Smart society – What’s in it for South Africa?

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September 7, 2020 | 4 minute read

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By Lebogang Martin, Synapse Magazine September 2020

AI Expo Africa speaker Lebogang Martins, IOT Specialist Project Manager, talks about the need to justify the benefits to society of next generations technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, data science, algorithms and analytics, to bring new and significant value to its citizens.

EVER SO typically a society finds itself at the crossroads to transformation and must ask themselves key and pertinent questions including the following.

Can South Africa seek to enable next generation technologies, algorithms and analytics, to bring new and significant value to citizens whilst transforming its buildings and cities into an advanced smart society that is more resilient, safer, healthier, economically vibrant, and attractive to their residents, businesses and visitors?

Considering the economic drivers together with political unrest, social health pandemics, will we be able to weather the process required that involves building a smart society one block, one park, one building, one neighbourhood, one community at a time? Will we be patient enough to see the process through especially as it’s a complex multi-decade undertaking irrespective of whether one approaches it from a top-down or bottom-up approach?

While the benefits and Return on Investment (ROI) of smart buildings and cities are well documented, what would be the value to South Africa and why would it even be a consideration for diverting private/public funding to encourage the development and retrofitting of smart buildings and cities to building a smart society?

The cities must rock…

The macro-environmental composition of South Africa is very dynamic with diverse constituents and complex geographical, economic and political needs even when considered by provincially. In order to understand how a smart city enabled society will benefit Mzansi requires an appreciation of some background fundamentals and understanding of the drivers of civic value including its care abouts’ & outcomes, power centres, and how the value for these outcomes is quantified and evaluated by its citizens. Ultimately, these interconnected outcomes must lead to the ultimate overall ROI for each and every city in South Africa – a place that is healthy, productive, safe, self-sustaining and economically conducive, and where citizens and businesses choose to live and operate in.

A smart society built on its intertwined backbone of cities is in the “business” of creating and maintaining civic outcomes for its residents, businesses and visitors. These include better government throughput and ease of doing business; public safety and welfare of its people; a higher standard quality of life; mental, physical and social health and wellbeing of its people; ease of transportation, transit and traffic management; sustainable environment, energy, water, and air quality management processes; and most importantly its economic opportunities. While all cities care about these outcomes to a certain extent, some outcomes are more relevant to them than others. Each city is unique, and its focus on specific civic outcomes reflects its unique economic, geographic and political priorities, and the needs of its many constituents. These civil outcomes are for the betterment of South Africa’s cities, municipal utilities, private and public companies, communities and its citizens as a whole.

The South African government is a creator of civic outcomes, but it is not the only one. Civic outcomes are created, delivered and maintained by a ‘provider ecosystem’ of groups that includes national & quasi-government, municipalities, parastatals companies, communities and citizens with each group responsible for delivering outcomes within its scope and domain. A general oversight is that smart building is also an outcome provider to society as it creates those outcomes that cities care about with less cost, greater efficiency, and less resources.

For example, the municipalities are responsible for such things as maintaining streets, traffic signals and parks, while quasi-government companies are responsible for water and electricity. This provider ecosystem is intended to work collaboratively to deliver certain outcomes that are truly for the betterment of society.

Supporting these provider ecosystems is an infrastructure comprised of people, organisations and businesses, policies, laws, processes and technology integrated together to create the desired outcomes. The responsive civic ecosystem is adaptive, agile and always relevant to all those who live, work in and visit the cities. Whilst utilising advanced digital technologies, such as robotics process automation, IoT, artificial intelligence and analytics, and integrated into this underlying infrastructure, new disruptive and transformational civic outcomes are created.

Measuring outcomes…

A smart society and its cities viability should not be measured in the context of businesses that’s key metric is ROI, but instead must seek to improve its adoption of strategic imperative that make conducive to live and operate in especially when compared to similar structured cities i.e. ROI based on financials and also for a smart society’s initiatives and programs leading to a place that is healthy, productive, safe, self-sustaining and attractive over time, and where citizens and businesses choose to live and operate in. taking a smart building as an example, these outcomes can therefore be classified as either:

  • Outcomes arising as a direct consequence of implementing the smart society initiative e.g. when a building transitions to a digital whole-building energy management system, the immediate benefit is a reduction in the energy consumed, and thus the savings in energy bills.
  • Outcomes arising as an indirect consequence of implementing the smart society initiative e.g. new skills and personnel required to support the smart building technologies, which stimulates the economy local economy by creating the need for new jobs and a smart building business ecosystem to support and service the smart building.
  • Outcomes arising as a consequence of innovation and are created from transformational opportunities created by the implementation of smart building infrastructure and capabilities e.g. the smart building makes its excess energy and communications capacity and capabilities available to the city, which in turn can be used as a smart city hub for hosting various communications and sensors for city use.

This feature was originally published in Synapse Magazine available on Issuu.


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