Dubai integrating infrastructure and technology create a more efficient and liveable city

With more than 100 initiatives and 1000 government services involved, the Dubai Smart City (DSC) project is the most ambitious ICT programme that has ever been launched in the emirate. Set to be rolled out over a three-year period, the DSC aims to complete the “third phase” of Dubai’s development, propelling it to be a leading global smart city.

“When accounting for IT investments by the enterprise market as well as the public sector, we calculated that Dubai’s total public and private sector value at stake is Dh17.9bn ($4.87bn) over the next five years, including a public sector opportunity of Dh4.3bn ($1.17bn),” Rabih Dabboussi, Cisco’s managing director in Dubai, told OBG.

Indeed, the DSC concept, launched in March 2014 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the UAE, aims to achieve four strategic goals that will improve the quality of life by making Dubai more efficient, more seamless, safer and enriched with smart technologies.

Everything from the way the DSC’s resources are deployed to the availability of information for inhabitants as they go about their day will be interwoven into a completely integrated “smart environment”, managed from one of the world’s most sophisticated control rooms, allowing for real-time monitoring.

Building Blocks

The project has six pillars: Smart Economy, Smart Living, Smart Mobility, Smart Governance, Smart Environment and Smart People. These are all based on the same Smart City Platform, a connected, integrated and collaborative ICT base, with input from the government, businesses and Dubai’s inhabitants on the one hand, and the very infrastructure and databases of the city itself on the other.

Smart Economy includes a series of economic hubs in tourism, business, logistics and financial services, along with several innovation programmes. Smart Living covers everything from health care to safety and security, along with smart buildings, signage, and the management of both residents and visitors. Smart Mobility integrates the transport of people around the city, which will be equipped with smart urban infrastructure, constantly monitoring and responding to traffic, transport demand and other services aimed at keeping Dubai moving.

Smart Governance, meanwhile, involves the further integration of a whole range of government services, while Smart Environment covers the use of water, gas and electricity across the emirate. Lastly, Smart People is the pillar regarding education and training, with the aim of facilitating the development of an innovative and technologically savvy population, keeping up with and going beyond the latest ICT trends.

Implementation

What this means in practice is the key question. Dubai already has a highly developed e-government infrastructure, with the Dubai Smart Government Department (DSG) already providing a range of services. The emirate’s bevy of smartphone users – the penetration rate for the devices in the UAE was 72% in 2013, according to market research firm Ipsos – increasingly favour 4G long-term evolution networks. The DSC promises the integration of all these services into a single platform.

For example, under the DSC initiative, the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority has embarked on an ambitious programme to integrate the traffic and transportation systems through a single, unified control centre. The information from this – such as when to avoid the Sheikh Zayed Road, or if there is a delay on the metro – will be streamed to people’s smart-phones or other devices in real time, enabling them to make more informed decisions about their travel.At the same time, the Dubai Police are introducing smartphone apps that will allow citizens and visitors to interact with them without needing to travel to police stations to carry out purely administrative tasks.

The integration of data from hospitals and health centres also means that residents and visitors will know where to go if they have a health issue, and how long they may have to wait to see a doctor. Meanwhile, the school their children attend will also be part of the DSC network, giving parents and other government and private sector entities the latest updates.

Positive Energy

The DSC will also provide clear advantages in utilities provision. The Dubai Energy and Water Authority has unveiled plans to encourage residents to install solar energy panels in their homes, collecting and selling power back into the grid. Smart meters for electricity and water will be set up, enabling utility usage to be tailored to need, eliminating waste. All of these services will be integrated as part of smart electricity and water grids, with the data fed back to a central control, which will be able to manage sudden surges in demand in real time, channelling extra resources to where they are needed.

The environmental rewards of such a scheme are clear, with the Smart Environment pillar also aiming to provide closer monitoring of carbon dioxide emissions and other environmental indicators. Again, information collected can be shared across the DSC, enabling smarter decision-making, and the more efficient, sustainable use of resources.

Another area where the DSC will make an impact is retail – one of the emirate’s key economic drivers. Dubai’s Department of Economic Development has plans to provide the IT infrastructure to enable retailers to track and monitor real-time behaviour in stores, providing links to logistics operators to enable the delivery of goods and improve store efficiency.

Dubai Municipality is also working on transforming some 450 e-services into smart services, under the DSC plan, including facilities like park services, where real-time weather information, for example, will be made available to those thinking about visiting. An I-Dubai platform will also provide information on the latest recreational and other activities.

This transformation also goes to the heart of much of the project, moving beyond traditional e-government schemes to take services to the next level. The transition is well illustrated by the fact that the DSG was, until June 2013, known as Dubai eGovernment. This evolved from Sheikh Mohammed’s Dubai e-government umbrella initiative, launched in 2000, which used an electronic shared services approach and brought together core and administrative services across the government for electronic enablement.

The DSG not only continues to offer a wide range of government services online – many via a central, one-stop-shop platform – but also aims to integrate these across other platforms and, as DSC progresses, with other elements of the emirate’s economic, social and cultural life.

A Dubai electronic board will bring all this data together and will be able to be accessed through a single “My Window to Dubai” programme. At the same time, the Dubai Design District will put together tailored IT solutions for DSC entities, thereby transforming the ways in which the population of the emirate, its businesses and its government interact.

Better Together

The DSC, while backed and promoted by the government, is also very much an initiative open to partnerships with the private sector. Beyond that, if the DSC is to be seamless, an important phase of the project will be the integration of technical and service systems between government and private sector institutions. This is perhaps one of the most challenging phases of all.

It will also be important to ensure that the DSC keeps up with the rapid pace of technological change. The project has thus been created with a degree of flexibility to allow for new developments. Indeed, part of the philosophy is to make Dubai something of a test laboratory for such new innovations. This should place the emirate at the forefront of global IT trends, further drawing in sector specialists and investors.

Equipped with increasingly sophisticated smart-phones, both residents and visitors in the emirate will be able to access a wide array of information and services as they move about the city, while the city itself will take account of their movements and requests – a vision of the future that many around the world will be watching keenly in the years to come.

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The Report: Dubai 2015

Telecoms & IT chapter from The Report: Dubai 2015