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Author's profile photo Phil King

Saving citizens’ lives in smarter, safer cities

With living spaces becoming increasingly populated and life moving faster than ever, we’re seeing a ream of cities turning to digital technology to make citizens’ lives better and safer.


I’m seeing more and more inspirational stories of reimagined, reinvigorated Smart Cities all over the world that are realising the benefits of cost-effective digital software and services that help them to run more efficiently.


A prime example of this in action is the city of Cape Town in South Africa, which was struggling to serve its large workforce and population of 3.5 million people. The city is extremely new, having been formed of seven municipalities that combined in 2000. But, despite its modern status, city leaders found offices across the municipalities were not communicating effectively as inconsistent legacy systems and manual policies, procedures and processes made it extremely difficult to manage its 25,000 employees.



Cape Town deployed SAP’s ERP application in its mission to improve economic conditions in the city, enhance its infrastructure and provide better services – in a bid to make the city more attractive to businesses and safer for residents. The implementation immediately enabled city leaders to determine key priorities, identify cost savings, deliver projects on-time and on-budget and map out the quickest route to success.


This has quickly evolved into the largest SAP local government implementation in the world, breaking down siloes across the seven former municipalities that have now converged into one council. SAP’s HR training saw 3,200 employees trained up over six months, which saw an annual saving of $13 million in absenteeism and $10 million in its workforce budget.


The city can now better manage utilities revenues, which has reduced water usage by 10%, and use these major savings to invest in future proofing methods, such as installing green electricity solar heaters in 10% of its private homes.


Smart technology creates safer cities


One of things that excites me most about technology is its ability to transform services. We can now help city leaders to develop metropolitan areas sustainably, improve resilience and meet citizens’ increasing expectations. This in turn helps attract investment, new businesses and talented people to cities to help them flourish.


For example, Nanjing, the former capital of China with a population of just over 8 million, has radically changed its fortunes through its technology adoption. A city of such size of course generates an enormous volume of traffic and its road network is awash with 10,000 taxis, 7,000 buses and 1 million private cars.


To be able to cope with this overload, Nanjing developed a next-generation smart traffic system, which included sensors and radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips to generate continuous data streams on the status of transportation systems across the city. It uses an IoT platform from SAP and SAP HANA to analyse billions of terabytes of data on traffic movement patterns in real-time, then combine that with data such as peoples’ travel behaviour, fare prices, road conditions, and area accessibility.


Leaders can now make sense of the data and send it into a digital map that creates a detailed view of current traffic conditions across the city. This allows them to predict traffic status and provide recommendations for traffic planning in real-time, helping citizens navigate their way through the city quickly and safely.


Driving difference with data


Technology offers a wealth of opportunities to city leaders, but the real value comes from dissecting data silos, combining massive amounts of data from multiple sources and then analysing it in real-time to make decisions and take action that will save and improve lives.


This was the case in Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina, which, given its location at the mouth of the Rio Plata, was subject to annual torrential rain. This, coupled with aging infrastructure and dense population, resulted in historical flooding issues, which led to clogged drains that slowed the city down, caused property damage and even resulted in lost lives.


City leaders took action and installed IoT sensors in more than 30,000 drains to measure water levels, direction and speed of the flood water. They can now analyse real-time data from sensors and use the SAP Mobile Platform to ensure maintenance crews have the latest information at their fingertips to clear drains and prevent floods – in so doing, saving lives.


As cities around the world become increasingly overpopulated we have to ensure that leaders can provide high quality services to their increasing number of citizens. Initiatives like those implemented by Cape Town, Nanjing and Buenos Aires typify the levels of innovation we’re seeing around the world. By learning lessons from these cities we can take the pain away from city leaders around the globe and help the world run better.

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