As I speak with customers around the world, our conversations often turn to the rise of technology companies. Not your traditional Google, Apple, IBM, and even SAP-type technology companies, but the Airbnbs, GO-JEKs, Under Armours, and Ubers of the world. Think those aren’t tech firms? They describe themselves as such. And now, the public sector is starting to get in on the tech game too.
A magnitude of opportunity
More than 54 percent of the world’s population resides in urban areas today. By 2050, this number is expected to be 66 percent. Urbanization is associated with improved education, access to healthcare, and social and financial mobility. As digital technologies become more sophisticated, it’s clear to see why society would want to be quick to use digital technology in creative ways. This fourth industrial age isn’t limited to the private sector, it’s enveloping the public sector too. And its pace has the potential to change the way we work and live.
The public and private sector partnership
Most cities started their journey toward becoming smart cities with government digitization efforts that focused on benefiting constituents. The ability to show immediate results through improved efficiencies has always been a key driver for further investment. But with the advent of the Internet of Things and sensor technology, as well as machine learning and advanced analytics, truly smart cities are being born. While evolving to help constituents in new ways, they are also blurring the traditional boundaries between citizens, government, and private industry. Interactions between intelligent assets, commercial entities servicing the community and people have turned business models upside down and changed the way we live.
These advancements aren’t just for the metropolitan cities of the world. It is possible everywhere. In China, the City of Nanjing uses sensor data and traffic movement patterns to assign routes and make decisions that benefit the citizens. And in Fukui, Japan, NTT Group partnered with the Keifuku Bus Company to develop technology-enabled gear, ensuring every person who rides a bus is as safe as possible when they are sitting, unbuckled, driving around town. The public and private sector – partnered together – can transform our personal lives and communities.
Smart cities in practice
Around the world, cities are reimagining everything from optimizing infrastructure to improving city resilience and helping constituents be more context-aware, improving livability. The City of Buenos Aires analyzes sensor data from water tunnels and other critical assets to make real-time decisions to avoid flooding in the city. The city has also deployed smart lighting, refurbishing 91,000 lights with LED technology enabling the city to have a 360 degree view of real-time sensor data on streetlights, as well as the storm drains and parking meters so that they can manage assets remotely. The result? In addition to more efficient operations, they’ve achieved an amazing 50% in energy savings too.
As the Internet of Things enables cities to measure more, the amount of available data will grow immensely. To maximize value from this data, cities can create a common data platform which can be leveraged by all its stakeholders (public, corporates, start-ups). These integrative, holistic solutions break down the silos that often exist between functions.
For many groups, such as emergency and incident response teams, shared data can mean the difference with critical response times. Stakeholders in Cape Town analyze situations from a combination of historical legacy data, real-time feeds of incidents and social media analytics, to provide the smartest risk assessment and the appropriate action needed whenever – and wherever – the need arises.
So whether investments are made in transportation and traffic management, citizen experience or public safety and health, opportunities are abound for new technologies in the public sector. Solutions that foster citizen participation, public-private collaboration, and grassroots innovation not only create a superior experience for citizens, but also invite more business to the locale. More investment by business can lead to more innovation.
I’m humbled at the role SAP plays in the promise of this virtuous cycle of investment that benefits all stakeholders. It is exciting to see how the new digital era allows us all to reimagine both citizen and consumer experiences that can only help improve the world we share.
Robert Enslin is a member of the Executive Board of SAP SE
For more on how technology is changing urban planning and development, see How Virtual Reality Is Revolutionizing Town Planning.