The growth and development of Africa are inextricably linked to its cities and urbanisation, but smart cities that improve the conditions for people and businesses require robust information technology (IT) systems that will effectively act as cyberinfrastructure, South African engineering and IT companies aver.
The ‘World Bank African Cities 2017’ report states that improving conditions for people and businesses in Africa’s cities is key to growth and the continent needs more affordable, connected and liveable cities, says engineering consultancy firm WSP Structures Africa regional director William Johnston.
The first focus for governments and city planners will be on securing the much-needed infrastructure and services to meet the growing demand in the medium term. Simultaneously, however, significant focus also needs to be placed on planned upgrades and/or new builds that will be sustainable over the long term.
“Designing and building a futureproof city that is smart and sustainable encompasses the entire city infrastructure, where much of sustainable and smart design also relates to doing the basics better and in an integrated manner.”
An integrated and holistic design of basic services must be considered, from access to basic services, including water and sanitation, energy and power, housing and transport, to intelligent systems that use Internet access and technologies such as cloud computing, mobility, the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data and automation to provide smart services and functions for the city and its inhabitants, he says.
The growth of connected devices and familiarity with their potential impact are resulting in an increased awareness of the benefits that a smart city has to offer, says Ruckus sub- Saharan Africa sales director Riaan Graham.
There is significant movement towards embracing a technology-rich ecosystem. However, this extends beyond merely deploying new technologies. A smart city focuses on integrating technology to interconnect different governmental departments to create an infrastructure that provides better service delivery and municipal services and infrastructure, as well as using real-time monitoring systems to improve citizens’ lives.
“This interconnectedness should exist seamlessly across at least six components of a smart city – energy, transport, data, infrastructure, mobility and IoT.”
The adoption of IoT-led initiatives will be a starting point for smart city initiatives in African countries and regions. Mobile infrastructure on the continent is being continuously upgraded, and WiFi networks are being rolled out throughout the continent. There is a growing reliance on connectivity and more services are being offered digitally, and this trend also aids the evolution of smart cities.
“As cities become smarter and increasingly integrated, there is also the potential that integration will lead to vulnerabilities in co-dependent systems that cybercriminals may target,” states Kaspersky Lab Africa GM Riaan Badenhorst.
As a result, multilayered security for smart cities, which includes security of critical infrastructure, mobile security and security for data centres, needs to be considered in the planning phase.
Similar to any critical infrastructure, significant testing and validation should be done. Cyberattacks can be planned for and mitigated in much the same way as earthquakes and floods are planned for by putting in place a reliable, thorough system of prediction, prevention and response, adds Badenhorst.
“Building a smart city is a complex and ambitious undertaking that requires a multi- disciplinary approach. “Cities should start with integrated and holistically designed basic services and integrating digital technology as a foundation of smart cities, thereby making these environments smarter, more ergonomic, efficient and sustainable,” concludes Johnston.