Digital cities are the next big thing

You may have recently heard of smart cities, in reference to the current global shift by the world’s cities to the digital era.

From automation of home utility services, to intelligent buildings, transportation, garbage and energy management, security and healthcare, global cities are going digital and Nairobi cannot be left behind.

Automation is helping slash utility bills for city residents by, for example, reporting hidden water leakages and switching off lights when there are no occupants in a house.

Cities such as Helsinki have adopted automated garbage collection, where trash bins send an automated message to the city garbage collection company-- ensuring the garbage trucks only show up when bins are full-- improving efficiency and cutting service charges for residents.

Global IT giants such IBM, Cisco, Siemens and others have seized the multi-trillion dollar market, and are already developing smart infrastructure for smart cities of the future.

Last year, in a real boost for Nairobi, IBM opened a new big data research centre, underlining our new front-runner status.

This body will assist in analysing big data, support the decongestion of traffic and improve accessibility and speeds for accessing information and services. The Nairobi County government under Governor Evans Kidero has put digitisation of services at the centre of its development plans and Nairobians are already enjoying the benefits.

To pay for land rates and verify registered owners of Nairobi County land for example, one just needs to access the Ejiji Pay portal on their digital devices, confirm ownership and make electronic payments without moving an inch.

That would not have been possible before the county government’s launch of the digital platform in 2014.

We have transformed the way citizens interact with the county government services by also introducing an electronic public tendering process that is open and easily available for all to see and follow and will underpin the transparency of tenders.

These are achievements that undeniably have had a huge impact in improving the quality of life and delivery of service to city residents and businesses.

One week ago, I announced the Nairobi County government’s decision to no longer accept cash payments at all revenue collection points beginning the next financial year.

I thank the governor for supporting ongoing efforts by the ICT ministry to digitise the city’s operations. There are no limits to the digitisation opportunities around us. Think of any challenge, and you will find a digital solution around it. A current example where digital intervention has promised to offer a solution is the problem of unregulated taxi fares and congestion caused by street taxi drivers who wait for customers at parking slots.

Easy Taxi and Uber’s entrance in this area have shown that it is possible to have a different conversation around this issue.

As some Nairobians may be aware, the county government had already drafted laws to regulate the taxi business, and one of the key requirements was to have automated, metered parking for all operators.

With platforms such as Easy Taxi and Uber winning wide customer acceptance, the reality is that the county government may have to amend its by-laws to accommodate this new technology.

Intelligent buildings that harness solar and wind power, while running on natural lighting for most of the day and only tapping into the national grid on a need-to basis, have also showed how smart electrical grids can cut electricity bills while improving the quality of life.

The vexing problem of terror is also part of our major problems, which we can use technology to resolve.

The national government has already installed digital cameras to spot terror suspects on major highways and entry points, and the county government could and indeed is already complementing these efforts by having CCTV coverage in areas where the national government does not have reach.

Though education remains a function of the national government, county governments have a role to play in matters of early childhood and education for those with special needs, such as those with various disabilities through the use of technology like the digital television channel Elimu TV.

Even the traditional fears of job losses due to automation have now been answered, as we are seeing more and more Kenyans innovate solutions for our everyday problems.

Web Tribe Ltd, the company which powers the city government’s Ejiji Pay portal, is an example of a Kenyan-owned company that is offering home-grown solutions to our problems as it creates more jobs and opportunities for our youth.

Nairobi has boomed in recent years through international partnerships and home-grown products and as far as technology goes, there is indeed no limit to the smart cities of the future.