Challenges in the Middle East and how to deal with them

Challenges in the Middle East and how to deal with them
While opportunities for growth in the Middle East is undeniable, there are several challenges that need to be overcome. Mark Horton, Founder and Director of The Plena Group, explained that the two major challenges will be protecting users' data and ensuring security providers deliver a fit for purpose solution without compromising security mitigation when there is a need to cut both CAPEX and OPEX investment.

In terms of smart city implementation, there will always be a challenge for the program manager to affect a solution with minimal impact on the occupants of the city minimizing the disruption on their day to day lives. Other concerns include costs, returns on investments (ROI), and technological effectiveness.

Cost and ROI

Government spending is critical in making smart city projects a reality and slow economic growth is likely to hinder the progress of some of the more ambitious projects.   There’s also the issue of return on investment as there are very few completed projects across the globe that are similar and can serve as an indicator of how much ROI can be obtained.

“With few completed smart city projects outside of China there are not many examples that are available for scrutiny or that can be assessed to truly understand the ROI of these complex and expensive projects,” said Jamil Al Asfar, Senior Sales Manager at IDIS Middle East and Africa. “However, events such as Expo 2020 give the region a significant chance of success and will support attracting overseas investment.”
Similar cost-related concerns have been raised by other companies too.

Ettiene Van Der Watt, Business Development Director, Axis Communications Middle East & Africa, said that one of the main challenges they face is the misconception that the cost of investing in a network security solution is very high.

“This is followed by a misunderstanding that IP Solutions are complicated and that IP cameras are bandwidth and storage hungry,” Van Der Watt said. “We are constantly driving education towards end users regarding compression technologies whereby bandwidth and storage can be optimized.”

Privacy and facial recognition

For proper implementation of smart city solutions, citizens should be able to accept that there is a certain amount of compromise in privacy. Lately, there have been several concerns over privacy across the globe and this has made an impact in the Middle East as well.

“The biggest obstacle to smart city projects is the need for citizens to forego their privacy,” Al Asfar said. “They will need to accept having their behavior constantly monitored via sensors, giving up their personal and biometric data via smartphones, or through facial recognition, and ultimately paying for the operation and maintenance of smart cities through higher taxation and property prices.”

In addition, there is much hype around the possible applications of facial recognition due to accuracy levels especially when it's used in real-time. Factors such as faces hidden by clothing, weather and lighting conditions, make false positives a significant risk particularly if a system is trying to capture and then match faces in busy public spaces to large databases.  And it’s these very same challenges of false positives even using relatively small datasets that have led to widespread skepticism about the future of facial recognition in the UK.

Unrealistic expectations?

Finally, there are also concerns that certain projects are overhyped and do not live up to the investor’s expectations, which in turn leads to restricted funding. Al Asfar pointed out that for investors there is always a risk that millions of dollars will be spent, and years of implementation time expended, only for the ground rules to be changed. Projects might be scrutinized and then undermined by changes in legislation that make them illegal to operate without huge and costly reconfiguration.

The ambitions of smart cities in the Middle East to become (or indeed remain) major tourist destinations or international business hubs, mean that they can ill-afford bad publicity. Neither can they completely ignore regulations like the European Union’s GDPR and other privacy laws surrounding infringements of human rights if they are to attract overseas investment.


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