Why partnerships are key to achieving the GCC's smart city ambitions
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Why partnerships are key to achieving the GCC’s smart city ambitions

Why partnerships are key to achieving the GCC’s smart city ambitions

UK technology companies involved in smart city projects across the region share their experience of collaborating with developers in the Gulf

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Over the last decade, GCC countries have embarked on major national transformation programmes to stimulate economic growth by transforming into knowledge-based economies and creating opportunities for the development of smart cities that are adaptable to future change.

Effective thought-leadership and efficient implementation of smart city strategies at a national level have enabled the Gulf’s cities to leverage technology to boost citizen wellbeing and deliver more efficient, sustainable and inclusive urban services.

In line with these national plans, KPMG has forecast that the Middle East and Africa’s smart city market will double from $1.3bn in 2018 to $2.7bn by 2022, driven by the pursuit of greater efficiency and lower costs for governments, businesses, and consumers.

“Smart cities create an abundance of opportunities for digital innovation, helping build new economic ventures, improve service delivery and facilitate citizen engagement,” explains Younus All Nasser, assistant director general of Smart Dubai.

“Smart and dynamic growth through collaboration between government entities, private companies, academia and citizens is essential in order to transform the future of our cities and achieve greater happiness for the people of our nation.”

Each Gulf nation has its unique vision of what a smart city looks like, and each city is keen to work with international partners to implement the next level of smart city solutions.

Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh has become the fifth smartest city among the G20 capitals, according to the 2020 Smart Cities Index. This progress is driven by ambitious smart city developments such as the $500bn mega-city NEOM, with the developer recently announcing the establishment a 5G-network infrastructure.

And with Saudi Arabia aiming to increase the number of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims to 30 million by 2030, the process of transforming Makkah into a smart city has picked up pace in recent years.

Similarly, Bahrain is working on its smart city infrastructure, which began with the development of Bahrain Bay, the kingdom’s landmark $2.5bn waterfront community.

The government of Kuwait has accelerated the digitisation of several of its e-services platforms as the country aspires to transform itself into a hub for trade, finance and tourism as part of its 2035 vision.

Mobile telecommunications companies are acting as a catalyst in the country’s smart city transformation – Kuwait was among the first GCC countries to implement 5G. The South Saad Al Abdullah smart city project is billed as the Middle East’s first green and ‘smart’ development and will be home to around 400,000 people.

Meanwhile, the UAE’s smart city projects such as Masdar City, The Sustainable City, and the Zayed Smart City Project are good examples of the UAE’s early adoption of innovative smart city solutions.

The UAE is already implementing 5G and exploring the futuristic transportation method hyperloop.

Other smart government services include the UAE Pass, the first national identity and signature solution that enables users to identify themselves quickly and access a range of government services, and Dubai’s Smart City initiative, which will transform 1000 government services into smart services.

According to Simon Penney, Trade commissioner for the Middle East at the UK’s Department for International Trade, the UK is keen to partner with the Gulf to help make the region’s smart city ambitions a reality.

“By working with different partners, with different skillsets, the Gulf’s smart city projects will continue to thrive,” Penney explains.

“The UK is one of the global leaders in the development of world-class smart cities technologies, and we have a proven track record of working with other countries to help them to achieve their smart city visions. In fact, British technology companies are already involved in a wide variety of projects across the Gulf.”

For example, CrowdVision is a British company involved in delivering real-time data to help manage crowds and ensure the safety of millions of Hajj pilgrims in Makkah.

The software company also provides crowd control and queuing management software for Muscat International Airport in Oman. These technologies are particularly relevant to help ensure social distancing in busy public areas during the current pandemic.

CrowdVision’s COO Stuart Mills believes that the Gulf is an important market for the company because businesses within the region are very receptive to world-class technologies and are often thought-leaders in the way that technology can be leveraged to the greatest effect.

“Our solution is a great example of British technology being deployed in the Gulf to help crowd management and keep people safe during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he explains.

Meanwhile, with the UAE’s population growth expected to double by 2027, the country aims to leverage advanced technologies and smart city transport solutions to reduce transport costs and congestion and to enhance its position as a global logistics and transport hub. One important initiative is Dubai’s Smart Autonomous Mobility strategy, which aims to transform 25 per cent of all journeys in Dubai into driverless journeys by 2030.

Earlier this year, British Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) developer BeemCar signed an memorandum of understanding with Dubai’s Road Transport Authority (RTA) to step up collaboration to develop futuristic mobility solutions through PRT built on suspended transport technology.

“The region is clearly very ambitious and taking on a global leadership role in smart city mobility. We are equally determined to ensure that all of its citizens enjoy the benefits of our next-generation PRT system that solves the perennial problem of inner-city congestion, safety and pollution,” BeemCar’s CEO Robin Brownsell explains.

BeemCar’s mobility solution uses ultra violet lighting in the ceiling and floor to sanitise the inside of the vehicle in 30 seconds, ensuring a Covid-19-free environment for passengers.

For Gulf economies looking to leverage international expertise and innovation within the smart city value chain, partnerships will certainly help them realise their goals.

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