The governments of the Gulf region states are investing heavily on smart cities, as their IT budgets have been shifting focus from the oil industry to other fields, and they are eager to showcase their capabilities to the world.
The Gulf states have many reasons to focus on smart cities: the need to support rapidly growing population (further swollen by expatriate workers), the need for income diversification away from the dependence on oil as fossil fuels are slowly becoming obsolete, and the desire to showcase their capabilities via major global events (the 2020 World Expo to be held in Dubai and 2022 FIFA World Cup to be held in Qatar), and impressive new technologies such as driverless cars or air conditioned stadiums.
Smart city-related projects in the area are usually major initiatives following a multi-stakeholder approach featuring businesses, entrepreneurs and universities. Such initiatives include the 2015 launch of the Center of Excellence in Smart, Sustainable and Entrepreneurial Cities by Abu Dhabi University, the recent creation of the Global Blockchain Council in Dubai, Dubai Plan 2021, and Saudi Arabia’ s 2030 Vision. New cities founded to support the growing population, such as Abu Dhabi’ s Masdar City or Qatar’ s Lusail, are being built from scratch as smart cities.
Such projects are built upon excellent technological infrastructure, with United Arab Emirates and Qatar being global leaders in household penetration for fiber, and human resources, as local start-upers and the graduates of local accelerators are already engaging in innovative practices, developing drones and 3D printing.
Despite these rapid developments, which make the region interesting to watch, there are major obstacles needing to be overcome. Bureaucracy and red tape, low digital literacy which results in the underutilization of several advanced technologies, constant security fears, cybersecurity concerns, a cultural preference for face-to-face interaction, and ‘“of course- the fact that projected lower levels of oil income will result in less money to spend on expensive infrastructural projects and training, are all important challenges. Overcoming them will not be easy, but the region is clearly making progress towards a smarter future.
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