Melting pot of technologies

Amin Al Zarouni, CEO of Sahab Smart Solutions, shares insights on building solid foundations for smart cities and the technology that will power them.

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By Rohma Sadaqat

Published: Mon 21 Dec 2020, 5:13 PM

What role is technology, especially the technology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, playing in accelerating the smart city vision of the UAE?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is driven by the creation and adoption of technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, as well as augmented/virtual reality, among others. These are the very same technologies that will power smart cities through digital transformation of the society and economy. They are also integral to supporting the nation's sustainability agenda.

Smart cities require a combination of technological innovations in architecture and energy, such as solar power, to run. Developing smart cities will involve leveraging the technological advancements such as data analytics, blockchains, hyperloop projects, innovative 3D printing, autonomous vehicles and drones, robotics, and artificial intelligence applications, among others.

Proper application of such technology could lead to developing smart, liveable, and resilient digital cities governed by connected, lean governments. The result would be a competitive economy powered by disruptive technologies with a strong focus on sustainability and an interconnected society with easily accessible social services.

The potential benefits and the positive impacts for both the public and the private sectors in the cities in our region are enormous.

Sahab Smart Solutions' user-centric smart city solutions exist at the intersection of digital technology, disruptive innovation, and urban environments. They are already powering entities like Sharjah Asset Management Holding, Tahseel, Sharjah Private Education Authority, Sharjah Media City, Al Saja'a Industrial Oasis, and Souq Al Haraj, among others.

With great data comes great responsibility, particularly when it comes to security. Has there been rising concern about cybersecurity and data privacy?

Big Data triggered by digital transformation is the foundation for development in different sectors, and the basis of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. The UAE was ranked fifth on the global competitiveness index in 2018 in the use of big data, and in the next two years, 70 per cent of the public and private sector entities in the nation are expected to adopt AI.

Digital transformation will continue to propel the production of massive amounts of data resulting from millions of connected devices and platforms. All systems connected to the internet are vulnerable to cyberattacks, and this is especially alarming in the context of smart cities. As systems grow more complex and become more interconnected in their handling of information, their exposure to vulnerabilities increase, whether due to malicious intent or human error.

However, this risk can be mitigated if organisations implement strong security policies that provide the required layers of protection. Organisations should focus on continually investing in three P's - People, Process, and Products. First, invest in employees by educating them on possible threats and ways of safeguarding themselves and the organisation against them. Doing this is paramount because awareness is key. Second, companies must define the right security processes and back them up by up-to-date policies and procedures. It is critical that the best standards are not only adhered to, but constantly monitored and updated, because cybersecurity threats constantly modify and update themselves. Finally, fortify their data assets by committing to investing in security products and technologies that fulfill their needs, and apply them across all layers, including application, network as well as physical security, andconstantly maintaining latest patches and updating the products

they use.

How can regulators play a role in safeguarding data, and at the same time, ensure that businesses are able to analyse it to its full potential?

The UAE Government's efforts in safeguarding cybersecurity is extensive. The information and e-Government sector, which is responsible for supporting infrastructure and strategies that drive the digital transformation process in the UAE, plays a laudable role as the first layer of defence.

The Telecommunications Authority (TRA) plays a major role in this by regulating the federal policies governing cybersecurity. It is ably aided in this by the telecommunication companies, Etisalat and du, that applies the policies on ground to protect users from becoming victims of cybercrimes.

The UAE Cabinet's recent decision to establish the UAE Cybersecurity Council will result in a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that ensures a safe and robust cyber infrastructure in the country. It will contribute to creating a legal and regulatory framework covering all types of cybercrimes, securing existing and emerging technologies and establishing a robust 'National Cyber Incident Response Plan' to enable swift and coordinated response to such incidents.

UAE already secures the digital security of its citizens and residents through the UAE Pass app, Emirates ID and SmartPass.

However, these enormous investments and efforts have to be backed by reciprocal action from the private sector too. Ultimately, it is the collective responsibility of all players to ensure the safety of the system by taking appropriate measures and investing in not only technologies, but also in educating their most important and vulnerable assets, their employees, about possible threats and how to mitigate them.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic proven to accelerate the adoption of certain technologies such as drones, AI and IoT?

There is no doubt that Covid-19 crisis has fast forwarded the adoption of digital transformation via new government mechanisms, and brought about a sea of change in the way companies across sectors and regions do business. Digitisation of customer and supply-chain interactions, as well as of internal operations, which would have probably taken a few more years to come to effect, are now the norm.

The share of digital or digitally enabled products in company portfolios has accelerated. The important fact is that most of these changes will be long-lasting and many entities are already making the kind of investments that render them permanent.

There has been a quantum leap in digital adoption at both organisational and industry levels. In fact, funding for digital initiatives has increased more than any other expenditure. Staying competitive in this new socio-economic environment requires new strategies and practices. Most entities are acknowledging technology as a strategic and critical component of the business, not just a source of cost efficiency. Customers too have moved towards online channels and companies, and industries have responded positively to this shift.



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