors and IoT technology to monitor and manage the city’s wellbeing more effectively and efficiently.

“The city of Weifang, through the smart street lighting initiative, has reduced electricity consumption for lighting by 37%, efficiency of lighting by 45% and the lighting rate by 25%. There are 50 partners in this one programme,” said So.

Weifang smart city develoment office director Zhang Baoqing highlighted that the economic foundation provided by the city, and the benefits smart city systems to improve the operation of the city and its agricultural value chains, as well as the crucial support of the mayor, facilitated the establishment of its key smart city goals and lent focus to the smart city projects.

“The development of the intelligent operations centre in Weifang, which uses narrowband IoT systems (a low-power wide-area network radio technology), covers four main aspects of the city’s smart strategy including the public sector, transport, city services and industrial development,” said Zhang.

The specific focus of smart city projects is key and must be based on the goals and needs of the city, emphasised So.

“In the Longgang district of the city of Shenzhen, in Guangdong province, China, which has about 4.5-million people within a 140 km2 area, there is high youth unemployment, high crime rates and high transience of people. This smart city project was focused on e-governance, e-health, e-education and the use of public cloud platforms to improve citizen services and make the city safer through the use of unified emergency systems.”

The project resulted in improved government efficiency, communications and citizen services and the unified emergency system and communications resulted in a drop in crime rates by 29%, said So.

Further, the coastal city of Yanbu, in Al Madinah province, Saudi Arabia, which is known as an oil refining city and accounts for about 10% of that country’s gross domestic product, aimed to use its smart city projects to diversify its economic base, improve the business environment, reduce governmental investment in the city, upgrade its infrastructure, attract professionals and support the transformation of businesses by 2020.

The city deployed smart waste management, smart traffic management and business-driven information and communication technology infrastructure development.

The city increased its operational efficiency by 30%, and lowered its road and sewerage maintenance costs by 20% and has registered an increase of 10% in the number of skilled professionals living and working in the city.

The Yanbu and Weifang smart city projects have been shortlisted as finalists for the World Smart City awards.

“The primary purpose of a smart city is to enhance the livelihood of citizens, improve government efficiency and to help businesses to transform themselves for the digital economy. The common foundations for success of these projects is a strong leader to drive execution and work as a member of the smart city projects, good planning based on the specific development goals of the city, a focused and dedicated execution team and a solid investment and business model to ensure that the projects are effective and sustainable.

“Building platforms and an ecosystem that works for the city is key. Smart cities leverage four key technologies namely cloud, big data, IoT and artificial intelligence,” said So.

The definition of a smart city is different in China from the rest of the world, Zhang said. The definition used by the Chinese government rests on three pillars, namely municipal governance, public service and industrial development.

“Government provides support and funding to encourage enterprises to assist with public services, provides favourable policies to support industrial development and provides governance guidelines for the municipal government and agencies to follow smart city requirements and to speed up the process of adopting the required information and communication technology infrastructure.”

However, diverse definitions of smart city systems are, in fact, crucial for successful smart city projects, because all cities have different needs and are at different developmental stages. The different definitions of smart cities result in different focuses, funding models and deployment speeds, said So.

Zhang concurred, noting that Weifang had passed through several different phases on its path to becoming a connected smart city.

Deploying a smart city solution is a comprehensive project and process. The development of smart cities is one part of the work towards realising countries’ sustainable development goals and, therefore, requires the same commitment from leadership and buy-in of society and the private sector, concluded Yu.

*Schalk Burger is a guest of Huawei at the Smart City World Congress, in Barcelona, Spain. 

EDITED BY: Chanel de Bruyn Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online
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