Smart City Transformation in South Africa

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As per the UN, by 2050 close to 8 of 10 South Africans will be living in one of the country’s cities. Such a high rate of urbanization puts pressure on major cities in the country to improve service delivery, operational efficiency, and further diversify its local economy. This process is already underway. Cities in the provinces of Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal are all engaged in Smart City transformation.

The province of Gauteng aims to transform itself by 2055, to a more liveable, equitable, prosperous and united region that is inhabited by an engaged society with increased and improved citizen involvement. In line with the provincial view of transformation, major metropolitan municipalities such as Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Ekurhuleni are engaging in initiatives to achieve their own respective Smart City strategies and visions (Johannesburg has the Growth and Development Strategy 2040 while Tshwane and Ekurhuleni have Vision 2055). All three cities aim to become Smart to improve the quality of service delivery to citizens, ensure optimized consumption, greater economic development, improve the existing ICT infrastructure base, and most importantly, promote ICT literacy and skills development.

To improve service delivery, each of the aforementioned cities has been investing heavily on making broadband Internet connectivity more widely accessible to city residents. In addition to investing in fibre optic cables, the cities are also providing free Wifi hotspots, such as in Tshwane where with Project Isizwe the city has been taking a phased approach to deploying Wifi hotspots across central neighbourhoods. At the moment, the city of Tshwane has over 780 Free Wifi hotspots and the network is accessed by over 1.4 million unique devices since its inception in 2015. Similarly, projects such the Braamfontein Wireless Mesh in Johannesburg provide free public Wifi to residents, visitors, and businesses, enabling them to gain access to free Internet connections. By provisioning Internet connectivity like a “utility”, cities are providing a platform for innovation for individuals and businesses and empowering citizens to actively engage with each other, and the municipality.

South Africa’s cities are also beginning to realize the need to become more proactive and responsive. For instance, Johannesburg has not only deployed CCTV cameras for surveillance purposes with all the information being captured within its Intelligence Operations Center, but also rolled out solutions to remotely monitor citywide traffic, allowing proper traffic flow and the ability to respond to any issues with traffic lights much faster. The need for an operations center that is able to gather, analyse and respond to real-time information is critical to becoming a responsive and data-driven city.

In the wake of dealing with the pressures of urbanization, South Africa’s cities are taking steps to optimize its power consumption by deploying smart meters. By giving households access to information on their power consumption, cities will be able to engage with residents to make a collective effort to sustain power accessibility. To achieve this, cities like Johannesburg for example have already rolled out 92,000 smart meters and is expected to deploy as many as 250,000 meters by mid-2016.

Cape Town, the largest city in the Western Province, has been making a substantial investment to integrate, automate, and deploy citizen services. The city has begun provisioning households with smart meters to track electricity and water consumption, and at the same time retrofitted traffic and street lights with low energy LED lights that allow for more efficient and effective power consumption. With the aim of fuelling further economic and social development, Cape Town initiated projects such “Smart Cape Access” which provides free Internet access across major public libraries and has now evolved to providing free Internet access points across public areas and the public transit system. Cape Town has a draft “Open Data” policy which city officials hope will increase transparency, stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship, and help strengthen the collaboration between the public and private sector. In the Western Province, other towns are also engaged in undertaking Smart City initiatives, such as in Stellenbosch where the municipality has entered into a partnership with the University of Stellenbosch to establish the Stellenbosch Innovation District to attract companies and start-ups. Faced with budgetary constraints, towns may also work jointly with the provincial government to build out their ICT infrastructure.

In the province of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban/ eThekwini has the vision of becoming the “most caring and liveable” city in Africa. Like other cities, Durban has made investments to expand fibre-optic connectivity across major parts of the cities. They have also started investing in “My Smart City” applications to migrate their e-services to m-services and allow the city to engage and respond to residents in real time.

It is clear that within South Africa, provinces and cities have used mobile accessibility to their advantage to expand the pervasiveness of government services. As they move forward in trying to reach their visions; cities in South Africa will be generating vast amounts of information, requiring them to have optimized datacenters, and real-time analytics solutions. In a bid to address citizens’ needs, the success of electronic service delivery will move beyond merely measuring its uptime and availability, and instead shift more towards responsiveness and assuring a high-quality engagement. To achieve this, South Africa’s cities need to become increasingly agile. This can be done by analysing the vast repository of data that the city has on-hand, and complementing this with accessible third-party information, to make real-time decisions, and deploying solutions within the datacenter and analytics layers that not only provide a common platform but are also cost-effective and efficient. To further strengthen their Smart City visions, cities will require increased collaboration across all the major stakeholders in its Smart City ecosystem.

Future Outlook

IDC expects the number of Smart City initiatives within the South Africa to grow exponentially over the next decade. The underpinning success of Smart Cities will be based on how these cities leverage the data that is being generated and gathered across these diverse initiatives. Cities will need to deploy the right set of solutions to ensure that the data, the response to the analysis of the data, and the execution is seamless, in order to provide the highest level of services to their citizens. There should also be increased synergies between citizens, governments, and public and private entities to encourage the development of innovative solutions. Along with data, a holistic approach to security is an absolute necessity to ensure the safety and integrity of the city.

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