MADINAH: Local and international technology leaders, experts and businesses gathered this week for the first Smart Madinah Forum, during which they discussed, shared and exchanged knowledge and experience of smart cities.
The aim of the two-day event, held on Feb. 6 and 7 and organized by Al-Madinah Region Development Authority under the patronage of Prince Saud bin Khalid Al-Faisal, deputy governor of Madinah, was to explore ways to ensure Madinah is one of the top three most livable cities in Saudi Arabia.
Specific goals that were discussed included increasing its annual economic growth by 3 percent and reducing unemployment by 5 percent by 2030 as part of the efforts to transform it into one of the most tranquil yet dynamic cities in the world through the use of technology and innovation.
The forum considered a number of improvements that might help to achieve these goals, including the development of 5G and fiber optic networks, enhanced communication and information technology infrastructure, and smart technology solutions.
In considering what we actually mean by the term “smart city,” Jonathan Reichental, the founder of Human Future, a global business and technology advisory, investment and education business, said: “I often have the privilege to travel to many cities of the world to talk to their smart city leaders, mayors and managers — and I hear lots of different answers to that question.
“One of the conclusions I’ve come to is that the definition isn’t as important as the outcomes. The definition isn’t as important as what we’re trying to achieve. And every community, every city has a different goal. This is another insight.
“There is no recipe that every city can follow and get the same results because every city has different demographics, different geography, different resources, different capabilities — significant differences. But I do know one thing, which is clear: This is a topic about people.”
Under the heading “Where technology meets tranquility,” the forum presented three panel discussions and several presentations featuring 12 renowned national and international speakers who explored Madinah’s strategy for becoming a smart city and identified six sectors for development: tourism, environment, business, old neighborhoods, well-being and mobility. About 148 attendees took part in six workshops that generated about 500 ideas, based on which they prepared case studies for developing each sector.
“We conducted several workshops and involved the key stakeholders, including the residents themselves, and we identified the challenges that the city is facing; we categorized them under six priority sectors,” Abdulrahman Ibrahim, chief data analytics and innovation officer at Al-Madinah Region Development Authority, told Arab News.
“The strategy and goals of the smart Madinah program are highly human-centric and residents need to help highlight the challenges and find the right technological solutions.”
Transportation is one of the key challenges that the city is facing. Consequently, one of the key priority sectors in Madinah’s smart city strategy is mobility.
Abdulrahman Ibrahim, Chief data analytics and innovation officer at Al-Madinah Region Development Authority
Madinah is a popular destination for Muslims from around the world and the heavy traffic in the city is a major issue for commuters and civic bodies.
“Transportation is one of the key challenges that the city is facing,” said Ibrahim. “Consequently, one of the key priority sectors in Madinah’s smart city strategy is mobility. This challenge will be addressed in that strategic priority and we have a group of case studies that we want to implement using technology as a means to solve this challenge.”
The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority is exploring ways to create a smart country and has established two innovation labs its says are vital to the development of artificial intelligence solutions.
“SDAIA is focusing on smart cities, heavily based on the directions from the chairman of the board, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” said Nasser Al-Rayes, the authority’s deputy CEO.
“We’ve been engaged with our colleagues from the Madinah authority since the beginning of developing this strategy, so this is not just a one-time meeting. Now, it’s multiple workshops and multiple engagements to ensure that whatever they aspire to have is definitely aligned with the national directions and, most importantly, it is aligned with the agenda of data and AI that SDAIA is leading.”
During the forum, the experts also discussed smart city issues under the heading “All for one and one for all.”
Lakshita Wijerathne, chief operating officer at technology company Eutech, said: “To help a smart city platform cater for your purpose, one key thing is when you have so many sensors … you have your visitors, your residents, your citizens … so the platform will be able to collect and analyze large volumes of data. So that will give you valuable information related to the understanding of your situational awareness.”
The second Smart Madinah Forum is expected to take place in February 2023.