Exclusive: Data is king in a resilient city


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Safder Nazir, Regional Vice President, Digital Industries Strategy, Huawei Middle East discusses the true value of data.

Governments throughout the region continuously strive to make lives easier for their citizens. Each country in the GCC, for example, has its own vision for the future of society, which will see economies and people empowered through diversification strategies and more. Technology is at the core of these transformative endeavours. From enhancing healthcare and education to streamlining transportation and increasing safety and sustainability, technology is transforming the Middle East’s urban environments into resilient Smart Cities, in which communities and the economy thrive.

The more resilient a city is, the more capable it is to efficiently and rapidly anticipate, resist, absorb, accommodate, adapt to, transform and recover its social, economic and technology systems and infrastructures from the effects of a potentially disruptive event. COVID-19 is a prime example of this. Cities and entire economies across the world have been crippled by the spread of the novel coronavirus. Those with higher, digitally enabled resiliency will bounce back faster than those with lower resiliency.

Technology to the rescue

That being said, regardless of where a city may be at present in terms of its digital evolution, investing in technology has never been more important for giving societies a boost in the post-pandemic world.

A resilient city is prepared to handle an emergency, whether natural or man-made. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is a current example of just how far an emergency situation can test a city, especially in terms of its digital infrastructure. When cities and entire countries went into lockdown, their communications networks saw extraordinary pressure from the massive upsurge in usage, as people rapidly turned to home video conferencing solutions to connect with colleagues, clients and loved ones. Any network outages during such an unprecedented time would have had a massive impact on not only productivity, but on individuals’ psyche, too, leading to further economic and social upheaval.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 saw city managers face immense pressure to work faster and more efficiently, especially in terms of leveraging existing information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure. Data is a natural go-to to achieve this. Today’s connected cities generate colossal quantities of data from diverse sources, including Internet of Things (IoT) sensor networks, social media, biometric applications, video networks and numerous consumer and enterprise applications.

Harnessing the power of data

Deriving value from this mass of data is a challenge itself. However, forward-thinking Smart Cities are building urban predictive operations centres, or Intelligent Operation Centres (IOCs), that harness the power of IoT, Big Data Analytics (BDA), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), to reap the full benefits of a data-generating ICT ecosystem. An IOC is essentially a real-time intelligence centre that centralises the data generated by a city, then converts it into information that allows governments to respond quickly and efficiently to emergencies. It uses technological tools to unearth patterns that would be overlooked by humans – which can prove essential in disease outbreak situations.

In order for an IOC to generate the most possible value there must be a solid ecosystem – an open platform – from which data can be collected. Essential components of this ecosystem include the IoT, which, as a sensory system, enables a city to become more aware; Cloud, which builds resilience by enabling data to flow seamlessly from devices to the IOC and eventually through to the agencies who take action; AI and ML, both of which play a crucial role in empowering big data analytics platforms to conduct advanced data analysis, thereby unearthing new patterns and value, and, last but by no means least, interoperable, open platforms are critical for predictive operations to work, acting as key enablers to bring together every system, from every government department, to create a seamless ecosystem.

Data is, therefore, the most valuable resource a resilient city can have, especially in times of emergency. Protecting it should be a priority, as data loss for any reason, but especially when a city is in strife, can only create more disruption. Simple preventative measures, including data backup technologies and recovery management protocols and objectives such as cloud backups and overseas recovery centres, will safeguard data and contribute towards continuity should disaster strike.

Going forward, governments must find the ideal balance for creating an open ecosystem in which data sharing is encouraged and protection is ensured. Investment in the technology and innovation required to build Smart Cities is as important as ever, but safeguarding and reaping the benefits of the masses of data generated in a connected ecosystem is essential. Data will pave the way towards more sustainable societies and economies by building resilient cities throughout the region.

Safder Nazir


This article was published in the August 2020 edition of International Security Journal. Pick up your FREE digital copy on the link here

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