Governments Increase Smart City Investments to Combat COVID-19, Reignite Growth

Author photo: Larry O'Brien
ByLarry O'Brien
Industry Trends

Technology is increasingly being deployed at all levels of government around the world to combat COVID-19.  While ARC sees significant headwinds affecting smart city markets over the next couple of years due to decreased tax revenue, reduced workforce, and more, many cities, states, and countries are forging ahead with large increases in technology investment both to combat COVID-19 and reignite economic growth in beleaguered cities.  While ARC expects many smart cities related markets to decline in 2020, this increased investment in technology will provide an impetus for growth and quick recovery.  Here are some examples of what’s happening around the world right now.  

Singapore Increases technology Investment by 30 Percent

Singapore remains one of the world’s leading smart cities.  Rather than cut back on technology investment in the wake of COVID-19, the Government of Singapore announced in June of 2020 that it had decided to increase its investment in information technology by 30 percent.  The Singapore Government Technology Agency (GovTech) announced that it would spend around $3.5 billion in 2020, up from $2.7 billion in FY 2019.  The development of new technology tools to fight COVID-19 was cited as a major reason for the increased investment.  

China Reignites Smart City Technology Initiatives

China launched a “new infrastructure initiative” in 2018, but has rejuvenated the program in the wake of COVID-19, using increased in-vestment in smart city technology as a way to spur innovation, the economy, and to surpass the US as a technology leader.  China has announced that it will dramatically increase investments in 5G, smart grids, data centers, and other smart city-related areas.  Aggregating sources of data across cities has already been called out as a major part of the initiative, and this will lead to significant growth in the adoption of smart city platforms.  

New Orleans and other US Cities Invest in Data Management and Analysis Tools

Many cities have established open data initiatives.  New Orleans, LA, for example, is using tools like Power BI to set up dashboards to track key trends related to the pandemic.  These dashboards take data from both the city and state level.  Data like testing results and death rates are overlaid with geographical data to determine which areas require more attention.  Many cities and communities both in the US and worldwide are using Microsoft Power BI to track Coronavirus trends in their local areas and help coordinate a more effective response.  You can see a whole gallery of Power BI Coronavirus dashboards here.  

The primary advantage of North America, however, is its diversity.  While the US and Canada have many of the world’s largest cities, there is also a huge number of medium size and smaller cities that are investing in smart city projects.  It is also these smaller to medium-size cities that will face the biggest challenges when it comes to dealing with the many workforce issues created by COVID-19, including increased demand for remote monitoring and operations.  Smaller, rural communities are especially challenged, and will need better coordination and help from the state level to adapt to the new set of challenges posed by the post-COVID world.  

Figure 1: Washington State's Department of Health Power BI Coronavirus Dashboard
Washington State's Department of Health Power BI Coronavirus Dashboard


Saudi Arabia Signs Large Contract with Huawei

The Middle East continues to invest heavily in many large-scale smart city projects.  Huawei, for example, signed a contract with Saudi Arabia in June of 2020 to implement a wide range of projects in several cities throughout the country.  Huawei signed the agreement with Saudi investment firm Batic Investments and Logistics Company (BATIC).  Both companies will work together to provide smart city platform solutions and services across Saudi Arabia that will encompass applications ranging from smart parking to smart transportation, integrated security and safety, lighting, and more.  The contract also includes the construction of a smart operations center.  

Smart City Platforms Help Cities Make Sense of Data

Smart city platforms serve to unify data and information from the many siloed systems.  The platforms provide a common mechanism for visualizing and managing data, and, most importantly, optimizing overall city operations.  More end-users and owner-operators are starting to realize the value of unified smart city platforms.  These can provide seamless access to data across multiple systems and operating domains to create a unified and holistic view of the overall performance and state of the city and its various functions.  

For many cities and communities, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a call to action to accelerate their digital transformation programs.  This acceleration is due to necessity, as end-users continue to struggle with serious resource constraints.  Reduced tax revenues on the scale we are seeing today are going to mean a reduced workforce in city and local governments.  More and more of these workers will be working remotely, and more will be requiring access to more sensitive OT level data.  Adoption of a true smart city platform is the best way to obtain a unified view of what is happening across the functional domains of a city or community.  

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