Why smarter cities are safer cities
As technology evolves at exponential pace, and increasing numbers of individuals live in urban areas, the concept of smart cities is gaining momentum.
Smart cities rely on massive volumes of data being gathered by sensor-based technology and fed into intelligent networks. If developed cohesively, these networks can integrate with one another, sharing data and forming a ‘super-network’ that pulls in every aspect of a cmart city – from energy management and smart grids, to public transport, traffic management, healthcare, information services, ubiquitous connectivity, intelligent buildings, and refuse and sanitation, to name just a few aspects.
But another, lesser-known benefit of smart cities is the ability to reduce crime. This is achieved in several ways:
Though this sparks lively debates around where the lines of personal privacy should be drawn, there’s no doubt that surveillance footage from networks of IP-connected cameras are very useful to authorities when tracking down suspects.
With metro police authorities operating in a fully-connected way, they become more efficient and can ‘cover more ground’ in the fight against crime. For instance, incident reports can be completed at the scene of a crime, via simple forms on a mobile app. This can be combined with surveillance and historical data, served from cloud platforms and interpreted by sophisticated analytics tools, empowering police with sharper insights when solving crimes.
Using camera and sensor technology, emergency medical and police response teams can receive automatic alerts to road accidents and other incidents. When just a few seconds can sometimes mark the difference between life and death, having ambulances dispatched more quickly has a huge impact. Another example is having smart cameras installed at ATMs. These smart cameras can incorporate smart analytics and be programmed to detect motion as well as behaviour that is deemed either suspicious or alarming. A person with a weapon could be identified with smart analytics and alert sent in real-time through to the control room, initiating a fast response.
Criminals often take advantage of poorly-lit environments. But imagine if, for instance, a smart city system included connectivity to street lights, so that when a bulb breaks, the relevant department gets an immediate alert and repair crews can attend to the problem. This same principle is applied to any public lighting, cameras, or other sensors.
In the emerging world, sanitation in urban and peri-urban areas is a huge problem. With more efficient, technology-enabled refuse removal and disposal services, citizens benefit from a cleaner and more hygienic living environment - helping to reduce the spread of disease.
With enhanced communication capabilities, authorities can alert citizens to impending disasters or issues, such as flooding, hailstorms or tornadoes. Emergency relief can be more effectively distributed to affected areas. With stories of drownings in flash floods not uncommon in some South African cities during rainy seasons, this could have life-saving effects.
Two-way citizen engagement
Perhaps the most important safety initiative for smart city planners is to build the tools in which citizens can report crimes anonymously, with geolocation and camera evidence that mobile apps enable. This extends the authorities’ ‘eyes and ears’ and helps to create a culture where people hold each other accountable for upholding the law and ensuring the safety of others.
While every city is different, South African cities across the country could certainly benefit from improved citizen safety. In other global case studies, introducing new technology-driven solutions have been slashed crime levels by up to 30 percent in some cities. As municipalities and political parties look for ways to garner greater public support, Smart cities may provide them with the results they’re looking for. Every individual, in fact, would benefit from the enhanced public safety made possible by new technology.
Gavin Holmes is the Business Head in Africa for Wipro Limited. Rudraksh Bhawalkar is the Practice Manager, Analytics, Africa, Wipro Limited
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”