Whether it is about analytics as focused on extracting insights or chasing accurate Business intelligence, today’s data appears more and more as if it is the modern lifeblood of the heavy industries in the Middle East and North African countries. It is about diversifying their economy and setting out some knowledge economy as elaborated on ITP.net today.
Data – The modern lifeblood of heavy industries in the Middle East
by Geir Engdahl
The secret recipe for many successful companies is to maintain a laser focus on their users and on improving their operational efficiency and their ability to make rapid and higher confidence decisions.
Inside nearly any type of business is a treasure trove of data. It’s the companies that understand how to maximise the value of that data and use it to improve decision making, accelerate innovation, enhance the customer experience and drive operational efficiency that will have the competitive advantage. However, it’s easier said than done and companies may find extracting this data value to be challenging.
Siloed data, outdated tools and shadow IT are the most common hurdles faced by industrial businesses. These are the barriers that companies need to overcome if they aim to democratise data and analytics, streamline collaboration and accelerate time-to-insight. The global skills shortage represents another barrier and it’s clearly one that must be addressed if companies are to have access to the right talent pool to tap into that data.
Tackling proprietary data protocols
When looking at process-heavy industries, focusing on core operational technologies is key. Systems from multiple vendors, each paired with proprietary protocols, can lock down data, and these systems have an average lifespan of around 20 years. The impact of this mix of legacy kit, disparate control systems, non-compatible data models and communication interfaces can limit a company’s ability to collect and contextualise its data.
Cognite experienced this challenge first hand when it supported an oil and gas company that had 30 oil platforms with more than 300 wells. The operator lacked a unified overview of maintenance activities within and between all assets – ultimately a costly and ineffective way of working. As the data team coming in to fix this challenge, the Cognite focus was on ensuring that this business didn’t have too many disparate control systems using proprietary data models and communication. By bringing these systems together into a shared platform, this oil and gas operator could consequently optimise scheduling, improve communication across organisational silos and make data-driven decisions.
Concentrating on user needs
The secret recipe for many successful companies is to maintain a laser focus on their users and on improving their operational efficiency and their ability to make rapid and higher confidence decisions. Data plays a role here, and the work to structure an organisation’s data can bring value to multiple users. The key is understanding how people interact with data across the operation and be aware of how the data needs to be presented to the various roles in the company. By maintaining a user-centric focus and having a solid foundation of scalable data, companies can accelerate time to value.
Across industrial operations there is also a major focus on data analytics to support optimised decision making and to enhance operational efficiencies. In the future, this could lead to the adoption of AI and machine learning to intercede in the operation of industrial facilities in complex use cases, such as where Distributed Energy Resources (localised energy generation) is deployed.
Environmental impact is also something increasingly important for users. One example of this is from another Cognite customer, Aker BP. This oil and gas company used machine learning smart monitoring systems to visualise all data relevant for troubleshooting water contamination and identify factors related to high oil-in-water concentrations. This helped the company decrease its time spent on mitigating actions, a savings equivalent to an annual revenue potential of $6 million. So, concentrating on user needs not only helps to unlock the power of data, it also to drive operational resilience.
Using trusted data sources
Industrial data empowers everyone who engages with it but the analytics and applications that leverage this data will come from the end users, software providers and equipment manufacturers. When you have a trusted data source with common assets you have a very strong basis for using low code to develop in-house applications, as well as AI to enhance decision accuracy. Given the current industrial landscape, as well as greater market requirements, such as data-intensive carbon reporting and business model disruption from digital technology adoption, companies that do not focus on data as a key asset will face a significant competitive disadvantage.
In the last few years, we’ve seen digital technology adoption increase across the Middle East as businesses in the region look to industry 4.0 tools to enhance their operations and formulate better data driven strategies. A latest study by IDC forecasts enterprise IT spending in the Middle East, Turkey & Africa to grow by 2.7percent in 2022. The same report also estimates regional spending on AI to grow by 24.7percent and big data analytics to grow by 8.1percent this year. Regional businesses that can adjust their people and processes will have a first-mover advantage in this new data-driven era. Those that remain wedded to past investments will eventually have to shoulder twice the technology debt.
Unlocking the power of data will be key to ensuring companies can maintain business continuity, drive operational resilience and grab on to all the benefits they can from emerging technologies.
Why the Luster on Once-Vaunted ‘Smart Cities’ Is Fading by Jim Robbins and published in Yale Environment 360 cannot be overlooked or worse ignored. It’s a matter of literally vital if not existentialist presence in the built environment. Especially in those countries of the MENA region.
“Smart cities” built from scratch have so far failed to live up to their much-hyped promise. Some critics argue that rather than grafting a new city onto the landscape, it is better to integrate high-tech for clean, efficient energy and transportation into existing cities.
1st December 2021
Last February, the Toyota Motor Company broke ground on what it calls Woven City, a built-from-scratch futuristic urban center on 175 acres in the shadow of Mount Fuji. Woven City is a reference to the way the project plans to weave together cars, robots, data, and computers to create a city that the builders say, is highly efficient, pollution-free, and sustainable.
The new city will be carbon neutral, Toyota says. Autonomous cars will run on non-polluting green hydrogen, while solar and wind provide other energy needs. And sensors embedded throughout Woven City will gather a range of metrics and process them with artificial intelligence to help the city constantly become cleaner and run more smoothly.
Woven City is one of a burgeoning number of “smart cities” that have been recently built or are now being planned or constructed. NEOM is a $500 billion sprawling futuristic city for a million people under construction in Saudi Arabia. Egypt is building a new smart capital near Cairo that planners say could eventually be home to 6.5 million people. Telosa, proposed by a former Walmart executive, would be a city of 50,000 in the western United States “in a place yet to be determined.” Numerous smart cities have been or are being built in China.
There’s no single concept of a smart city. But the basic definition is a city filled with sensors that monitor myriad aspects of life, from traffic to pollution to energy and water use. In the case of the Woven City, “smart homes” will feature sensors that will monitor the occupants’ health. All the monitors in these cities are connected to the backbone of these prototype communities, the Internet of Things (IoT), meaning the interconnection of tiny computers placed in everyday objects. The massive trove of collected data will be interpreted with artificial intelligence to make cities greener and more livable.
Some prominent smart cities have faced serious obstacles to realizing their utopian visions.
While proponents say these communities represent the future of a healthier planet, some prominent smart cities have faced serious obstacles to realizing their utopian visions. Masdar City in Abu Dhabi abandoned its smart city master plan because of financial problems that began in 2008 and continued because the cost of some aspects of the city was far more than forecast. Songdo is a completed smart city with a population of 170,000 in South Korea that has not been able to fill its buildings. It’s sometimes described as a ghost town, or, variously, as cold, impersonal, homogenous, and dully predictable.
One recent paper on smart cites grappled with ways these cities can introduce serendipity into daily life to combat their monotonous nature.
“There are a lot of good things that can come of” smart city concepts, “especially for the environmental applications,” said Shannon Mattern, a professor of anthropology at The New School for Social Research and the author of A City is Not a Computer. “But it really limits your [ways] of intervention to the types of things that lend themselves to quantitative measurement,” she said. “When you take messy ambiguous dimensions of human nature and try to find ways to algorithmicize them, there is always a failure there, something that slips through the cracks.” History, culture, and the spiritual aspects of life are among those aspects that critics cite as missing from — or are diminished — in smart cities.
There has been criticism, as well, of smart cities being alien to the landscape on which they are built. In her book Spaceship in the Desert, about Masdar City, Göckcę Günel, an anthropologist at Rice University, said both Masdar City and Neom “share the vision that the desert is an empty zone on which any kind of ideal can be projected,” she said. “That’s why I compared Masdar City to a spaceship insulated from the rest of the world.”
Despite the fact that trillions of dollars are being spent to create these spectacular, Oz-like, all-encompassing cities of the future, some leading analysts believe in a very different concept of smarter cities.
“I hate almost every effort at building a greenfield smart city,” said Boyd Cohen, a professor at EADA, a business school in Barcelona, who is one of the pioneers of the smart city concept and a longtime climate strategist. “A smart city without people is a dumb city. You are building a smart city in the absence of people, in the absence of history, in the absence of culture. The developers say, ‘We are going to build this great, amazing city and people will come,’ and they don’t. People want to live in communities and have culture around them.”
An alternative to a spanking new city rising on virgin land is to incorporate smart technologies into existing cities, Cohen said. Singapore, London, and Barcelona, are among the cities that lead the world in adopting smart technologies to more efficiently operate their infrastructure and become greener. In London, for example, sensors on light poles monitor air pollution and show particularly polluted spots that can be avoided. Because collecting trash is the most expensive part of the waste disposal process, Barcelona adopted “smart bins” that signal when they are full and ready for pick up. But technology is not always a be-all and end-all.
Cohen believes cities are on the front line of climate change and need to become smarter to survive it. “In 2009 [at the UN climateconference in Copenhagen] everyone thought Obama and the United Nations were going to save the world” with agreements to restrict CO2 emissions, he said. “It didn’t happen and still isn’t happening. So I turned my attention to cities. That’s the place where we will get faster action on climate change.”
Smart cities have run into trouble over the issue of who owns the data collected and how it will be used.
Urban planning, says Cohen, may be the single most important way to reduce fossil fuel pollution and consumption. Effective urban design — density, walkability, mixed use so people don’t have to drive long distances, and efficient, clean electric or hydrogen public transportation — is the foundation. “Then you layer in tech,” he said. “Technology around renewable and distributed energy. And to make our buildings more energy efficient. If you tackle energy consumption and transportation and urban planning, you have gone a long way toward solving the climate problem.”
Smart grids are a key component of smart cities. These power grids optimize the delivery of electricity by receiving information from users over the IoT. This data provides experts with information about how, where, and when energy is used. In some models, it interprets that data with artificial intelligence. But as energy sources are diversified — solar and wind from large and small sources, even individual homes, as well as traditional sources — it makes it harder for electrical systems to efficiently sense where power is needed and to allocate it. Because it can better manage available power, a smart grid avoids waste and can make the most of renewables.
A host of other smart applications are being used in cities. Parking is the bane of urban dwellers, so smart parking has gotten a lot of attention. Santander, Spain, for example, is considered one of the world’s smartest cities because it has 20,000 parking sensors connected to the IoT. Sensors under parking spaces can tell when they are empty and send that information to antennas that beam it to a control center. Signs guide drivers to the empty spots, limiting time spent driving around looking for a space and reducing fuel use, carbon dioxide and automobile pollution, and traffic congestion.
In Utrecht in the Netherlands, people ride “sniffer bikes” that measure three types of particulate air pollution, as well recording their location, speed, battery voltage, temperature and humidity, road conditions, and organic gases, which are sent to a central data hub. People can choose the cleanest route and are themselves de facto sensors, providing information to city managers.
Water use is another prime target of smart applications. A smartphone app, for example, can alert residents to an undetected leak in their plumbing and allows them to monitor consumption and quality.
Barcelona has pioneered a smart water irrigation system in its public spaces. Officials inventoried the species of plants in each park and determined precisely how much water they need. Water and humidity sensors, coupled with data from weather stations and rain gauges, provide information on how moist the soil and air are, and allow delivery of the right amount of water. The city says it saves 25 percent on its water bill — more than 400,000 euros a year.
But smart cities have run into trouble over the issue of who owns the data that is collected and how it will be used. A Google affiliate called Sidewalk Labs had plans for a 12-acre smart city development, called Quayside, on Toronto’s lakefront. The project ran into a buzz saw of opposition, largely over whether it could be trusted to manage the data. Roger McNamee, a venture capitalist, wrote a letter to the city council and said the information technology behemoth could not be trusted. “The smart city project on the Toronto waterfront is the most highly evolved version to date … of surveillance capitalism,” he wrote. The company will use “algorithms to nudge human behavior” in the direction “that favors its business.”
Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff said the 2020 cancellation of the project was largely a result of the pandemicand economic uncertainty in the Toronto real estate market. “It has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan,” Doctoroff wrote last year.
It’s clear that the vision of what works as a smart city is still in the early stages, especially as technology and concepts continue to evolve. “It will take time to scale up the most sustainable models across a city, let alone the world,” said Cohen.
Zara Raza elaborates on How IoT and Ultra-Wideband Go Hand in Hand in this article on IoT for all. It is the most obvious trend in these days of renewed lockdown.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is shaping how we interact with the world every day. This connected future is powered by sensors and actuators connected via the cloud to applications that serve us in ways that we never could have imagined just a few years ago. Standards such as IEEE 802.15.4 and ultra-wideband (UWB) enable devices to communicate with each other without the need for line of sight, which means IoT can finally become a reality in places other than our homes and offices.
Why Has Ultra-Wideband Been a Buzzword Lately?
Ultra-wideband was first seen in mobile technology with the premiere of Apple’s iPhone 11 launched back in September 2019. Since then, the state of the art sensing technology has gained traction and presence in the tech world, especially in the past year or so. In response to the rave reviews Apple’s latest model was getting, Android and Google phones quickly followed suit, and proceeded to incorporate the same UWB technology you can now find in the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra and in the upcoming Google Pixel 6 phone.
You might be asking yourself what makes this latest development so remarkable that it is in such high demand now, especially if UWB is not the first communication protocol to offer spatial awareness. It seems that tech geeks and the general audience are particularly interested in UWB because of how it enhances preceding technologies, such as wifi and Bluetooth, with an additional layer of accuracy. UWB has a high advantage in this field, as it can provide accuracy levels of 5-10 cm between two devices, while Bluetooth and wifi can only reach up to 5m.
How Ultra-Wideband Will Transform The IoT Industry
We cannot talk about UWB without acknowledging IoT. The concept of interconnected devices known as the Internet of Things continues to show promising advances, and now, with the reemergence of UWB technology, IoT devices requiring location and movement data will boast a stronger performance than ever before.
Thanks to UWB’s interoperability, this communication protocol can be harnessed to build upon smart technologies such as BlueTooth, wifi, and yes, the Internet of Things. UWB can play a significant role in revamping IoT devices already available while introducing even more sophisticated networks of interconnected devices to the public in the future.
UWB is quickly serving the needs of the numerous IoT applications in the market requiring precision location tracking and spatial awareness. According to Adarsh Krishnan, principal analyst at ABI Research, the incorporation of UWB in IoT applications improves accuracy even up to the millimeter level. ABI Research expects UWB to be present in over one-third of smartphones shipping out by 2025. UWB’s inherently strong security will significantly boost IoT protections as well, offering more protections for transactions that involve sensitive or private information.
There are a number of ways UWB can be employed in tandem with IoT to provide the most important functionalities for both business and personal use, including:
UWB endows businesses with the capacity to track their employees’ location on the premises of the workplace (whether they are indoors, outdoors, etc.), and grant contactless access accordingly. Homeowners can also leverage this technology using digital keys to protect their homes and prevent unauthorized access. Imagine how wonderful it would be to no longer worry whether you’ve locked the doors or not when you go to bed or leave the house!
Ever find yourself struggling to locate items, stores, or even people inside large grocery stores or shopping centers? Indoor navigation solves this problem by allowing you to know where everything you need is ahead of time. This way you can plan the order you’ll buy things when you want to save time during your shopping trip. Marketers can also utilize indoor navigation for location-triggered marketing campaigns.
Smart Home Solutions
It is possible to make your smart home even smarter with UWB-powered applications. These solutions will more efficiently monitor what devices are on and how much energy they’re using according to your needs. A smarter home empowered by UWB effectively prevents wasted resources and extra effort by making sure the TV is turned off when you’re not using it, automatically adjusting the thermostat, changing the light color on a smart bulb, or controlling the temperature of your fridge and freezer.
People don’t have to worry about lost essentials, such as AirPods, wallets, and keys with tracking tags. Both Apple AirTags and Samsung Galaxy SmartTags have UWB capabilities to allow easy device tracking. Tile has also announced its first tracking tag incorporating UWB, the Tile Ultra, expected for release in 2022.
A Smarter World
IoT and UWB have one major component in common: they both offer more connectivity. Both location-precise technologies make homes, cities, and businesses smarter, allowing daily operations to become less of a hassle. We are seeing increased usage of such technologies in practically every sector today. Here are some industries that have made a great deal of progress in recent years to become ‘smarter.
There has been an increased presence of wearable technology in the healthcare industry. This grants accurate patient monitoring from the comfort of patients’ homes. There are three main groups of healthcare IoT (HIoT) applications in healthcare: identification technology, location technology, and communication technology.
Identification technology allows healthcare providers to exchange patient data remotely, using different types of identifiers. Communication technology ensures an established connection between two or more healthcare staff and also connects doctors to patients. Some examples of these are Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), Near-Field Communication, wifi, BlueTooth, and Zigbee. Location technology can be used to track medical devices, or even humans, such as medical staff and patients.
Some of the biggest nuisances consumers experience while shopping in person are the long wait lines and the difficulty with locating items within a store. Additionally, when the pandemic emerged, people were scared to touch surfaces, making self-service options became more popular than before. Luckily, this opened up an entire range of opportunities for the retail sector. Amazon is leading the way with its self-service model, by omitting checkout lines to make payments in the store. Consumers only need to activate their ‘Amazon Go’ card, pick up what they need, and they are automatically charged. Ultra-wideband is ready to further transform retail with precise location tracking to aid in finding cars in parking lots, people in stores, and items that are hard to locate.
One of ultra-wideband’s most impactful capabilities in real estate is to unlock and lock doors automatically. The technology will also aid in improving access control, therefore, making homes safer. Most people have heard of the phrase smart home. These IoT-heavy homes are the future of the real estate world. Since there is a heavy demand for contactless technologies during the COVID pandemic, realtors are able to conduct property showings to potential buyers while keeping the entire process touchless. Smart homes are allowing realtors to continue their work without disruptions by implementing IoT and UWB technology.
UWB is likely to be around for a long time because it is a highly secure technology. Due to its precise tracking abilities and its use of Time of Flight measurements, a relay attack attempt to divert or redirect the UWB signal will most likely fail. This is because the UWB-lock or ignition uses distance to determine the proper device to send the signal. As UWB and IoT technology continues to grow, organizations can use these technologies for large-scale security applications.
What Is the Internet of Taxes? A question answered by Toby Bargar in his article dated May 13, 2021, explains how in this day and age, the Internet generally is gradually spreading wider and wider to cover most daily life. But to this extent, who would have thought so?
So, let us see what it is all about.
What Is the Internet of Taxes?
According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, IoT could have an annual economic impact of $3.9 trillion to $11.1 trillion by 2025. Adoption is accelerating across several settings, including factories, retailers, and even the human body. In fact, smart cities will reportedly create business opportunities worth $2.46 trillion by 2025, and by 2030 more than 70% of global smart city, spending will be from the United States, Western Europe, and China. With AI and the rollout of 5G facilitating faster speeds and scalability, we will see even greater demand across sectors for IoT solutions.
An oft-repeated phrase says that nothing is certain but death and taxes; however, in the case of IoT, we can say that nothing is certain but growth and taxes – we don’t yet know how it’s all going to shake out. The demand for IoT is going to tempt federal, state, and local jurisdictions to tax it. With voice communications taxable revenues declining, taxing IoT is an attractive option to replenish their coffers.
In 1998, Congress passed a moratorium banning state and local governments from taxing internet access. This ban was extended several times. The Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (PITFA) converted the moratorium to a permanent ban and was fully implemented nationwide on July 1, 2020. Since the initial moratorium, the internet has risen to be a critical communication tool over other more highly taxed wireless and landline voice options, which continue a steady decline.
The ability to tax IoT may require changing laws and regulations. This process could take some time, but there is a complicated web of laws, regulations, and tax liabilities surrounding IoT in the interim. As we continue to adopt smart solutions, companies have to get smart about the nuances and risks of IoT taxability.
There are two easy questions that will help you to begin to understand your IoT taxability risk.
1) Is your company selling internet access? 2) Is your connectivity embedded or over-the-top?
Over-the-Top or Embedded Connectivity
If your device is networked over a user-supplied connection, then access is over-the-top or bring-your-own Internet connectivity. The over-the-top connection can be wired, Wi-Fi, or purchased separately from a wireless service. For example, if you sell a wireless printer, users connect through their home or office network. You are not supplying the internet, but the device. In these cases, as an IoT device maker, you likely have no responsibility for the customer’s internet connection.
Different than over-the-top, an embedded connection is part of the device. If you sell a device that comes with its own data connection as a component of the sale or service plan, it is embedded. Smartphones are a great example of an embedded connection. The relationships between device makers and network operators can feature widely variable structures. The device provider may need to account for any taxes that need to be collected related to the connection.
The World Wide Web of Gray
Defining internet access may appear intuitive, but not all connectivity is considered internet access. If you are selling a service that meets the statutory definitions of ISP service, the federal law provides a moratorium against state and local taxes.
Private connectivity, however, is often taxable. Unlike the public internet, private connectivity occurs via a Local Area Network (LAN) or Wide Area Network (WAN). This type of access is considered a taxable communication service in most states. If the network is interstate, this will also subject you to the Federal Universal Service Fund fee (FUSF), which is currently 33.4%, an all-time high for this fee and growing higher every quarter.
However, there are questions about whether connections to devices that do not enable a WWW experience – you connect to the internet, but the end-user can’t log onto Facebook or perform a Google search – meet the federal definitions of ISP service. If you do not meet those definitions, then your likely tax destination could be LAN/WAN.
Avoid the Dead Zone
IoT is here to stay. As you develop and deploy IoT solutions, it will be critical to stay informed on the web of tax rules that may or may not apply to your business. Monitor federal and state agencies that have jurisdiction over internet taxation and stay abreast of any changes on the horizon.
With so much uncertainty, it can be tempting to push the envelope, but a conservative interpretation of tax guidance can proactively protect you from being caught off guard.
Finally, to avoid hitting a dead zone, don’t try to navigate the changes on your own. Consult with your tax and legal advisors to ensure that you are aware of the latest developments and plan your course of action accordingly.
An ESI ThoughtLab report on sustainable development goals in 167 cities, representing nearly 7 percent of the world’s population, found that the coronavirus has accelerated technology growth worldwide as planners, administrators and businesses consider the post-pandemic realities of urban centers. Claire Swedberg explains why and how IoT Growth in Cities was Accelerated by COVID-19.
Global Study Shows IoT Growth in Cities Accelerated by COVID-19
By Claire Swedberg
Analytics company ESI ThoughtLab (ESITL) has found that technology, including Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, is at the forefront as municipalities plan their COVID-19 pandemic recovery, along with sustainability initiatives. According to the company’s recent report, released this spring and titled “Smart City Solutions for a Riskier World,” COVID-19 served cities an unexpected stress test. The study found that cities are investing in technology-based solutions to meet sustainability development goals (SDGs) at an accelerated pace.
To make that transition possible, says Lou Celi, ESI ThoughtLab’s CEO, a dual effort needs to be made to ensure citizen support and cybersecurity for IoT rollouts. ESITL collaborated with a coalition of businesses, government agencies and academics to conduct the overarching research, which explored 167 cities in 82 countries on all continents, representing 526 million residents (6.8 percent of the world’s population). The organization studied and interviewed cities to learn about their SDG efforts, including their existing and planned use of IoT and other smart technologies.
The project, which launched in early 2020, took approximately a year to complete. This was accomplished during the pandemic, and tracking will continue going forward in order to compare data following the outbreak. The IoT plays a part in the study, with the researchers examining the intersection of technology and sustainability goals. “It was a real watershed study,” Celi says, and cities were found to be already well invested in SDG and smart-city solutions, with most seeking to accelerate their adoption.
The study focused on urban rather than rural areas. “More than half of the world lives in cities, and that’s where social and environmental issues require the most attention,” Celi says. The research team’s survey used a scoring methodology that allowed them to categorize cities by their progress against the United Nations’ 17 SDGs. Cities were categorized in three stages of SDG progress—implementers that were still in the early stages, advancers that were making progress, and sprinters that have made the most progress on SDGs—and about 22 percent of the cities studied were sprinters.
When gathering information, ESITL collected quality-of-life data from such sources as the World Bank, Numbeo, Spain’s University of Navarra and the IESE Business School. The organization also conducted interviews with urban leaders and experts. “To identify best practices and provide case studies, we had in-depth discussions with government decision-makers and business leaders in smart cities around the world,” Celi states. ESITL established a multi-disciplinary advisory board to review the results, which consisted of city leaders, corporate executives and academic experts.
The study found that while IoT and other technologies are already being adopted to meet SDGs, COVID-19 has punched the gas pedal, with 65 percent of cities interviewed indicating that the biggest lesson they learned during the pandemic was how crucial smart-city programs are for their future. “One thing that’s very clear is that the pandemic has led us into an undeniably digital-first world,” Celi states, adding, “We knew the digital economy was coming, just not this soon.”
Smart-city solutions already yield sensor data that drives intelligence, Celi says, ranging from traffic control to air-quality measurements and infrastructure management. Now, he reports, “Cities are upping the ante. They are adopting transformative technologies, the exponential ones like IoT, blockchain and AI [artificial intelligence], as they try to harness data.” The cities that are most advanced in the use of smart technologies and are achieving the most progress in meeting their SDGs are those described as Cities 4.0, which are gearing up for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Such cities are advanced in using smart technologies and data to drive their social, environmental and economic agenda. Some examples, the survey found, include Athens, Helsinki, Moscow, Philadelphia and Tallinn. All 20 of the 4.0 cities have made large investments in IoT and cloud-based technologies, while 84 percent said they are currently making large investments in the IoT. On average, the study found, cities currently use six types of data, including biometrics and behavioral data, and will be using seven in the next three years. Those at the forefront of adoption—the sprinters—are expected to increase some of the fastest growing digital technology sources to nine.
When asked if the pandemic has had a lasting impact on their planning, 69 percent of the respondents indicated they are reconsidering urban planning and the use of space. More than half (53 percent) said the pandemic has permanently changed how people live, work, socialize and travel in cities. For 36 percent, COVID-19 exposed the weaknesses in cities’ operational continuity capabilities.
“Cities have changed dramatically since the pandemic,” Celi says, “and we’re not going back. They’re going to be using technology to reposition their cities and their focus is going to be on SDGs.” Additionally, 65 percent of respondents reported that the pandemic has demonstrated how crucial smart-city programs are for a city’s future. “Cities’ use of the IoT, from interconnected devices, is already very high, but it will be growing even faster and converge with other digital technologies, such as cloud, 5G and edge computing.”
According to the study’s results, two key challenges must be considered as technology expands in cities: public investment and security. As technology is adopted, Celi states, “It must be done in a smart way for security, and with citizens onboard.” With regard to security, 60 percent of cities indicated they still have cybersecurity vulnerabilities with their technology deployments. Smaller cities are the least secure, he notes, with only 29 percent reporting that they are well-secured against cybercrime.
“We found cybersecurity was a very big issue,” Celi states. “IoT raises a lot of digital risk.” Bad actors could do damage with cyberattacks, he explains, and the incidence of such attacks rose by about 50 percent during the pandemic. “The lesson is that cybersecurity should not be an afterthought. It should be something adopted initially.”
According to Celi, the most successful deployments were those from which the public gained benefits, while also reducing concerns about privacy. Already, the use of technology during the pandemic has lowered the level of privacy worries as citizens grow accustomed to having more technology in their lives to solve common problems. Based on the survey results, he says, the public’s data-privacy concerns have yielded to the realization in the past year that digital solutions can improve safety and lifestyle. Still, he adds, without a concerted effort to include the public in technology deployments, privacy concerns can result, leading to mistrust.
Cities with high levels of citizen participation tend to be those with stronger communities and more empowered citizens, the study indicated. Those deemed sprinters used a variety of techniques to bring the public onboard, such as ensuring that disadvantaged populations were included in technology capture and use, as well as providing gamification and incentives. City employees need to be brought into the decision-making process as well, the research found, in order to make technology adoption successful and inclusive. Other potential headwinds ahead for SDG efforts may include regulations, finding the right partners and keeping pace with technology changes.
Going forward, Celi says, “Our big push is going to be ‘What’s next?’ What everyone wants to know is, ‘What’s Main Street going to look like in three years?'” ESITL plans to continue researching the SDG progress and technology use of cities as the pandemic ends. He offers some predictions in the meantime: Remote work will continue, he says, and that affects cities in numerous ways, ranging from transportation to the environment. “One of the lessons learned from the pandemic was that there are ways to run a city with less of a carbon footprint.” As COVID-19 eases, he adds, “I think there’s more of a social awareness that we have to be better at keeping people and the planet healthy and safe.”
The study found that cities have been making strides in meeting their SDG goals. “I wasn’t expecting that so many cities were already embracing SDGs,” Celi admits. “But I was happy to see the correlation between technology and the SDGs.” As efforts build to meet sustainability demands, the research indicated that the most successful deployment consists of a collaborative effort. City governments benefit from working with partners ranging from businesses, associations and universities to other cities, federal agencies and multilateral organizations. “We need to work together to find the solution. And through the enlightened use of technology, we can help make the world a better place.”
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