Future cities: Lessons for Kenya from Dubai

Peter Okong’o @PeopleDailyKE

Kenya’s policy designers and experts charged with driving efforts to set up an international technology hub can learn much from the tiny but rich United Arab Emirates (UAE) which is setting itself up as the go-to destination for innovative start-ups.

Dubai as the hub of the UAE’s initiative is moving towards becoming a smart city run on cutting-edge digital technology and the government will be fully paperless by 2020. The deal breaker is the adoption of blockchain technology to run State services.

A government department, Dubai Smart City, has been set up to steer the various programmes that will see the complete transformation of State services and operations including transport, health, education and retail services.

The full scale of the Dubai Smart City project was on show at the recent Gulf Ínformation Technology Exhibition (Gitex) held in Dubai.

The future of digital communication and AI (Artificial Intelligence)- linked services was on full display ranging from a prototype of a zero-emission electric flying car to beat traffic jams in large urban areas, to smart shopping using facial recognition to charge your bank account directly for purchases on the spot.

Dubai is offering technology leaders and start-ups looking for crowd funding or ways to tap into future digital technology and in return it is getting access to first-to-market transformative ICT innovations.

Unique position

Jyoti Lalchandani, the Middle East, Africa and Turkey group vice president of the private International Data Corporation’s (IDC) told People Daily that Kenya’s unique position as East Africa’s ICT hub gives local firms a unique advantage by setting up partnerships in Dubai. IDC’s Africa hubs are in Cairo, Nairobi and Lagos and Johannesburg and it tracks over 100 countries worldwide on latest developments in the ICT sector

“ICT investments in East Africa are increasingly being driven by digital transformation. Organisations are trying to build more operational efficiencies to be more agile and flexible, to create new revenue streams, leverage data and develop new customer experiences using digital technologies,” said Lalchandani.

This is where Dubai has an edge with its purpose-built innovation accelerators driving ICT spending. And most of that spending is centred on third platform technologies – cloud, analytics, mobile, setup technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain and AI-augmented reality and next generation security.

IDC’s latest forecast shows that ICT spending in the Middle East and Africa is set to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of three per cent over the coming years to total $106 billion (Sh10.82 trillion) in 2022. Enterprises will account for close to 61 per cent of that figure, with telcoms, finance, government, and manufacturing sectors continuing to be the biggest spenders.

But it is transportation (CAGR of 6.2 per cent) that will see the fastest growth over the 2017 to 2022 period, followed by healthcare and utilities (both six per cent).

Customer experience

Lalchandani said the last few years have seen a major transformation in the ICT industry with CIOs (chief information officers) moving for digital transformation of customer experience in banking, financial services, telecoms, transportation and retail.

“Organisations are trying to leverage their data to monetise it. They are looking to cloud infrastructure and analytics to change their investment landscape,” he added. Ahmed Bin Ali, the senior vice president for corporate communications at Etisalat, the United Arab Emirates State-owned digital telecommunications firm, agreed.

“We have brought together different technology partners and vendors so that even investors from Kenya can find smart infrastructure to accommodate their equipment,” he told People Daily.

That is a reference to the Future Now programme by Etisalat which introduces new ways of innovating and collaborating with start-ups, IoT developers, government entities, enterprises, and end users.

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