Big data, food for thought at Dubai’s Smartcon

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‘Big data’ is an increasingly cited buzzword but not always completely understood in relation to the planning and optimization of smart cities.

With its solar-powered Wifi smart palms providing free web access for visitors of Jumeirah Beach and its smart city Dubai initiative, Dubai is arguably the MENA region's leader in regards to city planning.

Dubai is aided by cutting-edge technology and provides a roadmap for other regional cities, thanks to its leadership dedicated to testing innovative initiatives (think the Dubai Future Foundation’s work and their one billion Emirati dirham [US$275 million] budget for initiatives over the next five years).

As such big data was a central theme at the Smartcon Executive Talk Sessions in Dubai on December 7. Executives came from leading tech firms from Europe and the Middle East for an evening of discussion, moderated by Hamit Hamutçu, cofounder of the Istanbul-based big data consulting firm Analytics Center.

Naim Yazbeck, regional director for Microsoft Gulf’s Enterprise and Partner Group, talked about using data to address the needs of customers, in a predictive and proactive manner, while adding that the technology landscape was rapidly evolving.

“I’m fortunate, like many of you, to be living in the middle of this industry transformation,” said Yazbeck, who ended his speech by highlighting constant change as the status quo he predicted for coming years.

One example that Yazbeck shared while discussing the impact of his company’s technical services was the use of big data in the areas of predictive maintenance and operational efficiency.

Javier Martinez, VP business development and sales at Libelium Spain, was the sole speaker flying in from Western Europe and highlighted his company’s smart city initiatives offered to clients. One of those was a smart parking concept for Dubai Silicon Oasis, as well as noise and traffic monitoring products for municipalities in his native Spain, and the US.

A 'smart palm' in Dubai. (Image via Smart Palm)

One of the biggest takeaways of this talk was the warning about getting caught in the hype of buzzwords. “More than big data, we need the right data that’s relevant. Technology is just an enabler: it shouldn’t be the focus of the conversation about smart cities.”

Martinez discussed the importance of neighborhood noise monitors, sensors installed in streetlights in order to gauge traffic flow, as well as smart parking sensors that facilitated a more focused maintenance of on-site traffic facilities (such as at Dubai Silicon Oasis), among the products that Labelium installed in cities around the world.

Expecting excellence

While speaking about the usage of data by governments, to improve daily life for the public, SoftwareAG Gulf and Levant MET vice president Rami Kichli pointed out that service monitoring and service improvement were some of the key aspects of a government digital business platform (like, Smart Dubai).

The UAE-based Kichli gave an example of how “Dubai has been a continuous transformation” and referred to the
4th Generation of the Government Excellence System. He also analyzed the key question that must be asked: “How can I, as a government entity, monitor my services and understand them better?”

Gökhan Öğüt, who spent several years as the CMO and CEO of Vodafone Turkey encouraged the companies in attendance to adopt a distinctly purpose-driven approach in order to successfully undergo a digital transformation. “Every company, city and country needs a purpose. Dubai’s a great example of a city with a purpose: it has a goal of becoming the happiest city in the world,” said Öğüt.

Feature image via Smartcon.

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