What stands in the way of Qatari smart cities

by  — 20 October 2015

A white paper released recently by ictQatar identifies the various challenges that Qatar will face in equipping its cities with smart ICT-powered solutions aimed at managing them more efficiently. By M. Iqbal

Transportation is a priority area for Qatar and smart solutions will help the government better manage the traffic flow in cities such as Doha, but this also increases vulnerability to cyber terrorism, warns a recent ictQatar white paper.

The white paper is a result of a roundtable discussion called by the Ministry of Information Technology (ictQatar) in 2014, featuring representatives of service providers, government agencies, private organisations and others. The report indicates that the booming population in Qatar’s urban areas can be managed more efficiently as the country moves towards smarter, integrated solutions.

Transportation, for instance, is a priority area for Qatar and smart solutions will help the government better manage the traffic flow in cities such as Doha.

But there are challenges. The first challenge, according to the paper, will be consensus on how to go about implementing these smart solutions. The multiple stakeholders involved may not fully understand how other sectors work in the context of city development and operations, and each stakeholder may push for their own solutions, resulting in disagreements
and stalemate. 

Even the roundtable participants had differing views on what they considered to be ‘smart’, and acknowledged how this definition will vary for different stakeholders. An architect’s opinion, for example, on what constitutes a smart solution might differ considerably from that of an environmentalist.

Therefore, there is need of an overarching vision that will guide and a platform for the various stakeholders – government and non-government – to come together and discuss problems, share ideas and develop solutions together. A smart city office can serve as this platform to bring the various stakeholders together, according to the participants. “Collaboration,” stated the ictQatar paper, “is an extremely important element since smart cities cannot be built by one entity alone.”

According to the paper, stakeholders believed that the government “must take the lead in introducing supporting policies and initiatives and coordinating efforts to ensure that the prerequisites for success – including an overarching national vision, collaboration, data sharing, and uniform standards – are in place”.

The government policy needs to foster access and collaboration, while at the same time addressing issues of confidentiality and privacy that any stakeholder might have. Legal and regulatory barriers to institutions will need to be removed and their willingness to aid the process will be crucial in making the transition to a smart city smooth. Denizens, too, will need to be informed via awareness campaigns on how best to make use of the new solutions made available to them.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is better utilisation of vast amounts of the data that Qatar collects. The paper continues: “Qatar already has a vast amount of data on many subjects, including health care and energy. However data collection is not enough if the data is not utilised efficiently and shared.” Therefore, better mechanisms for data analysis are needed, according to the participants.

The initial investment in smart city solutions will drive up costs, according to the participants, which in turn may draw criticism from residents. In the long term, however, the solutions will lead to better utilisation of resources and will prove to be cost effective. The participants advised ictQatar to move the agenda ahead with the government and real estate developers to prepare them for the costs involved.

Smart solutions are already being implemented in Qatar. Qatar Public Works Authority (Ashghal) has partnered with IBM to put in place a system that enables it to rapidly evaluate and respond to any issues that are reported to it. The system also has predictive capabilities and can anticipate problems in advance.

The Msheireb Downtown Doha will also incorporate a host of smart solutions once completed. The project’s Service Catalogue, for example, will provide a vast range of services to the tenants including information, access to facilities, and reservations, etcetera. Qatar is well connected, ranking 27 worldwide out of 143 countries included on the Networked Readiness Index 2015. In the Arab region, it is second. The National ICT Plan 2015 aims to improve this further by doubling the ICT sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product, to USD3 billion (QAR11 billion) by 2020, and have high-speed broadband Internet access in 95 percent of households and businesses.

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