Smart cities and the future of business

How can your business thrive in future urban spaces?


Smart cities and the future of business

The need to get smart

Cities are the heartbeat of the Middle East. According to 2017 World Bank data, the vast majority of its population of about 411 million people live in urban areas – including 84% and 86% in Saudi Arabia and UAE respectively, and a massive 99% of residents in Qatar. This compares to a global average of 50%, which is itself expected to reach about two-thirds by 2050 according to a recent PwC study.

This global trend towards increased urbanisation is already a daily reality in the Middle East. As the region’s cities continue to grow, they will face serious challenges of overstressed infrastructure and scarcity of resources, especially water.

These types of challenges have led to the rise of ‘smart cities’ – urban spaces that use software, computing devices and big data to solve the problems inherent to densely populated areas. Technopedia defines a smart city as one that leverages technology to “enhance the quality and performance of urban services such as energy, transportation and utilities [to] reduce resource consumption, wastage and overall costs”. It sounds great, but how will it benefit businesses operating in these futuristic urban landscapes?

The need to get smart

The intelligent workplace

Cities have always been centres of economic and technological progress. As digital disruption replaces old business models and processes, smart cities will be at the forefront of driving this change. In turn, businesses will be able to find new ways to generate revenue through the creation of innovative new products and services. They will also be able to derive valuable insights from data generated by an increasingly connected infrastructure.

Smart buildings will form a vital part of smart cities. They’ll include homes, factories and offices where IoT (internet of things) devices enhance how these spaces are utilised. For example, smart lighting or automated window shades could adjust the light intensity in an office while reducing energy consumption. When the sensor detects no one in the room, the lights will automatically turn off.

Likewise, smart thermostats could create an optimal room temperature that keeps employees comfortable and enhances productivity. CCTV cameras and motion sensors could be connected to mobile devices, helping to improve office security. Eventually, we could have ‘smart’ furniture that senses peoples’ preferences and adjusts to them automatically, contributing even more to worker satisfaction and output.

Businesses can make their workspaces smarter by leveraging the latest productivity technologies, such as cloud-based workflow management, AI-assisted decision systems, and activity-based working (ABW). ABW is a cornerstone of the smart office. Accommodating open planning, quiet spaces and hot-desking, it enables more effective collaboration and more efficient use of floor space.

The intelligent workplace

Creating a sustainable future

Of course, smart cities are much more than just connected offices. Roadways, public transport, electricity, water, sanitation and more can all be integrated into a smart city ‘grid’. Devices and sensors throughout this network collect and exchange vast troves of data, allowing the city’s systems to be monitored and optimised in real time.

In the Middle East, a recent report released by KPMG stated that total spending on smart city projects in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is anticipated to double from $1.3bn in 2018 to $2.7bn in 2022. McKinsey’s 2018 Smart Cities report ranked Abu Dhabi and Dubai as already the most technologically advanced cities in the region. And Saudi Arabia’s planned Neom ‘megacity’ is expected to encompass a 10,000 square mile economic zone and metropolis, and run on 100% renewable energy.

Sustainability will become an increasingly vital consideration in smart city planning and design. With its coastal cities, high temperatures and water scarcity, the Middle East has been identified as highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. For the region’s relatively young and growing population, energy-efficient and digitally connected smart cities will play a vital role in creating new jobs, improving standards of living, and securing a greener future.

WEF: How the Middle East is suffering on the front lines of climate change, 2019

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