SA can become smarter via its cities

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South Africa's high mobile penetration can be part of the solution in shaping and deploying smart city initiatives in the country.

This is according to Edwin Diender, VP for government and public sector business development for Huawei's Enterprise Business Group, speaking to journalists at the company's analyst summit in Shenzhen, China.

Diender pointed out many South African residential areas are still without physical infrastructure, which dampens efforts to ensure smart city solutions reach the people.

However, the country's advantage is its mobile networks that can link people to digital and smart services provided by municipalities or local government via their smartphones.

This, he said, can include information about healthcare and health insurance, waste management, learning material, access to public transport, financial and electronic bills.

If government and network operators work together, they can potentially create a digital identity for residents in underserviced communities, he stated. "We can leverage the ability of the mobile infrastructure and link it to specific services that can be digitalised. For example, if a learner is recovering in hospital they can use the hospital network to join a class and access learning material."

This, he stated, can be the same approach that can be used to reach children in far out townships, who have to attend schools kilometres away from their homes.

Smart city status

SA has often been criticised for having fragmented smart city approaches, with the biggest challenge being the lack of a national government smart city strategic framework.

The move for South African cities towards smart city status is pretty much driven at provincial level, and some cities have taken steps to digitise and drive investment in using technology to improve civic life and service delivery.

Analysis from Frost & Sullivan shows SA and its cities remain highly constrained when viewed in the global context of ranking smart cities. Typically, Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, which are often investigated, have collectively ranked in the bottom 25% of over 100 cities across all continents, according to the research firm.

Lawrence Boya, director of the smart city unit for the City of Johannesburg, has cited ICT infrastructure and platforms such as broadband, integrated control and command, and communication systems, Internet of things, as well as digitally empowered employees and population as key components needed to build smart cities.

Boya has described South African cities, such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, Tshwane, eThekwini and Ekurhuleni, as having elements of smartness within them, similar to other cities not normally referred to as smart cities.

Explaining what European and Chinese cities have done differently to South African cities, Boya said those cities have adopted a clear long-term vision to transform as smart cities.

"Political leadership champions the transformation, and normally, the smart city programme sits at the highest office either of the country or of the particular city, the citizens are involved through various activations, and there are clear funded programmes and a smart city programme drives all other city initiatives."

Zoning in

In SA, the Public Sector ICT Forum (PSICT), a network of public sector ICT decision-makers that discuss topics key to innovation in service delivery, has prioritised the country's smart city agenda.

The PSICT's next event takes place on 14 May, at the Fusion Boutique Hotel, Polokwane, to explore how SA can develop and grow its villages and townships using smart city technology.

This event is complimentary for top-level public sector decision-makers, and focuses on how smart city technologies can be adapted to the needs of villages and townships.

To register, click here.

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