Smart Thinking

Pietro Leone, CEO of Geometry Global EMEA, says western cities could learn a lot from what’s happening in Dubai.

Smart City GC Pietro Leone“Progress comes through intent”, to paraphrase Austrian-born, American economist and political scientist Joseph Schumpeter. While the words may not be spot-on, his belief that innovation needs a clear purpose to succeed couldn’t be closer to the truth, especially as world leaders – faced with challenges from climate to healthcare, from security to surging economic volatility – turn to innovation as a panacea.

I have recently returned from Dubai after a week of regional management meetings, and it’s clear that this Emirate is building one of the most exciting and relevant centres of innovation on the planet. With World Mobile Congress just around the corner, it struck me that mature Western markets might just be in for a wake-up call. There’s a new dawn rising in the east, with mobile at the core.

Dubai’s large scale transformation programme to become one of the smartest cities in the world is led by purpose: to improve the quality of life for its multicultural population by “embracing innovation, and making Dubai more efficient, seamless, safe, and delivering an enriched city experience through smart technology”, according to HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai.

The drivers will be collaboration between public and private sectors, the Internet of Things (IoT), rapid mobile adoption, and combining the interconnection of internet-connected devices with real-time data analysis to uncover how people are buying brands and services. One route to achieving this is for all city services and facilities to be available on smartphones.

That view of a technology-enhanced future is apparent everywhere, starting on arrival at Dubai Airport’s smart gate system where iris and face imaging has cut passport control times to just 20 seconds.

The mobile-enabled city
Mobile access to facilities is key to success and the government is leading the way. Over 95 per cent of Dubai’s most important government services sit on mobile devices. With a single identification number, people can access all government services and a personal account page with updates on transactions, pending procedures and outstanding payments.

The Dubai Police Force was one of the first organisations in the world to use Google Glass, while smartphone apps, such as Smart Salik Dubai allow drivers to pay traffic fines and charge their Salik toll tag.

The financial sector is close behind: mobile banking and mobile payments are set to use biometric authentication to reduce fraud and, this year, banks will allow customers to talk to them through natural language and artificial intelligence engines.

Customer experience
Just as state and financial sectors move into a hi-tech future, brands are innovating too. Emirates Airlines has again topped the worlds most valuable airline brand, according to the 2016 Brand Finance Global 500 report – as its brand value grew 17 per cent during the past year. The airline, launched just 30 years ago, innovates and invests in technology to streamline the customer experience, including enhancements to mobile sites and apps to simplify the customer journey. The airline’s strategy of innovation has purpose and is turning innovation into long-term market leadership.

Dubais Jumeirah Group recently launched a mobile platform allowing guests to book rooms via mobile and tablet, driven by data showing that around half of all visitors to Jumeirah Group’s websites use a mobile or tablet device. Last month, bookings on its mobile site increased 28 per cent year-on-year.

What I saw in Dubai was a new kind of city, one that has technology embedded within, and which is naturally, unavoidably, global, connected and mobile. Most impressive of all, innovation is relevant and, in my view, a model of excellence for businesses striving to grow against strong headwinds.

The UAE is determined to be among the top 20 countries in the world in the Global Innovation Index by 2021 and has every chance of achieving that goal. My Western colleagues may well dominate this month’s World Mobile Congress, but we should all reflect hard. Change is underway and we can expect some of the most advanced cities of tomorrow’s world to lie beyond the shores of Europe.

Pietro Leone is CEO of Geometry Global EMEA