The concept of a smart city is a grand vision of an urban future, seemingly unattainable in South Africa, but the dots are beginning to be joined, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
What do public Wi-Fi in Tshwane, smart meters for utilities in Johannesburg, and an app for public transport in Cape Town have in common?
All mark the beginnings of the evolution, in South Africa, of the smart city. This is both a concept and a strategy that sees data and communications technology used to coordinate transport, public safety and access to services. The goal of the strategy is simple, yet enormously challenging: sustainable economic development in order to improve quality of life in the city.
But this is not merely an ideal: it is a necessity.
“By 2050, close to eight out of 10 South Africans will be living in one of the country’s cities,” says Mark Walker, head of Africa at the International Data Corporation (IDC). “The growth of cities goes hand in hand with growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but it increases traffic and pollution, which in turn decreases growth. Technology is the magic sauce that drives efficiency, and addresses constraints of resources and budget.”
Walker points out that the use of technology as a means to enable service delivery, to communicate with the population, and for citizens to voice commentary, has already become invaluable. Over the next 10 to 15 years, the changing nature of the urban population will make it critical.
In response to the emerging need, the IDC has worked with global storage giant EMC to develop a smart cities maturity model geared to the needs and constraints of African cities.
“Cities are fundamental to the economic development,” says Jonas Bogoshi, country manager of EMC Southern Africa. “The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development identified the fact that cities are cardinal for socially, economically and environmentally sustainable societies.”
The big challenge is that the rate of urbanisation is faster than the rate of economic growth, says Bogoshi.
“You have to look for solutions, otherwise you will decay. You have to look for partners, otherwise we will all fail.”
The ultimate goals for Smart Cities, says Walker, are very clear.
“Where smart cities are successfully implemented, as in Singapore and Dubai, we see very strong, coordinated and integrated initiatives taking place, and we see a definite increase in economic growth. Some of that is based on efficiency, but a lot comes from the creation of new value streams and innovation. However, operational efficiency is key to that growth.”
While it appears that the smart city is all about technology, a crucial element of smart city strategy is that the citizen must be at its core.
“The citizen is what really counts,” says Walker. “If it is not delivering the services the citizen requires, you’re wasting money. The key performance indicators must be designed from the citizen up.”
The IDC/EMC model is broken up into five stages of smart city maturity, with Stage 1 labelled Ad Hoc and comprising “Technology-enabled project successes; proof of concept and business case via return on investment from pilot projects.”
Most South African initiatives are still at this stage, with free Wi-Fi experiments in cities like Tshwane, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Bloemfontein being the prime examples.
However, elements of Stage 2, labeled Opportunistic, can also be seen in projects that take advantage of emerging capabilities to meet immediate needs. The roll-out of 92 000 smart meters for measuring utility use remotely in Johannesburg and the use of apps like WhereIsMyTransport to coordinate access to public transport in Cape Town are among a variety of examples that lie between Stage 1 and 2.
In Stage 3, such projects must become Repeatable, based on proven success, return on investment and improved efficiencies. In Stage 4, the city moves to a Managed model of smart services delivery.
The two key questions that city managers and decision-makers must ask at this stage are:
- Have you developed cross-departmental work groups for service delivery beyond emergencies, events and disaster management?
- Have you developed outcomes-focused metrics by which processes, staff, and outcomes are measured to ensure that goals are being met?
Finally, in Stage 5, or the Optimised stage, the city is required to create a centralised team that takes charge of continuous improvements in process as well as refining and improving on methodology for governance and measurements. Only very few cities in the world, such as Singapore, are on the edge of Stage 5.
“In South Africa we are somewhere between stage 1 and 2,” says Walker. “A lot of initiatives labelled Smart City are very point-based, project-based, and constrained by budget and scope, involving only a few stakeholders. Often, it is coordinated at departmental level only rather than across a city or region. The Gautrain is a good example, where traffic is being managed in a smart way, but why aren’t they working with the City of Joburg and with the Gauteng province as a whole?”
For now, he says, it typically takes three to five years to move from stage 1 to 2, and 15 years to go from Stage 1 to 5 – if an integrated plan is in place. The longer a city waits before it begins planning, of course, the longer it will take to get to the ultimate goal of the smart city.
Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities
Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.
Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.
Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.
Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.
African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.
Embracing mobility to drive ROI
Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.
Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.
Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.
By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:
· Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities
· Access both historical and planned work information when requested
· Permit customers to sign when the job is completed
· Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders
· Create new fault reports on routing
· Facilitate documentation through photo capturing
· Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.
The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.
Brands fall for app vanity
The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.
Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity.
In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis.
While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities.
Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI).
It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind.
Why apps won’t win the internet
The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement.
Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge.
Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance.
Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps.
However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year.
On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.
When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience.
In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development.
So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base?
The logical app alternative
The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are.
Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short.
Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience.
Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.)
Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts.
Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI.