Issue 10: Is Smart City Tech a Crutch?

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Welcome to Backstory, a weekly newsletter turning global technology shifts into a three-minute read. This week we’re thinking about the challenges smart cities face. It’s not about creating the technology but how to use it – Mary Ames, Director of Strategy


Is Smart City Tech a Crutch?

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Cities around the world are rushing to incorporate technology into their daily operations. Smart cities are a $237 billion opportunity promising improvements to everything from waste management to finding a parking space. But getting technology in the DNA of a city is the easy part; figuring out how to use all that new tech properly is the real challenge. The key for city planners is to establish clear goals and determine how best to use technology to achieve them. Incorporating technology just for the sake of it won’t deliver sustained impact. 

Downside risk: The historic cyberattack on several American cities known as Eternal Blue should be a warning light for smart city planners everywhere. The city of Baltimore in the United States is unable to send or receive email and no liens are able to be processed as a result of Eternal Blue. The attack has hit old operating systems that many city governments still depend on for official work. Don't ignore those updates!

Simple guidelines: The Eternal Blue attack highlights several simple guidelines smart cities should consider. Advanced technology can streamline operations, but when it comes under attack, city services grind to a halt. Truly smart cities are built on the foundation of good governance and clear leadership. Technology is not the solution but rather a tool. Without a strong foundation, no amount of technology can improve the function of future cities.


“Cities today are at a crossroads: As the opportunities for using technology grow, so do the risks."

Ben Green, author of The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in Its Place to Reclaim Our Urban Future.



Unintended consequences: As China and the United States exchange tariffs amid negotiations over the future of the global economy, smaller countries and many consumers are starting to experience the blowback. Without a swift resolution, the immediate effects could transform into long-term challenges over the future of the internet, data governance, and smart legislation for the digital age. This week we explore how we can construct a better digital future in spite of these trade tensions.

Knowledge economy: By using artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, and smart governance systems, knowledge economies are streamlining how societies operate and prepare the world for the future. The first place to start is with people, and the UAE took a major step in bolstering its knowledge economy this month. HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced that investors and entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria will be granted permanent residency in the country. We unpack how this announcement will bolster the UAE’s knowledge economy and how to ensure the country attracts the best talent.



Technology as friend, not foe: The tech is there but not enough business leaders are using it. That’s the takeaway from a new piece of research by McKinsey reviewing how Gulf companies can use digital technology in business. It concludes that “although many businesses in the Gulf region are interested in digitisation, few of them have moved aggressively enough”. Lessons from the above viewpoints on smart cities resonate in this discussion.  

Data Driven: With the Champions League final set to take place on Saturday, it’s time to reflect on a brilliant season of European football. The big takeaway? For the first time, top-flight teams are using data to win. Unlike popular data-heavy games such as cricket and baseball, using analytics to hone a team’s performance (and get results) is new to the beautiful game. The team doing it right? Liverpool. And it will be contending for Europe’s biggest prize this weekend. May the best team (or programme) win!


In celebration of Eid Al Fitr, this newsletter will be off next week. This is also the 10th edition of the newsletter and we are reflecting on how we have grown already. There are more photos and the stories we choose to highlight are closer to our editorial conversations.

Not only do we cast a spotlight on our published work but we also bring the reader into our editorial thought process. What are the issues at the intersection of technology and governance? How can the Middle East, and specifically Dubai, leverage its position and influence to facilitate solutions to the challenges we all face? 

The pace of innovation is fast. Newsletters that nudge the reader to take a step back and consider topics deeply are vital. We are excited to open a new space for this growth. We take your time seriously. As always, your feedback and ideas are paramount. Please reach out to us at with your perspective. Until then, enjoy exploring the Backstory.


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