Business

Capacity building for smart cities

by ALEXANDRA STENNETT

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

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Throughout most of history, the majority of the world's population lived in rural areas and only a small proportion lived in urban areas. This trend has changed significantly in recent years as urban areas become the epicentres of resources and opportunities, and therefore increasingly attractive places to live.

Over half the world's population currently lives in urban areas, with the number expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050. This trend of rapid growth, called urbanisation, has a number of positive and negative impacts on society.

Some of the problems raised due to urbanisation include unemployment, poor housing conditions, air pollution from increased traffic, crime and disease – all of which threaten sustainable development.

In the Caribbean, rapid urbanisation has caused a housing deficit, resulting in a large proportion of the urban population living in informal settlements and poor housing conditions, both of which hinder smart and sustainable city development.

In spite of these adverse effects, urbanisation can have a positive impact on economic development. For instance, cities are often more efficient than rural areas, and fewer resources are needed to supply basic amenities such as fresh water and electricity.

SMART CITIES

According to Tech Target, a smart city is a municipality that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public, and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare.

Importantly, cities are defined as 'smart' not just by using technology, but in their ability to support an end-to-end process that sees resources used efficiently to create practical outcomes that improve the quality of life for citizens. This has the potential to revolutionise everything... from waste management to traffic reduction.

There are many global smart cities, from South Korea's tailor-made Songdo to Amsterdam, Netherlands and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In India in particular, the government's Smart Cities Mission has identified 100 smart cities to be created or retro-fitted with smart attributes.

Locally, Jamaica's main business hub, New Kingston, is to be transformed into a 'smart city'. This will be a pilot project for a broader roll-out across the country, as announced in late 2016 by Dr Andrew Wheatley, Minister of Science, Energy and Technology.

During 2017, focus was placed on utilising existing infrastructure in a smarter, more sustainable manner to facilitate greater efficiency in the city, and bring the country in line with international best practices.

Some of the projects which have already been undertaken include the provision of free Wi-Fi in certain high-traffic public places, such as Devon House, and the installation of LED streetlights, which can be later fitted with smart modules to improve the quality and reliability of street lighting.

IMPROVING PROFESSIONAL CAPACITY

The development of the smart city is an important element in ensuring the sustainable urbanisation across the Caribbean. However, for this to happen, more focus is needed on strengthening accounting, financial management and governance, over and above just focusing on technology. This sentiment is echoed in a report by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) titled Smarter Cities, Simpler Cities.

With the rise of smart cities, it has become vital for professions like accountancy to adapt in an evolving age. It's necessary for smart principles to be embodied in the skills of key professionals, as much as in the city infrastructure itself.

Professional accountants must develop their own digital capability and understanding in order to provide the expert guidance (in areas like budgeting and cost-benefit analysis, for example) and strategic counsel necessary to shape the city of the future. In addition, they must go beyond awareness of advancements in technology and have a strategic mindset in the application of the new technology to business processes and goals.

Part of this capacity building will involve the development of professional accountants who go beyond recording historical performance. This involves various aspects outside of the traditional accounting role such as having the ability to communicate effectively – which is critical to breaking silos in an often traditional public sector environment – and acting as the ethical conscience of the organisation with respect to managing public money in the public interest.

The development of the smart, sustainable city is not a utopian ideal but a social necessity. Rapid urbanisation is creating unique pressures on local economies, environmental impacts and the challenges of ageing populations.

In the face of these pressures, smart cities offer a ray of hope to ensure that these new urban centres benefit from a planned, smart approach that improves living conditions for future generations.

Alexandra Stennett BSc, MPhil, ACCA, CA is a chartered accountant, general manager at It's Pixel Perfect and co-founder of The Transformation Blueprint.

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