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INFRASTRUCTURESmart Infrastructure Summit: How tech can transform cities

Big Project ME recaps the first-ever Smart Infrastructure Summit, which was held on April 26, 2017 at the Habtoor Grand Hotel in JBR

Published: 02/05/2017

Country: United Arab Emirates
The Habtoor Grand Hotel played host to the Smart Infrastructure Summit on April 26, 2017, welcoming more than 150 guests to an all-day event focused on how smart technology can help revolutionise the growth and development of cities in the GCC region.

With panel discussions and presentations covering topics as diverse as transportation networks, through to building design and planning, and on to energy and critical power and water management, the summit was a day of debate, discussion and education for delegates.

The event was chaired by Sougata Nandi, the founder and CEO of 3E Advisory, a boutique sustainability advisory firm that specialises in using the Internet of Things to help clients increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions in their real estate assets.

The Smart Infrastructure Summit began with Nandi’s keynote address, during which he outlined how smart technologies can be married with sustainability objectives and goals for buildings and projects.

Nandi also highlighted how the UAE government is driving sustainability, innovation and smart infrastructure through its National Visions and Plans, which in turn give companies and organisations a pathway to follow.

Setting the summit underway, Nandi added that the concept of ‘SMART’ can be boiled down to a simple mnemonic: S for Sustainable (whether economic, environmental or social), M for Monitored, Maintained and Managed), A for Assessed and Accountable, R for Ranked (benchmarked) and T for Targeted (goal oriented).

He urged the audience to keep this simple formula in mind when it came to developing and building their smart cities and networks, as it would allow end users to benefit from the technology and processes being used.

Following Sougata Nandi on stage was Labib Matta, chief business officer of NXN (formerly Nexgen), talking about the future of smart cities in the region and the challenges facing them as we move forwards.

One of the key topics touched upon by Matta during his presentation was addressing the ‘Smart Living Challenge’. Here he explained how smart technologies could be used to improve public safety and security at a time when dense and fast-growing urban development means that the general public are facing more and more hazards.

He also focused on how smart living could improve the quality of life in homes and buildings, along with the operational management and tenant experience.

“Smart living considers key aspects that substantially improve the quality of life of citizens, such as cultural facilities, health conditions, individual safety, housing quality, education facilities, touristic attractiveness and social cohesion,” he explained.

The first panel discussion of the day then followed, with Michael Peeters, MEA vice president and Business Technology Services director for MCS, the moderator for the three-person panel.

This consisted of: Eng Mushin Al Braiki, head of Abu Dhabi Islands Infrastructure Development Group, Nader Al-Zoubi, vice president of Energy for the Gulf, Schneider Electric, and Eng Doreb Ebrahim, technical advisor to the chairman for Sharjah Water and Electric Authority.

Focusing on smart technology for sustainability and cost minimisation, this high-powered panel discussed how technology can help utility providers to enhance efficiency and reduce costs, while also looking at how smart buildings are playing an important role in the development of both smart cities and smart infrastructure.

The second presentation of the day was held by Steven Lambert, COO and partner at MCS, whose presentation to delegates about how smart buildings can help manage the supply and demand for energy was very warmly received.

Looking at the market trends in energy, Lambert was able to pinpoint three key factors – that everything should be ‘smart and connected’; that people want solutions to be as green as possible; and finally, that the market wanted lower consumption to be a goal.

“Understanding demand and consumption patterns through smart buildings will help utility providers manage their power grids,” he added during his talk.

The day’s second panel was moderated by Mohammed Tanbouz, executive director of Operations for Lacasa. Focused on designing building and mixed-use developments that use smart technology to maximise asset value, the panel consisted of Michael Peeters from MCS; Dr Pablo Izquierdo, PMO director from Dubai Carbon Centre of Excellence; Andreas Kolb, general manager of Smart4Power ALEC; Melvyn Ford, vice president – Middle East for Hill International; and Manosh De, Urban Planning, Intelligent Systems Practice lead for CH2M.

The consensus from this panel was that although smart technology is certainly beneficial, it doesn’t replace common sense and the wealth of experience built up by humanity over hundreds of years.

“Despite rapidly growing technology, we need to keep construction and development simple,” said Dr Pablo Izquierdo. “We lack that in this region currently. We try to go for the latest of the latest. That increases cost, sometimes on tech that hasn’t been tested. We’re installing equipment that’ll save 10% energy, but simply switching off the AC at night can do more. We need to start simple and move up,” he asserted.

Following an energetic discussion, this panel discussion was followed by an hour-long networking lunch break for the delegates, which then led to the afternoon session the summit.

Here, the third panel of the day was led by Akin Adamson, the regional director of Transport Research Laboratory. He was joined by Anas Kassem, director of Transport and Infrastructure Programme and Project management for WSP | Parsons Brinckherhoff; Nabeel Khan, Transport Planning Practice lead for CH2M; and Andy Noorigian, manager of Business Intelligence for Hyperloop One.

While discussing the variety of initiatives and plans being put forward in the UAE, the panel were quick to praise Dubai’s RTA for its ‘incredible innovation and forward thinking’. One of the key points to emerge from the discussion was that cities and governments need to ‘think of the need first, rather than the technology’, while another important point raised was that building and designing transport infrastructure projects with future use in mind will ultimately be more cost effective than having to retrofit or rebuild once capacity is reached.

In the wake of this panel, Noorigian gave delegates a taste of what was to come with the Hyperloop, showcasing the technology and highlighting its likely impact on the region, for a variety of purposes.

The last two panels of the day were next on the agenda, with Chris Venemore, civil infrastructure director of AECOM, being joined by Raeda Al Sarayreh, regional director and UAE country manager for CH2M; Wafa Al Sabbagh, Public Works expert for the Ministry of Infrastructure; Nour Kassassir, MEA vice president and Business Technology Services director for Parsons; and Wajdi Abdilrahman Mereb, chief BIM specialist for the RTA.

Here, the discussion focused on the need to make things simple for all stakeholders, with Wafa Al Sabbagh highlighting how smart tech is being used to streamline operations for government bodies.

The fourth and final panel of the day was led by Yousef Khalili, senior partner and head of Smart City practice at NXN (formerly neXgen). Joining him on this panel was Dr Prashanth Marpu, assistant professor – Water, Environmental Engineering programme, Masdar Institute; Chris Venemore of AECOM; Mohamed Elimam, sustainability officer from Dubai Carbon; and Mohammed Al Madhani, CIO of Nabtaker.

In this final panel, talk turned to how data analysis can help predict trends, reactions and needs. “If we can close the gap between big data and people, it’ll pave the way forward for modern, smart infrastructure,” said Mohamed Elimam during the discussion.

Referring to the National GHG conducted by Dubai Carbon, Elimam said that while collecting data was a challenge, having infrastructure centred around big data collection will help tremendously in the long term.

“The availability of data creates more awareness and makes sustainability adoption easier,” he added.

Finally, the event was brought to a close by Mohammed AL Madhani of Nabtaker, who presented the summit’s final talk – about Big Data for Big Business.

“Everyone can make use of big data. It should not be limited to only some people in a company,” he said during his presentation, where he highlighted the business impact of Data Science across industries. He further differentiated between Business Intelligence and Data Science, showing how the latter can help companies to acquire, prepare, analyse and act ahead of their competition, a perfect note on which to end the summit.


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