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Written by Mark White

From America to Africa and beyond, cities need to face up to the security challenges of the 21st century.

Anyone looking for examples of the transformation not only of cities but of entire societies should look at Africa. I recently visited South Africa, where I had an
opportunity to see the rapid pace of change and the different needs of a diverse public sector.

Cities are growing in Africa, as they are across the world, and more of the population is becoming urban. A 2010 McKinsey Report noted that in 1980, 28% of Africans lived in cities, whereas that proportion had grown to 40% and was expected to reach 50% in 2030.

These cities need to adapt fast – and, much as many parts of Africa are “leapfrogging” hardwired infrastructure and embracing wireless connectivity, much of this adaptation will involve breaking fresh ground and housing new urban populations.

Data will be a vital building material for cities and citizens alike. To keep cities active and city centers populated, public servants will need to provide not just a secure city, but a city that is seen as safe. Perceptions of risk often differ from actual risk, and signs of neglect such as graffiti or broken amenities may have a disproportionate impact on perceptions.

Dealing with crime and the appearance of urban neglect will be vital for city administrators, and the ability to gather, process and act rapidly on huge amounts of data from multiple inputs will be a key part of that process.

A Carnival every day

My colleague Dante Ricci gave an example of this here, where Rio de Janeiro combined and analyzed the data flows from social media monitoring and CCTV cameras to direct its cleanup crews during its famous Carnival.

The next step is to engage with the reporting systems of the city – which includes its citizens – in real time, all the time. This involves aggregating many different information sources, analyzing the data they provide and distributing relevant outputs to where they are needed. Done right, this will allow cities to
identify and response to issues as they happen – or even before, using predictive analysis.

Beyond that step, however, is the possibility of pushing the information drawn from this analysis out to citizens. As prices drop and technology develops, smart technology and augmented reality will find its way to more hands and eyes.

How would citizen’s behaviors change if they could get immediate information on the safety of their city? On one level, it would help to keep bystanders away from dangerous situations. But it would also give them confidence to explore the city, confident that they would be able to avoid problems.

Different cities will have different populations who would benefit most from such an accurate and up-to-date picture: retirees in Cape Town, students in Johannesburg, or tourists in Manhattan. The technology is emerging that will help not just city managers but city dwellers across the world to navigate an information-rich urban landscape.

To explore how SAP is using big data, high-speed analytics and cloud processing to create a real-time vision of the city, visit the Solution Explorer for the Public Sector Industry here.

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