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SA joins the dots for the Smart City

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.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Now IBM’s Watson joins IoT revolution in agriculture

Global expansion of the Watson Decision Platform taps into AI, weather and IoT data to boost production

IBM has announced the global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, with AI technology tailored for new crops and specific regions to help feed a growing population. For the first time, IBM is providing a global agriculture solution that combines predictive technology with data from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, and IoT data to help give farmers around the world greater insights about planning, ploughing, planting, spraying and harvesting.

By 2050, the world will need to feed two billion more people without an increase in arable land [1]. IBM is combining power weather data – including historical, current and forecast data and weather prediction models from The Weather Company – with crop models to help improve yield forecast accuracy, generate value, and increase both farm production and profitability.

Roric Paulman, owner/operator of Paulman Farms in Southwest Nebraska, said: “As a farmer, the wild card is always weather. IBM overlays weather details with my own data and historical information to help me apply, verify, and make decisions. For example, our farm is in a highly restricted water basin, so the ability to better anticipate rain not only saves me money but also helps me save precious natural resources.”

New crop models include corn, wheat, soy, cotton, sorghum, barley, sugar cane and potato, with more coming soon. These models will now be available in the Africa, U.S. Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, as well as new markets across Europe and Australia.

Kristen Lauria, general manager of Watson Media and Weather Solutions at IBM, said: “These days farmers don’t just farm food, they also cultivate data – from drones flying over fields to smart irrigation systems, and IoT sensors affixed to combines, seeders, sprayers and other equipment. Most of the time, this data is left on the vine — never analysed or used to derive insights. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture aims to change that by offering tools and solutions to help growers make more informed decisions about their crops.” 

The average farm generates an estimated 500,000 data points per day, which will grow to 4 million data points by 2036 [2]. Applying AI and analysis to aggregated field, machine and environmental data can help improve shared insights between growers and enterprises across the agriculture ecosystem. With a better view of the fields, growers can see what’s working on certain farms and share best practices with other farmers. The platform assesses data in an electronic field record to identify and communicate crop management patterns and insights. Enterprise businesses such as food companies, grain processors, or produce distributors can then work with farmers to leverage those insights. It helps track crop yield as well as the environmental, weather and plant biologic conditions that go into a good or bad yield, such as irrigation management, pest and disease risk analysis and cohort analysis for comparing similar subsets of fields.

The result isn’t just more productive farmers. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture could help a livestock company eliminate a certain mold or fungus from feed supply grains or help identify the best crop irrigation practices for farmers to use in drought-stricken areas like California. It could help deliver the perfect French fry for a fast food chain that needs longer – not fatter – potatoes from its network of growers. Or it could help a beer distributor produce a more affordable premium beer by growing higher quality barley that meets the standard required to become malting barley.

Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is built on IBM PAIRS Geoscope from IBM Research, which quickly processes massive, complex geospatial and time-based datasets collected by satellites, drones, aerial flights, millions of IoT sensors and weather models. It crunches large, complex data and creates insights quickly and easily so farmers and food companies can focus on growing crops for global communities.

IBM and The Weather Company help the agriculture industry find value in weather insights. IBM Research collaborates with start up Hello Tractor to integrate The Weather Company data, remote sensing data (e.g., satellite), and IoT data from tractors. IBM also works with crop nutrition leader Yara to include hyperlocal weather forecasts in its digital platform for real-time recommendations, tailored to specific fields or crops. IBM acquired The Weather Company in 2016 and has since been helping clients better understand and mitigate the cost of weather on their businesses. The global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is the latest innovation in IBM’s efforts to make weather a more predictable business consideration. Also just announced, Weather Signals is a new AI-based tool that merges The Weather Company data with a company’s own operations data to reveal how minor fluctuations in weather affects business.

The combination of rich weather forecast data from The Weather Company and IBM’s AI and Cloud technologies is designed to provide a unique capability, which is being leveraged by agriculture, energy and utility companies, airlines, retailers and many others to make informed business decisions.

[1] The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”

[2] Business Insider Intelligence, 2016 report: https://www.businessinsider.com/internet-of-things-smart-agriculture-2016-10


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What if Amazon used AI to take on factories?

By ANTONY BOURNE, IFS Global Industry Director for Manufacturing

Amazon recently announced record profits of $3.03bn, breaking its own record for the third consecutive time. However, Amazon appears to be at a crossroads as to where it heads next. Beyond pouring additional energy into Amazon Prime, many have wondered whether the company may decide to enter an entirely new sector such as manufacturing to drive future growth, after all, it seems a logical step for the company with its finger in so many pies.

At this point, it is unclear whether Amazon would truly ‘get its hands dirty’ by manufacturing its own products on a grand scale. But what if it did? It’s worth exploring this reality. What if Amazon did decide to move into manufacturing, a sector dominated by traditional firms and one that is yet to see an explosive tech rival enter? After all, many similarly positioned tech giants have stuck to providing data analytics services or consulting to these firms rather than genuinely engaging with and analysing manufacturing techniques directly.

If Amazon did factories

If Amazon decided to take a step into manufacturing, it is likely that they could use the Echo range as a template of what AI can achieve. In recent years,Amazon gained expertise on the way to designing its Echo home speaker range that features Alexa, an artificial intelligence and IoT-based digital assistant.Amazon could replicate a similar form with the deployment of AI and Industrial IoT (IIoT) to create an autonomously-run smart manufacturing plant. Such a plant could feature IIoT sensors to enable the machinery to be run remotely and self-aware; managing external inputs and outputs such as supply deliveries and the shipping of finished goods. Just-in-time logistics would remove the need for warehousing while other machines could be placed in charge of maintenance using AI and remote access. Through this, Amazon could radically reduce the need for human labour and interaction in manufacturing as the use of AI, IIoT and data analytics will leave only the human role for monitoring and strategic evaluation. Amazon has been using autonomous robots in their logistics and distribution centres since 2017. As demonstrated with the Echo range, this technology is available now, with the full capabilities of Blockchain and 5G soon to be realised and allowing an exponentially-increased amount of data to be received, processed and communicated.

Manufacturing with knowledge

Theorising what Amazon’s manufacturing debut would look like provides a stark learning opportunity for traditional manufacturers. After all, wheneverAmazon has entered the fray in other traditional industries such as retail and logistics, the sector has never remained the same again. The key takeaway for manufacturers is that now is the time to start leveraging the sort of technologies and approaches to data management that Amazon is already doing in its current operations. When thinking about how to implement AI and new technologies in existing environments, specific end-business goals and targets must be considered, or else the end result will fail to live up to the most optimistic of expectations. As with any target and goal, the more targeted your objectives, the more competitive and transformative your results. Once specific targets and deliverables have been considered, the resources and methods of implementation must also be considered. As Amazon did with early automation of their distribution and logistics centres, manufacturers need to implement change gradually and be focused on achieving small and incremental results that will generate wider momentum and the appetite to lead more expansive changes.

In implementing newer technologies, manufacturers need to bear in mind two fundamental aspects of implementation: software and hardware solutions. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, which is increasingly bolstered by AI, will enable manufacturers to leverage the data from connected IoT devices, sensors, and automated systems from the factory floor and the wider business. ERP software will be the key to making strategic decisions and executing routine operational tasks more efficiently. This will allow manufacturers to keep on top of trends and deliver real-time forecasting and spot any potential problems before they impact the wider business.

As for the hardware, stock management drones and sensor-embedded hardware will be the eyes through which manufacturers view the impact emerging technologies bring to their operations. Unlike manual stock audits and counting, drones with AI capabilities can monitor stock intelligently around production so that operations are not disrupted or halted. Manufacturers will be able to see what is working, what is going wrong, and where there is potential for further improvement and change.

Knowledge for manufacturing

For many traditional manufacturers, they may see Amazon as a looming threat, and smart-factory technologies such as AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as a far off utopia. However, 2019 presents a perfect opportunity for manufacturers themselves to really determine how the tech giants and emerging technologies will affect the industry. Technologies such as AI and IoT are available today; and the full benefits of these technologies will only deepen as they are implemented alongside the maturing of other emerging technologies such as 5G and Blockchain in the next 3-5 years. Manufacturers need to analyse the needs which these technologies can address and produce a proper plan on how to gradually implement these technologies to address specific targets and deliverables. AI-based software and hardware solutions will fundamentally revolutionise manufacturing, yet for 2019, manufacturers just have to be willing to make the first steps in modernisation.

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