Sound thinking at heart of Dubai’s Smart City philosophy

28 Nov 2015
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This is an old philosophical question, and naturally, the scientists had to weigh in. Scientific American, in the late 1800s, effectively concluded that if there are no ears in the vicinity to sense the vibrations that is sound, then no, the falling tree does not make a sound.

Why is this relevant? Let’s rethink this in our context – if technology innovation doesn’t benefit the end-user, is it really innovation?

Now this is a far more difficult question to answer, but I believe that as an organisation and industry we are moving towards the thinking that technology innovation, in the absence of benefit to end-users, remains just an advance in technology and cannot be classified as innovation.

Think about it. Innovation is not only about doing different things or inventing the latest and greatest, but it is equally about doing things differently.

As technology suppliers at the cutting edge of enabling digital transformation for our community – people, customers, and partners – we realise the value of “thinking innovation through”. Company X may have 50 per cent more technology patents than company Y, but if 50 per cent more people are using company Y’s products, then it is clear who is more successful. To apply the ultimate benchmark of success, if users and customers are “happy”, then the solution is a success.

Technology firms often get so caught up in the excitement of technology advancement that the technology itself becomes the star.

There can be a disconnect between what solution the technology provides and what challenges the market is actually facing at that particular point in time. This is not to say that businesses should not innovate ahead of the market curve, but if this is the result, then there should be a concerted effort to educate the market about the benefits.

Which brings us to what we like to call our Innovation Community – Avaya believes that innovation is not restricted to our R&D labs, but calls for a mechanism for proper feedback from end-users. Our customers and partners are our primary source of this feedback. As the customer adage goes – if they are happy they tell us, and if they are unhappy, they tell everyone.

This feedback is essential for us to be able to communicate to our technical teams and work with them to innovate solutions with clear end-user happiness metrics in mind. If a customer has a challenge with ensuring secure mobility for their vastly dispersed workforce, they won’t want to hear about the latest fixed-line solution.

This cycle of information, feedback, development and advancement is ultimately the cycle of innovation.

The Innovation Community is not an Avaya-specific term or phenomenon – we experience it every day in Dubai, one of the prime examples of a vision-based approach to a Smart City that involves a community. The beauty of this communal effort is that there is no single owner. It is fallacious for companies to believe that they are irreplaceable in a Smart City environment. Technology today has proven that man-made borders, trade agreements and physical location are all irrelevant. If an organisation anywhere has a piece of the puzzle that can benefit Dubai’s Smart City vision, then they can be a part of this from where they are.

Dubai’s Innovation Week is a celebration of not just the spirit of innovation but also of the community.

Organisations from various sectors, of different sizes, and at various levels in their own technology adoption curve, are committed to the vision, and are doing all they can to live up to it.

We live in a unique city where the government is often the driver of innovation. Whether in terms of service delivery, operational efficiency, interdepartmental communication, or revenue realisation, government departments in the UAE have taken on the task of digitally transforming themselves with one agenda – the happiness of the citizen, resident and visitor.

And that again brings us back to the individual. According to most estimates, the UAE already leads the world in terms of smartphone adoption. As you can see from this, whether government, private enterprise or individuals, the stage is set for the next act in the Smart City vision.

The only difference in this act is that there are many more “performers” who are part of the show than there are those watching from the sidelines. And this is how a community innovates – bringing out and together the best from each stakeholder for the greater common good. Dubai’s Smart City vision will be a resounding success, as the Innovation Community is active, engaged and raring to go.

This article appeared in The National on 28th November 2015