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.