Technology to play a crucial role in rapid urban development, experts say

Future cities must be built on trust and governments should consider adopting technology to 'listen to, understand and act' on behalf of their citizens

The SAP-organised panel discussion was held alongside the Urban and Rural Development Expo Week. Photo: SAP

The role of technology is increasingly becoming more critical in urban development as planners address challenges to promote competitive business environments and spur sustainable societies.

Future cities must deliver seamless customer experiences and governments should consider adopting technology to “listen to, understand and act” on behalf of their citizens, Kashif Siddiqui, a customer experience solutions expert at SAP, said during a panel discussion organised by the German software company at Expo 2020 Dubai.

The smart building market globally is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 11.33 per cent to $229.1 billion by 2026, according to Modor Intelligence. Growing energy conservation efforts and environmental concerns are driving the growth of the sector, it added.

“We believe that smart building insights play a crucial role in improving the overall building performance and enhancing the quality of life for occupants and visitors," said Selda Konucku, leader of connected building business for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa region at US conglomerate Honeywell.

The Covid-19 pandemic affected the core of urban living, and local governments needed to react quickly to protect people’s lives and simultaneously look for the best approaches to handle the long-term effects of the pandemic, said consultancy Deloitte, which was part of the discussion.

It said cities should care for people the most by making urban living areas more humane and nurturing a strong sense of connection.

Deloitte identified 12 trends in a recent report that would define the future of cities, including those that tackle smart health, digital innovation and sustainable buildings.

It also listed the circular economy – an economic system that focuses on reducing the extraction of natural resources, minimising waste and regenerate natural systems – and producing locally.

Multimodal mobility – the flexible and integrated use of different forms of transportation – will also play a key role in future urban development, especially with the integration of autonomous technologies.

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Globally, the autonomous vehicles market has reached $1.65bn, figures compiled by Fortune Business Insights show. It said the UAE is a global leader, having announced several plans to test self-driving vehicles. Abu Dhabi recently completed the trial phase of a driverless taxi service on Yas Island and the service can now be booked by the public through the TXAI app.

Access and reliability, safety and the costs of inefficient operations are the three main challenge of mobility, said Shahzeb Memon, vice president and global head of transport-as-a-service at Swvl, the Dubai-based mass transit and shared mobility services provider set for a listing on the Nasdaq.

“These mobility challenges need to be tackled in a smart and efficient manner, focusing on the daily commute, order in travel and technology for end-to-end transportation services," he added.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, has announced a goal that 25 per cent of all transportation trips in the emirate will be smart and driverless by 2030. The city saved Dh210bn ($57.18bn) in working hours, time and fuel between 2006 and 2020 thanks to "smart" investment in roads and transport infrastructure, officials said last month.

The data-driven digital lifecycle of projects is important in urban planning, with "organisations who get technology and digital transformation right becomes a true differentiator in the industry with a 5 per cent to 30 per cent productivity increase”, Mark Smith, managing director for capital projects at Deloitte Middle East, said.

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We believe that smart building insights play a crucial role in improving the overall building performance and enhancing the quality of life for occupants and visitors
Selda Konucku, leader of connected building business for Meta at Honeywell

"Customer centricity and human factors are key success factors for any business," said Jihad Tayara, chief executive of Evoteq, the digital venture arm of Sharjah waste management company Bee'ah.

Urban areas, traditionally characterised by a high population density and heavy construction to support modern amenities, such as transport and commercial buildings, now face increasing pressure from expanding populations, limited resources and the growing impact of climate change, the Deloitte report said.

Cities should be driving a decarbonisation agenda, because becoming low-carbon is the first step towards mitigating carbon emissions and achieving ecosystem resilience. At the same time, cities should ensure that urban planning is capable of dealing with the pressures of climate change in the adaptation agenda, it added.

The panel discussion was held alongside the Urban and Rural Development Expo Week and involved the participation of Google Cloud.

Updated: December 26th 2021, 12:42 PM