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Building Roman-Style Intelligent Cities

By Zhang Shuai, Leiphone

The Fourth Global Artificial Intelligence & Robotics Summit (CCF-GAIR 2019) was held in Shenzhen from July 12 to 14, 2019. At the Smart City Forum held on July 14, Dr. Zheng Zhibin, President of the Global Smart City Business Department of Huawei Enterprise BG, delivered a keynote speech titled “The Digital Platform Leads the New Trend of Intelligent City Development” and proposed the ‘1 + 1 + N’ approach — representing one digital platform (Huawei Horizon Digital Platform), one smart brain (IOC), and N applications — for the design of Intelligent Cities.

Why Intelligent Cities?

A foundation is needed for the development of the digital economy, and Intelligent Cities are taking up that mantle to become the engine of growth. Cities already contribute the most to GDP growth — making up 70 percent of global GDP, according to McKinsey, a consulting firm.

It is estimated that by the year 2050, there will be over 9 billion people living in cities worldwide. Meanwhile, an estimated 75 percent to 80 percent of China’s population will be living in cities. Urbanization around the world is picking up pace, driving the development of the digital economy. It is vital to capitalize on this trend and enable the digital economy to create greater prosperity in the world economy.

Intelligent Cities will play a critical role in both urbanization and economic growth. A modern industry development system is one of the prerequisites to building an Intelligent City, which will undoubtedly boost the development of new technologies — such as Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, big data, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) — as well as promote the integration and application of information technologies.

The core value of Intelligent Cities is to further the development of the digital economy and improve living standards.

Huawei’s ‘1 + 1 + N’ Construction Plan with Huawei Horizon Digital Platform as its Foundation

Based on years of experience, Huawei has designed a new construction plan for Intelligent Cities called ‘1 + 1 + N.’ Huawei hopes to build one digital platform for Intelligent Cities with one smart brain for all applications that aggregates the data and capabilities of different industries. The ‘N’ refers to a wide range of smart applications that run on Huawei Horizon Digital Platform.

Huawei aims to build the Intelligent City’s brain to integrate data and applications of various industries onto a single platform, unlocking the value of data and enabling better command and coordination in the city.

Huawei Horizon Digital Platform is the lynchpin that redefines the digital infrastructure for Intelligent Cities. Traditionally, digital infrastructure capabilities from different industries are built independently, which means they are isolated from each other and expensive to construct. Huawei aims to integrate all the basic capabilities and provide them as services to smart applications through Huawei Horizon Digital Platform.

In the past, enterprises needed to build a range of infrastructures — such as big data, video sharing, and convergent communication platforms — in order to launch a smart application. In the future, only one unified digital infrastructure will be needed for the whole city. This is comparable to the city’s physical infrastructure; when foundations like roads and pipes are built, buildings benefit.

The value of Huawei Horizon Digital Platform lies not in the functions or performance of its software and hardware, but in its ability to integrate new ICT capabilities that empower all Intelligent City applications. The value of the platform comes from the value of the applications running on it.

A Smart Brain that Can See and Think

In addition to the digital platform, Huawei hopes a ‘smart brain’ that can ‘see’ and ‘think’ will help achieve the overall goals of Intelligent Cities.

The smart brain is firstly a display center and serves as a museum for the city’s evolution. Secondly, it will monitor the operating status of the entire city to support decision-making in emergencies and enable departments at all levels to implement unified command and dispatch. Furthermore, the smart brain can provide many of innovative and entrepreneurial services.

In short, the smart brain is responsible for the following roles:

• The eye of the city: Shows the overall situation of the whole city — including economic development, environmental pollution, traffic, and public services — through clearly structured and classified data.

• The decision-making center of the city: After obtaining a comprehensive view of the city through data, city administrators can make fact-based decisions. Every year in Shenzhen, the municipal government invests heavily to support local enterprises without evaluating the results. Do these enterprises require more funds or supportive policies? After integrating data from various industries, the smart brain can show the detailed effects of government initiatives — from companies that performed better with government funding, to companies that could not profit even with government funding, and those that require policy support instead.

• The brain of the city: The brain is central to the human body — it coordinates every part of the body, working in unison to effectively perform tasks. Similarly, the smart brain of a city effectively integrates resources of various industries and processes multi-dimensional data to tackle problems comprehensively.

• The data display screen: From the mayor of a city to the director of each government agency to grassroots law enforcement personnel — they all need a ‘screen’ to perform their duties and establish links. The smart brain presents data on large and medium-sized screens, and even on smartphones. The data displayed can assist city managers with management decisions, issuing orders, and scheduling resources.

• The innovation and entrepreneurial platform: How can the smart brain platform create an environment that is conducive to development and innovation in the city, and empower innovation for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and startups? In an effort to push these boundaries, the Shenzhen Municipal Government is working with Huawei to explore methods for attracting more SMEs to contribute to the Intelligent City ecosystem by sharing resources.

• The industry incubation center: Today, traditional industries face a myriad of challenges, hindering their growth potential. However, the new economy — with the digital economy as its core — is booming, with governments around the world prioritizing its development. Intelligent Cities act like industry incubation centers. By building more Intelligent Cities, an extensive and strong industry ecosystem will also flourish.

Building Roman-Style Intelligent Cities

As the saying goes, all roads lead to Rome. The ancient city is the epitome of its citizens’ wisdom and ingenuity in urban construction. When roads were first built, a range of supporting infrastructure features, including water pipes and sewers, were built alongside them, paving the way for the construction of public venues such as theaters and public bathrooms. Furthermore, these infrastructures and services were crucial to the survival and development of the city by ensuring a clean, healthy, and secure environment, preventing the spread of plagues.

The philosophy of Huawei Horizon Digital Platform is similar to the approach used in the building of Rome. Both prioritized the building of ‘roads’ and the deployment of auxiliary facilities. Currently, no other vendors are taking the same approach. Looking at Intelligent City development from a holistic point of view, a unified digital platform must be established. This is akin to main roads, along which other public facilities such as water pipes, cables, and gas pipes should be deployed. Government initiatives — with higher standards and requirements — would require major services to be built, while community services would be less demanding. Many cities are now ready for the construction of a unified digital city. When new government services and capabilities are mature, the digital platform can be expanded — with branch platforms created — to provide many other auxiliary services.

Therefore, for future-oriented digital platforms, deciding how these small branch platforms should coordinate and interconnect with the main platform needs to be a priority. Huawei has built a unified platform that enables various platforms and applications to be integrated into one, with support for platforms from other vendors.

Building the Intelligent City Step by Step

Intelligent Cities are built step by step. Huawei has always believed that the informatization process should focus on services. The core of Intelligent Cities is the city itself, and digital technologies must facilitate their development. Digital technologies have been applied to all aspects of city development, but Intelligent City construction is not merely the process of informatization.

Governments are most concerned about implementing good governance, raising living standards, and driving industry prosperity — ambitious goals that digital technologies can help governments achieve. For example, many government apps simplify various public services, so residents now need to go to a physical service center only once. This is because background data has already been aggregated, and the processes streamlined and reconstructed, improving efficiency and enhancing residents’ lives.

Without information technologies, it would be impossible to integrate data and streamline processes. Yet, in conjunction with the new technologies, traditional management methods still play a role. In the digital era, information technology has become a general technology that enables a multitude of government services and city applications.

The emergence of Intelligent Cities has become a powerful trend for both developed and underdeveloped cities. Huawei HiCity solutions have been successfully deployed in developed Tier-1 cities as well as Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities in China. Huawei strives to align its solutions with the vision of mayors around the world. Only when the head of a city recognizes the significance of Intelligent Cities and is willing to use digital technologies, can the city truly become smart.

Based on Huawei’s experience, a successful Intelligent City project requires a dedicated government that is willing to invest, can swiftly execute, and is ready to cooperate with companies. Intelligent City development must be pioneered and led by the government, with companies acting as the enablers and implementers.

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