Cities that have made progress on digitalisation will fare better than those who haven’t made this a priority and cities that are currently on the digitalisation journey will need to fund and fast track digitalisation of city services and systems if they hope to survive.
So, what does digitalisation do for cities and services? Firstly, digitalisation allows for a far deeper understanding of the state of play of the city’s operations. Without this level of real-time information, cities cannot hope to build effective consistent service provision, let alone a crisis response plan. Secondly, enabling citizens, collaborators and other stakeholders to access essential information remotely has become absolutely critical. Without this, any level of continued customer service would be virtually impossible, let alone flexible working.
The tools listed in Smart Dubai’s report support this goal and the ability of some of those organisations surveyed to accelerate digitalisation (section 4.3.10) puts them in an excellent position moving forwards.
Lastly, for the full value of digitalisation and the associated data to be realised it needs to be shared, not just accessed, with relevant stakeholders. Clearly some data is confidential or commercially sensitive, but wherever possible it should be shared. This allows for data to be integrated across silos and for the construction of more accurate and more valuable insights at the city systems level.
Most importantly digitalisation allows innovators to be able to ‘bolt on’ urban innovation solutions far faster than most governments can – but only if digitalisation is accelerated, allows remote real time monitoring of systems and then allows appropriate access of data for innovators to work their magic.
Technologies like the UAE pass, streamlined the switch to digital operations demonstrating the importance of digitalisation of city services to not just improve efficiently but to create a more resilient city. This combined with Dubai’s pre-existing paperless strategy has positioned Dubai well to weather the current storm in the best way possible and is a lesson for cities around the world.
It is easy to suggest that nobody could have predicted the current pandemic, but relatively recent years have seen other examples of coronavirus outbreaks, bird flu and swine flu. It seems that majority of companies and cities treated them as isolated incidents unlikely to ever occur again and certainly nothing to seriously worry about. We simply cannot afford to make the same mistake again.
The role of innovation agencies like Smart Dubai and Connected Places Catapult is to provide leaders with well thought through frameworks and the practical toolkits that help them use foresight to become smarter and more resilient.