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The world’s population that resides in urban areas is projected by the United Nations to reach 68% by 2025. Such numbers are compelling forward-thinking cities to harness technology, including the Internet of Things (IoT), to cultivate smart infrastructure and services.

Across the MENA region, governments acknowledge the potential of emerging technologies, actively integrating them into their economies and societies. Concurrently, they are attracting investments from global corporations.

This concerted drive has yielded smart solutions that seamlessly infuse digital elements into various digital themes. For instance, national platforms have been established to adeptly facilitate resource access for citizens. These encompass e-learning content, event particulars and open government data, to name a few. Governments are uniting services via mobile apps and all-around e-service centers to promote paperless transactions and e-payment alternatives and usher in smooth and uninterrupted customer journeys along the way.

Furthermore, the digitization of crucial content such as medical records and educational curricula fosters operational efficiency within such organizations. And the imminent proliferation of autonomous vehicles is poised to advance interconnectivity among people and urban networks that much more.

Smart Infrastructure and Intelligent Environments

A McKinsey study suggests that in the Middle East region, approximately 45% of processes could potentially be automated by 2030.

The concept of "smart" frequently pertains to making well-informed decisions and reaping the benefits on both personal and professional levels. With the internet's initial emergence, followed closely by the rapid advancements of IoT automation, these constructed environments are embracing a newfound intelligence.

As technology evolves, so does the interaction within living and working spaces. Smart spaces are an innovative concept rapidly gaining momentum as an effective, cost-efficient method of transforming any area into a connected and intelligent terrain.

It's widely recognized that the workspace, along with the performance and culture therein, comprise interconnected elements influencing an organization's success. Smart spaces harness cutting-edge technologies like IoT devices, AI, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to forge intelligent and adaptable environments. This approach optimizes resource utilization and enhances overall space functionality. These intelligent spaces are growing to include physical entities such as buildings, cities and transportation systems, or even encompass virtual realms like online communities and virtual reality settings.

Complementing this concept is smart infrastructure, also known as connected infrastructure, which focuses on leveraging technology to amplify connectivity and efficiency. This convergence involves the utilization of sensors, intelligent systems and various technologies to gather data. Such data can then be disseminated by public entities and organizations to enhance daily experiences, bolster public services and create novel offerings.

However, the advantages of smart infrastructure go beyond cost reduction and increased efficiency for local governments. It also plays a significant role in advancing social value and impact on a national level by enhancing residents' quality of life. This also plays a pivotal role in curbing energy consumption and CO2 emissions while simultaneously fostering more sustainable living environments.

Smart Government Framework

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid of Dubai characterizes a smart government as an active entity, functioning around the clock and throughout the entire year. This type of government is akin to a notably hospitable hotel, as both ensure swift and efficient services with robust protocols. Such effective smart government thrives on innovation and adaptability, catering to citizens' needs both domestically and internationally, thereby meeting expectations and enhancing lives.

In the context of a smart government framework, services are meticulously crafted for seamless accessibility and user-friendliness. Often facilitated through online platforms and mobile applications, these avenues allow citizens to seamlessly engage with government agencies, access crucial information, and carry out diverse transactions from remote locations. This digital approach minimizes the necessity for physical visits to government offices. Examples of smart government services encompass a range of offerings, such as online tax filing, digitized health records, electronic voting systems, alerts for public safety and e-permits.

The implementation of smart government services aims to streamline bureaucratic procedures, diminish paperwork, and shorten waiting periods. Furthermore, these services empower citizens by granting them increased authority over their interactions with the government, leading to more personalized experiences. The overarching objective is to instill heightened confidence in governmental institutions while furnishing efficient services that align with the needs and expectations of modern citizens in today's digital era.

Smart Cities: More Connected and Innovative

Conventional urban landscapes struggle with aging infrastructure, inefficient resource utilization and unsustainable practices. Smart cities emerge as a remedy, harnessing technology to cultivate vibrant, resource-efficient and sustainable communities.

As urbanization accelerates, cities are turning to IoT as a means to enhance public services, optimize resource allocation, stimulate economic prosperity and elevate the overall quality of life.

Investments in smart city initiatives, anticipated to approach US$50 billion by 2025, underscore the Middle East's commitment to this transformative journey. The rapid evolution of smart cities calls for visionary professionals who can fuse technology with creativity — imagination with execution.

At the core of this transformation lies the digitization of critical infrastructure and essential urban assets. By employing cutting-edge networking, data storage and analysis technologies, cities can gain transformative insights that will reshape their operational paradigms moving forward.

Several notable initiatives echo this intent. Saudi Arabia's pursuit of smart city infrastructure is exemplified by integrating applications like street surveillance, facial and license plate recognition, traffic violation detection radars, public Wi-Fi, LED digital display boards for commercial messaging, citizen communication and IoT sensors.

In fact, cities such as Riyadh, Makkah, Jeddah and Madinah have garnered recognition in the IMD Smart City Index for 2023, highlighting their commitment to urban evolution.

Moreover, Bahrain's investment in smart city initiatives not only establishes regional leadership but also sets a global example. As the city progresses, the integration of AI promises to enhance residents' lives. Similarly, Kuwait's long-term development roadmap envisions a digitally transformed society, earmarking approximately US$18 billion for digitalization between 2022 and 2027. Kuwait's journey toward AI-driven urban innovation reflects its commitment to creating a more sustainable and livable environment.

In Oman, the government champions smart city development as a strategic national initiative, aligning with Oman Vision 2040's objectives of economic growth, employment generation and economic diversification.

Indeed, across the MENA region, countries are planting the seeds today to grow the effective and transformational smart city landscape of tomorrow.

By Elvi Correos, Senior Journalist, Telecom Review

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