In the run up to Dubai Expo 2020, the Emirate’s government aims to make the City “the smartest city in the world” by digitally interconnecting all government services and most private economic and social activity. Establishing global leadership in smart cities will not be an easy task for Dubai as competition with more mature projects in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Chicago, New York and Singapore is ripe. But creating scale for its initiatives will be essential for success.
UAE’s population of 9.2 million people (2.1 million in Dubai alone) and gross domestic product (GDP) of $360.2 billion (2013) make the nation a rich, if small, one. It is in cities and countries with larger populations that economic-technology sectors such as smart grids, smart transport and smart buildings are likely to forge ahead. That said, there is still massive scope for economies of scale in Dubai and the UAE, and this could be enabled by the use of data.
Multiple smart-city projects developed simultaneously in a concentrated period of three years (2014-2016) will create large amounts of data and hopefully an ecosystem for data processing and analytics. Dubai’s proactive Government makes the City an ideal laboratory for pursuing new data management of public services as well as the city’s infrastructure and social and economic life. Dubai can provide a unique testing ground for new technologies and applications, placing the city at the leading edge of research into, and development of, new smart-city technologies.
But to fully realize this potential a public space must be created for debate to nurture and accelerate policies and technology initiatives, overcoming the current situation in which only key government officials and the senior managers of state-owned companies drive the process. Three key issues must be addressed via a wider debate:
• Open Data. Dubai’s smart-city vision cannot achieve its full potential without a framework for government and companies to share data generated by smart-city projects with software developers who are able to make use of it to create applications and solutions.
• Inter-operability. Individual smart-city projects are typically vertical in that they are sector specific, so assuring inter-operability across projects and across verticals are fundamental to gain scale in data analytics.
• Privacy, security, confidentiality, liability and intellectual property. There is already a level of uncertainty regarding how privacy and security laws will be implemented as data availability skyrockets in Dubai and the UAE over the next three years. This area is also one for discussion and may require new legislation.