Wild snowstorms paralyzed electricity infrastructure in Texas, a state in the country with the world’s largest economy.
Just imagine what climate change fueled extreme weather will do to our cities as infrastructure and ICT systems become increasingly interconnected.
Many see high-tech “smart cities” as a climate solution, but just how smart are they?
This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Smart cities are held up as beacons of hope in meeting the climate crisis. This is because they reduce greenhouse gas emissions by paring back energy use and urban waste. But is it possible the high-tech complexity of smart cities actually leaves urban dwellers more exposed to future climate disaster? Smart cities’ dependence on the information and communications technology (ICT) systems that help generate these emission reductions may actually be opening up new climate vulnerabilities when we consider what happens if these systems fail. There is a danger that we fall into the trap of assuming that a reliance on increasingly high-tech solutions is our “get out of jail free” card for everything.
We need to think more about whether our increasing reliance on interconnected information-based technology includes adequate fails safes to protect against systematic collapse if cities are hit by outside stresses – including climate-induced shocks. A number of experts working in the field of urban climate adaptation believe this issue is not receiving adequate attention.
Considering that about 55 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities, and this figure is projected to rise to seven out of 10 people by 2050, we ignore this issue at our possible peril.
The definition of what actually makes a smart city is not clear cut. There is general agreement though that they share an ability to combine real time data and digital technology to improve people’s decisions on when to use energy and when to move around, while also contributing to more efficient long-term city planning. Sensors and people’s ubiquitous use of smartphones, for instance, encourage urban residents to use public transit during off-peak hours to avoid large crowds and to access energy and water services at different times of the day to lessen demand surges.
Smart emission reduction
Smart cities reduce carbon footprints by utilizing interconnected ICT systems to create greater efficiencies. These can come in the form of more energy efficient buildings and street lighting, better waste management, smart energy meters that allow consumers to tap cheaper off-peak power, and electrified public transport links that best conform with people flows. Largely absent from positive depictions of smart cities’ ability to reduce emissions though are considerations of how robust the ICT systems are that make them smart.
In his book published last year, “Apocalypse How”, former UK politician Oliver Letwin issues an arresting warning about whether we are adequately assessing the way our growing reliance on technological connectivity opens our societies to vulnerabilities. Letwin provides a detailed portrayal of how the physical and human infrastructure of UK society would break down quickly if there was a systematic failure of the internet and associated services, including banking and satellite-based communication and navigation. He predicts this would lead quickly to a large number of deaths (in his synopsis due to the failure of indoor heating) and, ultimately, a breakdown of law and order.
The title of Letwin’s book is a misnomer (possibly with a suggested nod by the publisher to the current popularity of dystopian literature and TV) as the ICT breakdown he posits –associated with internet-busting solar flares – is rectified in a few days. While Letwin does not address climate change, his book does provide a useful thought experiment in highlighting the way our fragile modern society is increasingly dependent on the ICT systems that connect us and our machines. Isn’t it possible that the increasingly extreme effects of climate change – such as floods, hurricanes and extended droughts – could, ironically, threaten the integrity of the smart city ICT networks designed to help mitigate global heating?
Enmeshed in the ICT era
Humanity’s increasing reliance on technology is by no means new. It began with the use of simple tools and fire, leading to gradually more sophisticated irrigation and animal husbandry. During the past few decades, the use technology has carved out a central part of our lives – accelerating rapidly with the invention of steam power (which, along with the myriad benefits of fossil fuel-powered modernity, began the current trajectory to the climate crisis we now face). The extent to which we now use technology-based communication and interconnectivity though is unprecedented. Today’s generation is deeply enmeshed in the ICT era, equally as it is within the Anthropocene era.
Richard Dawson, an urban climate expert based at the UK’s Newcastle University, warns of a “cascading failure” if single ICT components fail. Dawson says we need to upgrade our thinking about urban infrastructure connections beyond a traditional focus on electricity, road, rail and sewage systems. “The increasing reliance on data and ICT in urban planning is a double-edged sword,” he said. “It allows for incredible flexibility – to create new communication lines we don’t have to dig up a road. We could live without being able to talk across continents if telecommunications fail, but we would struggle if this breakdown led to a mass system failure.”
A loss of ICT interconnectivity has implications far beyond the failure of systems employed to create urban efficiencies and, therefore, reduce emissions. The rapid speed at which ICT systems operate could actually work against us if they fail, as the negative effects would be sharp and sudden. Dawson points out the loss of electronic banking could quickly lead to social problems. This would be particularly worrisome if this occurs as the result of a climate disaster when a ready access to personal finance is so important.
Strange conspiracy theories
The US Government found that many of the social problems following Hurricane Katrina’s destructive descent on New Orleans in 2005 arose from “information gaps”. While accounts of rioting and other lawlessness at the time were later described as exaggerated, numerous reports do indicate communication breakdowns did severely impact social cohesion. Professor Ayyoob Sharifi, from Japan’s Hiroshima University, warns the ICT systems that control smart cities are not just prone to disruption from uncontrolled disaster, but also from intentional human-created harm.
The curation of social media misinformation by individuals or organizations, including overseas governments, could overcome local officials’ attempts to prevent the outbreak of havoc when disaster strikes, said Sharifi, who studies urban climate measures. This could include the dissemination of purposefully incorrect information about where to take shelter during flooding. Purported attempts by the Russian Government to use social media to sway election results in the US and Europe shows that anonymous attempts to sway public perceptions can be effective.
The ability of strange conspiracy theories, especially if abetted by unscrupulous populist politicians such as former US President Donald Trump, to cut through the daily online traffic and garner widespread support shows that social media is not always the best medium to convey factual information. Social media, usually accessed by smart phones, is an important part of the two-way communication interface of smart cities, as it is with many forms of climate early warning systems.
How do we ensure then that the commendable work of climate proofing cities does not lead us down cul de sacs of urban planning where an overreliance on ICT connections actually increases the potential for climate disruption? One way is to take a holistic approach that incorporates different approaches to urban dynamics.
Future Earth’s Urban Knowledge-Action Network – a global group of researchers and other policy, business and civil society innovators – is striving to make cities more sustainable and equitable by highlighting the human element in democratizing data and including underrepresented voices in city planning.
Local Governments for Sustainability, known as ICLEI, is another global network – comprising local and regional governments in over 100 countries – that advocates cities that weather rapid urbanization and climate change by combining sustainable and equitable solutions.
Nazmul Huq, ICLEI’s head of resilient development, says people need to be placed at the centre of all urban management – especially in developing countries, many of which are now entering intense urbanization. Rapid interconnectivity in the new urban hot spots of growth in India, China and Nigeria is creating advantage and potential disadvantage at a rapid pace.
“The emergence of ICT, especially mobile phones, represents a revolution for poorer people in developing countries as it provides them with greater control over their lives,” Huq said. “But at the same time, an overreliance on interconnected ICT urban networks also raises the possibility of devastating systematic collapse – including through rapid climate-induced disasters such as heat waves. This could disconnect people, while knocking out internet connections and electricity generation.”
Huq said the most important factor in making cities livable – whether they are smart or not – is to include all urban citizens, including disadvantaged groups, in the decisions that shape their urban spaces. “We must ensure the voices of the poor and marginalized are heard to avoid injustice and unequal distribution of the benefits of city life,” he added.
The way megacities are emerging now in developing countries may well determine whether we are able to overcome the climate challenge – especially considering that 70 percent of greenhouse gases come from today’s cities. Under current trends, it seems likely the lives of those rich and poor will become increasingly urbanized and interconnected by smart city ICT systems.
The sheer enormity of the climate challenge means we need to consider all options, including seeking out technological solutions. We should, however, balance our desire to be smart and interconnected with urban planning that at least considers the fragility of our city systems and what happens when they don’t work. We must not allow our thirst for technology to overcome our human need to consider nature.
Banner image caption: City of London skyline by Colin via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).
Simon Pollock is an Australian-British writer and climate change communicator based in South Korea. Before leaving the Australian Government in 2016, he was a member of the startup team that launched Al Jazeera English Television from its Asia HQ in Kuala Lumpur. Simon’s interest in development and environmental issues stemmed from observation of how the two don’t always mix during six years in Beijing as a Kyodo News reporter.
GreenBiz came up with these six tips for deploying data-driven energy management to drive meaningful emission reductions through reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics. So here is a much down to earth way to a certain decarbonisation strategy.
Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics
Nearly 40 percent of global CO2 emissions come from the built environment — with 28 percent resulting from buildings in operation. Whether your organization owns, operates or occupies a building, data-driven energy management is key to reducing its GHG footprint and Scope 1 and 2 emissions.
In the past, organizations have struggled to scale building operational energy improvement efforts for a variety of reasons. The most-cited reasons include organizational structures that fracture ownership of energy performance across disparate stakeholders, a lack of goal alignment and collaboration between landlords and occupiers, and the preponderance of legacy systems that make interoperability and data consolidation challenging.
According to United Nations projections, carbon emissions from buildings are expected to double by 2050 if action at scale doesn’t occur. With more companies pledging to decarbonize their business, and investors increasingly scrutinizing ESG data, scalable energy management will be a critical step in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Today, we share six tips for deploying data-driven energy management at scale to drive meaningful emission reductions from your business.
Collect meter-level energy consumption data where possible
Identifying GHG reduction opportunities should be a data-driven, systematic process. Start by examining building-level energy meter profiles and understanding how usage patterns relate to changing occupancy and weather conditions. Meters, which typically generate one datapoint every 15 to 30 minutes, as opposed to one datapoint every month or quarter on a utility bill, provide rich data to better inform your organization’s decarbonization strategy.
Tip: Leverage meter data, which provides real-time transparency of when and where energy is being used, to identify unexpected usage patterns and unlock higher-resolution benchmarking and analysis opportunities.
Benchmark the energy intensity of your building portfolio
Building-level energy management is powerful, but it never pays to operate in a vacuum. Understanding how a building performs compared to others provides context and can help your organization identify where to focus first. The approach to benchmarking depends on the type of buildings in your portfolio.
For example, typical portfolios of small to medium buildings (buildings of 4,000 to 20,000 square feet or so) often include many buildings dispersed across a geography (such as convenience stores, bank branches and fast-food stores), while large shopping centers, hospitals and universities manage larger, but fewer, centralized complex buildings.
Portfolios with larger commercial buildings can leverage third-party frameworks, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Energy Star and NABERS, which compare energy intensity against an industry benchmark.
For portfolios of small to medium buildings that are dispersed, external benchmarks are harder to find. In this case, Envizi recommends internal benchmarking using meter data to make meaningful performance comparisons. Advanced normalization techniques can be applied to identify the poorest performers in the portfolio, which helps to inform a highly targeted strategy for improving efficiency and reducing emissions.
Tip: Undertake energy benchmarking before making investment decisions — don’t make the mistake of focusing on areas where there are no material savings. Envizi’s software can combine meter data with other contextual data (floor area, weather, operating schedules, and production units) to enable performance comparisons on a normalized basis.
Tune operational and behavioral efficiency
Buildings can be complex, but not as complex as building operations: the interaction between a building, its operators and occupants, and flow-on effects to energy performance.
Building services such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), which often account for almost 30 percent of annual emissions, are subject to continuous change and are often responsible for considerable “energy drift” over time due to poor operational practices. For this reason, technology that proactively informs and educates building operators is necessary to support time-poor operations teams to maintain optimum performance.
Often, manual audits will not detect the inefficiencies, but Envizi’s software uses a combination of continuous equipment monitoring, building management systems data, equipment nameplate data, weather data and other metrics to provide transparency to HVAC system performance and uncover operational issues that are otherwise difficult to detect.
Consider plant and equipment upgrades
Investing in equipment to deliver emissions reductions is dependent on an organization’s scale, scope and asset type and may be relevant only to building owners.
The appetite for plant and equipment upgrades may depend on how long the asset owner intends to hold the asset, the age of the building and the age of the equipment. Envizi recommends that building owners and operators engage their engineering consultants and specialist contractors to determine the feasibility of plant and equipment upgrades.
Tip: Technology can assist in the pre- and post-analysis of reduction projects to measure effectiveness and return on investment (ROI). Envizi’s software uses the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol to ensure calculations will withstand audit and validation.
Consider on-site and off-site renewables
After implementing solutions for operational, behavioral and system efficiencies, many organizations seek renewable energy as a proactive solution to get ahead on the decarbonization journey. Decisions on whether to procure on-site or off-site renewables are complex, and Envizi recommends coordinating with your organization’s engineering consultant or specialist contractor to assess its options.
Tip: Software platforms such as the one offered by Envizi can assist with monitoring the performance of solar assets, comparing the actual performance to promised performance and integrating the accounting of the renewable energy certificates to facilitate the most traceable reporting and auditing process.
Energy management is rarely the remit of one team, but rather involves multiple stakeholders across an organization. The success of any emissions-reduction effort will be affected by the organization’s ability to effectively engage a cross-collaborative stakeholder group.
Typically, organizations with a strong culture of governance and executive ownership of the energy agenda can make the most impactful positive change. Often, inspirational leaders can make the difference with robust internal communication, empowerment through clear roles and responsibilities, and incentives for employees to take ownership of the energy reduction goals.
The transition to a low-carbon economy will require organizations to drastically increase the energy efficiency of buildings in operation. The following data-driven tactics can help your organization identify and achieve meaningful emission reductions:
Collect meter data where possible to understand granular energy consumption.
Benchmark the energy performance of the buildings by size/cohort in your organization’s portfolio to identify poor performers.
Use technology to monitor how HVAC systems are configured, to detect energy waste and optimization opportunities.
Before implementing equipment retrofits, solar photovoltaics or energy projects, engage a specialist to understand your organization’s options, and use data to establish a baseline against which to measure improvements.
Nominate a senior executive to champion your organization’s emissions-reduction program. A single system of record for emissions and energy can help enable cross-functional collaboration.
If you’d like to learn more about using data and technology to streamline and accelerate decarbonization, read “Pathway to Low-Carbon Guide.”
Smart Cities are set to gain further traction post the pandemic, with providers focusing on developing data-driven infrastructure to provide appropriate healthcare facilities and public security services. Could The first step towards the future of Smart Cities be a matter of connected buildings? BW SMART CITIES‘ Ganesh L Khanolkar explains.
Connected buildings: The first step towards the future of smart cities
Earlier this year, International Data Corporation (IDC) released a forecast predicting that the global spending on smart city initiatives will reach a staggering $124 billion, by the end of 2020. This is an increase of about 18.9% compared to the 2019 spend for the same.
This comes as no surprise considering smart cities are set to gain further traction post the pandemic, with providers focusing on developing data-driven infrastructure to provide appropriate healthcare facilities and public security services. Investments in the space too, are expected to rise significantly over the next few years.
While the smart city has definitely become a buzzword of sorts, there is very little understanding on what it takes to achieve this vision. When we think of smart cities, we immediately conjure images of Artificial intelligence (AI), driverless cars, smart street lighting, smart parking, etc. But we fail to guess the starting point of a connected society – smart buildings.
After all, buildings are the ideal starting points from which a smart city can grow. Just how a building is a functional unit of a city, smart buildings are the primary units of a smart city. Smart buildings integrate technology and the IoT to provide solutions to challenges like overspend and inefficiency in building management. Within a smart building, all the systems are connected, from managing energy, water, lighting, to delivering security and emergency services. Therefore, smart buildings empowered by the deployment of IoT and cloud technologies will be the key reason for smart cities to succeed. So what are the key factors that make a building ‘smart’? Below are some of the key features.
Energy Efficiency: Connected buildings primarily help save power and centralize control over the energy management. Such buildings unify the management of heating, cooling and lighting functions, and eliminating wastes within the building by use of advanced sensors. Smart thermostats turn the temperature down in your absence saving power to save power and also use renewable energy sources (e.g. Solar panels) thereby reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and electricity.
Predictive Maintenance: Connected building models provide constant monitoring and evaluation of embedded automation and systems. Be it anticipating asset lifecycles, or monitoring the life, repair and replacement of individual elements, predictive management help avoid shutdowns which can incur loses. Minimizing disruption in building operations reflects positively on resource and capital utilization, as well as leading to greater ROI by enhancing the market value of the property.
Enhanced Security: Smart buildings provide enhanced security on various levels. As these buildings are all connected, building managers can integrate fire, intrusion and access systems to provide inmates the highest degree of safety possible. Further, each of these critical amenities can be customized, resulting in an overall synergy, as well as a strict adherence to local or state safety compliance.
Current challenges in making old buildings smart and how technology helps
Given that half the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, this trend will put unprecedented pressure on our built environment, especially maintaining our buildings. Floor space restrictions are making our cities increasingly taller. So there is an urgent need for a reliable and efficient building services to maintain these buildings and ensure they run at optimum efficiency.
Currently what holds many buildings back from becoming smarter is their reliance the conventional paper model to manage critical systems, be it electricity, plumbing or air conditioning. Agreed that a full scale revamp of an existing building is somewhat of a costly undertaking, but technology does help make this transition easier.
Old buildings without smart sensors or fixtures can still be optimized for energy usage by deploying intelligent systems of rule-based efficiency modules. Most of these old buildings have energy meters, and further, several components of the HVAC system are energy hoggers. There is an energy meter associated with each of these. It is through these energy meters that data of energy-hogging equipment of old buildings is gathered. And by using advanced machine learning algorithms, modules can be built that can help decide how energy is being used, apart from detecting fault through identification of abnormal usage.
Such deployment of integrated IoT solutions to render old buildings advanced and smart can assure building owners and managers of a significant ROI in the long run.
How the pandemic is shifting priorities towards smart buildings
The pandemic has really forced us to rethink the way that we are currently living. While many of us have embraced technology to keep connected personally and professionally during the lockdown, very few are aware of how the concept of connected buildings (a key building block of smart cities) can be used effectively to ensure the safety of a building’s inmates and control the spread of the disease. Connected buildings are without a doubt the easiest implementation of a digital upgrade which can have a positive impact on all the fundamental elements around which our societies are organized. Therefore, it is more critical than ever for policymakers at both local, and national level to plan their connected building strategies.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
Rich Miller writes in DATACENTERFrontier that Beyond Green Power: New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability can easily be envisioned as these are increasingly populating planet earth.
Above picture is of Large pipes sporting Google’s logo colors move water throughout the cooling plant at the Google’ data center in Douglas County, Georgia. (Photo: Google)
February 3, 2021
Sustainable Construction Strategies
More data center projects will integrate sustainability into design and construction, with early collaboration between teams to minimize the environmental impact of the construction process and create a building with low operational carbon impact, enabling more effective and cost-efficient offset strategies. Design collaboration is essential in seeking to integrate cleaner technologies into the power chain and cooling systems.
Several data center providers are working with CarbonCure, which makes a low-carbon “greener” concrete material for the tile-up walls that frame data centers. Concrete’s durability and strength are ideal for industrial construction, but the production of cement requires the use of massive kilns, which require large amounts of energy, and the actual chemical process emits staggeringly high levels of CO2. CarbonCure takes CO2 produced by large emitters like refineries and chemically mineralizes it during the concrete manufacturing process to make greener and stronger concrete. The process reduces the volume of cement required in the mixing of concrete, while also permanently removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
Waste Stream Accountability and the ‘Circular Economy’
A key priority is tracking the environmental impact of construction components, including a “reverse logistics” process to track the waste stream and disposition of debris. Asset recovery and recycling specialists will become key partners, and the most successful projects will communicate goals and best practices across the contractors and trades participating in each project. The goal is a “circular economy” that reuses and repurposes materials.
Managing packaging for equipment that is shipped to a data center facility is an important and often underlooked facet of waste stream accountability. There are also opportunities in reuse of components and equipment that that can still be productive (although this must be closely managed in a mission-critical environment).
The ability to document a net-zero waste stream impact has the potential to emerge as an additional metric for data center service providers, as customers consider the entirety of their supplier’s sustainability programs.
As customers ask tougher questions about a providers’ environmental practices and corporate social responsibility policies, certifications may emerge as another avenue for service providers to differentiate themselves.
Several ISO certifications, including ISO 50001 and ISO 14001, which Iron Mountain is certified for across its global data center portfolio, focus on energy management and provide frameworks that can assure stakeholders that the provider is considering energy impact and environmental goals in audits, communications, labeling and equipment life cycle analysis.
Water Conservation and Management
Amid changing weather patterns, many areas of the world are facing drought conditions and water is becoming a scarcer and more valuable resource. Data center operators are stepping up their efforts to reduce their reliance on potable water supplies.
Sustainable water strategies include both sourcing and design. On the sourcing front, several Google facilities include water treatment plants that allow it to cool its servers using local bodies of water or waste water from municipal water systems. Data center districts in Ashburn (Va.), Quincy (Washington) and San Antonio offer “grey water” feeds that provide recycled waste water to industrial customers.
On the design front, more providers are choosing cooling systems with minimal need for water, while others are incorporating rainwater recovery strategies that capture rain from huge roofs or parking lots and store it on site, reducing potential burden on local water systems.
Matching Workloads to Renewable Energy
Google has been a leader in the use of artificial intelligence and sophisticated energy provisioning to match its operations to carbon-free energy sources. The company recently said it will power its entire global information empire entirely with carbon-free energy by 2030, matching every hour of its data center operations to carbon-free energy sources. This marks an ambitious step forward in using technology to create exceptional sustainability.
Google can currently account for all its operations with energy purchases. But the intermittent nature of renewable energy creates challenges in matching green power to IT operations around the clock. Solar power is only available during daylight hours. Wind energy can be used at night, but not when the wind dies down. Google created a “carbon-intelligent computing platform” that optimizes for green energy by rescheduling workloads that are not time-sensitive, matching workloads to solar power during the day, and wind energy in the evening, for example. The company also hopes to move workloads between data centers to boost its use of renewables, a strategy that offers even greater potential gains by shifting data center capacity to locations where green energy is more plentiful, routing around utilities that are slow to adopt renewables.
Google has pledged to share its advances with the broader data center industry, providing others with the tools to reduce carbon impact. Continued instrumentation of older data centers is a key step in this direction.
Eliminating Diesel Generators
Microsoft recently announced plans to eliminate its reliance on diesel fuel by the year 2030, which has major implications for the company’s data centers, many of which use diesel-powered generators for emergency backup power. With its new deadline, Microsoft sets in motion a push to either replace its generators with cleaner technologies, or perhaps eliminate them altogether by managing resiliency through software.
Eliminating expensive generators and UPS systems has been a goal for some hyperscale providers. Facebook chose Lulea, Sweden for a data center because the robust local power grid allowed it to operate with fewer generators. In the U.S., providers have experimented with “data stations” that operate with no generators on highly-reliable locations on the power grid.
There are four primary options companies have pursued as alternatives to generators — fuel cells, lithium-ion batteries, shifting capacity to smaller edge data centers that can more easily run on batteries, and shifting to cloud-based resiliency.
Fuel Cells and On-Site Power
Microsoft has successfully tested the use of hydrogen fuel cells to power its data center servers. The company called the test “a worldwide first that could jump-start a long-forecast clean energy economy built around the most abundant element in the universe.”
Microsoft said it recently ran a row of 10 racks of Microsoft Azure cloud servers for 48 hours using a 250-kilowatt hydrogen-powered fuel cell system at a facility near Salt Lake City, Utah. Since most data center power outages last less than 48 hours, the test offered a strong case that fuel cells could be used in place of diesel generators to keep a data center operating through a utility outage.
Some companies, like Equinix and eBay, have deployed Bloom Energy fuel cells to improve reliability and cut energy costs, but have powered them with natural gas. The use of biofuels looms as another potential avenue to pair fuel cells with renewable sourcing.
Utility-scale energy storage has long been the missing link in the data center industry’s effort to power the cloud with renewable energy. Energy storage could overcome the intermittent generation patterns of leading renewable sources. Solar panels only generate power when the sun is shining, and wind turbines are idle in calm weather. Energy storage could address that gap, allowing renewable power to be stored for use overnight and on windless days.
A new project in Nevada will showcase a potential solution from Tesla, the electric car company led by tech visionary Elon Musk. Data center technology company Switch will use new large-scale energy storage technology from Tesla to boost its use of solar energy for its massive data center campuses in Las Vegas and Reno. It is a promising project in pioneering a holistic integration of renewable power, energy storage and Internet-scale data centers.
Talking Sustainability With Experts
Don’t miss the last installment of this series that features a conversation on the future of sustainable data centers. Data Center Frontier Editor Rich Miller discusses the topic with Kevin Hagen, Director, Corporate Responsibility at Iron Mountain, and Alex Sharp, Global Head of Design & Construction — Data Centers at Iron Mountain.
It’s a preview of the upcoming webinar where these experts will discuss sustainability strategies for greener data centers.
It is confirmed here in The Brand Berries.comOPINIONS that Digital Transformation and its Implications on Brands and Consumers in The Middle East by Imad Sarrouf, Head of Publishers at DMS ( Member of the Choueiri Group) is as valid a statement as can be these days.
12 November 2020
The Middle East is showing the promise to scale to unprecedented levels apropos of its digital transformation market is no news. In 2016, along with Africa, this market was valued at USD 1,1 Billion and was estimated to achieve an implausible growth by 2024.
Major powers in the Middle East including UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia have shown impressive strides towards the goal, with their Governments setting precedents by integrating digital transformation in the public sector. The growth that these regions have achieved in terms of tech-savvy infrastructure has made some of the most powerful heads turn in the Gulf direction.
Clearly, the private sector and the public in themselves have taken the cue and are leaving no stone unturned in embracing the digital revolution. As more and more middle eastern companies pave the way for digital, such transformation is going to shape up the future of brands and consumers in this region.
The State Of Digitization Of Brands and Companies In The Middle East
At large, a territory’s adoption and adaptation to the digital era are measured with reference to the population’s access to smartphones, engagement with social media platforms, and availability of high-end digital technologies. While the Middle East has been making headlines for rising up these ladders, the scope of the implementation of digital transformation goes far beyond just that.
The digital transformation market in the middle east is basically divided into 2 regions; the GCC countries and other Arab countries. According to a survey report by Strategy And, hardly about 7.5% of the brands and companies in the GCC region understand the potential of digital transformation as a means to realize efficiencies.
Considering that building a digital strategy for future upscaling is the fundamental step for a company towards transformation, only about 37% of the major brands in the Middle East had teams working on one. The major employable channels across a vast range of sectors for brands include big data and analytics, IoT, Cloud Computing, Cyber physics, and technologies of similar likes. Popular frontrunners leading the race of transformation include Microsoft, Google Inc, SAP, Protiviti, Ixtel, Oracle among others.
Gulf Brands Go Smart: How The Middle East Is Accelerating The Digital Revolution
Closer technical analysis of the major Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE shows that digital initiatives have taken the front seat among leading brand growth agendas. These agendas have been presenting, and are expected to continuingly present themselves under three major brackets;
Adoption Of Smarter Projects And Initiatives
These comprise the entire smart market — right from smart homes, smart healthcare, smart hospitality, and tourism, to smart transportation, entertainment, business, and shopping. Some of the most successful digital initiatives include health monitoring wristwatches, virtual assistants as tour guides, IoT based interconnected home system, among others. While the scope of AR, VR, and advanced AI is still being explored and systematically implemented, work in progress projects in this area include AR/ VR enabled cars in the mobility segment, and some medical testing procedures in the healthcare sector.
Implementation Of Smarter Payment Gateways
The world is always in the need of a better and safer way to pay, and we have all been a witness to this when people furiously shifted to digital mode of payments as soon as they were introduced. With cryptocurrency in the picture, the only challenge is the lack of exposure and education in this area. However, several middle eastern companies are coming forward to give this option to consumers. In fact, in 2017, Dubai’s residential real estate project, Aston Plaza was the first in the world to allow full payment in the form of bitcoins.
Customization Of Production and Operational Convenience
The way the manufacturing sector has been catching up with digital opportunities is magnanimous. The drastic shift from mass production to customized production is one of the most obvious demonstrations of the same that runs alongside the heavy reliance on light mobile apps. These apps ensure higher accuracy, operational convenience, and shipment tracking; some of the features that have become manufacturing prerequisites in an ideal digital world.
For companies that can afford a drastic change, the digital initiatives in this sector also include transforming the entire ecosystem to be more optimized, increasingly sustainable, and minimally invasive.
In a capsule, the digital transformation scene in the companies of the Middle East is seen tracing three major models — digital business model, digital consumer model, and the digital operations model — of which the consumer model is observed to be spearheading the growth. Let’s now understand how this consumer model is being implemented despite regional limitations including the slowdowns due to the recent pandemic instituted lockdowns.
Digital Transformation Driving Middle Eastern Consumer Experience
Middle eastern companies’ digital strategies are highly driven by keeping consumer experience enhancement at the forefront. This includes micro-target marketing to improve customer engagement and channelizing customer feedback.
Some of the most dynamic and successful initiatives include:
Online to Offline Commerce is replacing traditional retail shopping hard and fast. Retail stores are being improvised to act as mere distribution centers while more and more investments are being concentrated towards online initiatives. The lucrative combination of browsing through hundreds of options on the screen, without having to move an inch, getting discount codes and coupons by shopping online, yet getting the look and feel of shopping by personally trying and collecting as per convenience has proved to be an instant hit in this region.
Chatbots and virtual assistants
This technology has proved to be such a huge success that it has become fairly common to find chatbots on every other website or app we use. What companies in the middle east are also empowering are pharma, healthcare, and hospitality sectors through this technology. You can know the right medicine to take for mild symptoms and problems, you can schedule and monitor your family’s health checkups and reports, and coordinate your entire stay with an expert assistant. These applications have particularly received widespread recognition because of its social-distancing friendly nature.
Middle Eastern Challenges To A Rapid Digital Adaptation
For any company, digital transformation is a major shift, that more than anything else will require capital and man-power investment. The most natural challenges that companies in the middle east are facing is the broad skill gap in the existing organizations, change in operating model to an agile one, and starting off on the right footing to make the transformation a profitable success.
Keeping skill-building, awareness, and education at the core, however, can be a unanimous way out of the hindrances posed by these challenges. As companies find access to greater resources; human and otherwise; proficient in the field, brands will gain more confidence to take the digital leap of faith.
Imad Sarrouf (in feature picture above) is a digital expert with over 15 years of experience in the digital media industry working across a large portfolio of publishers and ad technology platforms in the middle east. In his position, he leads digital innovation and transformation – responsible for the ad tech solutions business and process automation to drive business growth.
Originally posted on News: A study by French website Mediapart and Radio France Internationale (RFI) and two other French investigation sites in coordination with Dutch site Lighthouse Reports has revealed that French Rafael warplanes sold to Egypt had been used to support Khalifa Haftar’s forces in their military operations in Libya. The study said the…
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