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Smart Cities Are Going Global – Should You Open an Office in One?

Smart cities are no longer found exclusively in the Western world. By 2025, as much as half the world’s smart cities will be found outside America and Europe, according to the World Economic Forum.

GettyImages-498844772-compressorWith rising populations, improving technological infrastructures, and rising consumer expectations, the nations of the Middle East and North Africa are poised to join the ranks of the world’s smart cities. The MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) is on track to attain the world’s highest growth rates in both mobile and cloud traffic data by 2018, and its population is expected to double by 2050, according to research from HIS and Frost & Sullivan.

Much of the population growth will occur in cities, transforming urban environments in the MENA states – that is, the Middle East and North Africa – with increased traffic congestion, more pressure on energy supplies and greater demands on water supplies.

Visitors to the region are often surprised at the extent to which technological innovations in networking and data transmission have already begun changing the NEMA economies. Tel Aviv’s Digi-tel program “delivers personalized city services to citizens using data analytics,” according to a statement on the World Economic Forum website.

“With rising populations, improving technological infrastructures, and rising consumer expectations, the nations of the Middle East and North Africa are poised to join the ranks of the world’s smart cities.”

A number of Gulf Cooperation Council states have put out RFPs seeking help developing major infrastructure initiatives, including foundational digital infrastructure projects. About $175 billion of cumulative investments are expected in small cities alone by 2025. U.S. multinational participants include Cisco and GE.

Perhaps the regional center of tech ambition is Dubai, which has announced its intention of becoming the world’s smartest city by 2017. One platform aimed at reaching this goal is the recent launch of a mobile app that accesses government services. A plan to create 100 smart bus stations across the emirate by early next year is being implemented now. (Editor’s note: What a great idea to bring to America. Shouldn’t we have thought of this first?)

One of the obstacles hampering widespread growth of IT is political resistance toward freedom of information. Most MENA states, with the exceptions of Israel and Turkey, lack political traditions of disseminating government information, says the WEF. Some see healthy signs of change. Jose Quadrio Alves, an urban planning specialist with CGI, a global consulting firm, contends that MENA governments are indeed becoming more transparent. “The assumption now is, by default, all data should be opened.”

About Warren Strugatch

Warren Strugatch
Warren Strugatch is a writer, speaker and consultant based in Stony Brook, NY. He covers economic development, global business, management and marketing.