Expo 2020 Dubai, postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic and set to open Friday, is expected to attract 25 million guests from around the world, and is a prototype for smart cities — communities that make use of IoT (internet of things) and other emerging technology such as AI and NLP (natural language processing) to enhance services such as energy, transportation and utilities.
The expo opens at a time when a broad range of enterprises and public administrations are deploying IoT and AI applications. The value of economic activity in AI, for example, is expected to grow 20% to 34% per year across the Middle East through the decade, with the fastest growth in UAE, followed by Saudi Arabia, according to a PWC report.
Accenture, one of the official technology partners of the Expo, was given the job of building integrated AI systems for Expo teams, country pavilions, vendors and suppliers. “These intelligent systems support various Expo teams from employee to participants and from visitors to partners,” Accenture’s Managing Director and Expo 2020 Client Account Lead Angelo Lorusso said.
The Participant Portal, developed for Expo, is a one-stop shop for the more than 190 participating countries and partners to submit their pavilion designs, themes and content on an interactive platform that integrates authorizations, supply chain management and workforce licensing functions. The platform is based on a private cloud provided by UAE-based telecom operator Etisalat.
Accenture also developed the Services Delivery Platform, which integrates data from more than 80 different applications, including third-party solutions and government authorities.
Leveraging AI, NLP for personalization
While many of the platforms address the needs of organizers and enterprises, Accenture has developed several visitor-facing digital platforms as well, including the Expo’s official mobile app, virtual assistant, and website.
“The suite of digital channels leveraged AI, NLP and analytics, to ensure an accessible and relevant experience for all,” Lorusso said.
All these emerging technologies were utilized in Amal, an AI-based digital assistant developed by Accenture and Smart Dubai, the Dubai government’s smart city initiative. The virtual assistant will gather information on shows and attractions and give feedback throughout the six months of the Expo.
For Amal, Accenture has leveraged the Smart Dubai Government platform (Rashid) based on IBM Watson technology.
“The main objective of leveraging this robust AI platform was to capitalize on the investment done at a government level for other virtual agent platforms already in use from other government entities,” an Accenture spokesperson said.
Amal, which will analyze volumes of information to answer visitors’ questions, has been designed to learn and improve responses through natural language processing. Accenture said it had “heavily trained” the AI NLP model on multiple interactions and conversations and on many topics.
NLP — the automatic manipulation of natural language, like speech and text, by software — is a potentially huge area of growth for technology enterprises, particularly in the healthcare sector. The global market for the technology was valued at $10.72 billion in 2020, and is expected to be worth $48.46 billion by 2026, according to a Mordor Intelligence report.
Multicloud, 5G infrastructure hosts services
Accenture has been working alongside Etisalat Digital, a unit of the telecom operator, on the digital initiatives. Both companies were picked as joint ‘Premier Digital Services Partners’ in 2017 to develop the infrastructure required to make the Expo site ‘smart’.
Etisalat, which has deployed a 5G network in the Expo area, is also managing the event’s multicloud hosting infrastructure through its digital solutions arm (Etisalat Digital). Smart services and solutions have been deployed across the site to facilitate site operations and security through CCTV cameras with live feeds over the 5G network.
With the pandemic raging on, Accenture had to figure out a way to continue working on Expo projects. “Our entire team worked remotely, and we established new ways of working with Expo 2020 stakeholders to ensure business continuity,” Lorusso said.
The company clarified that the ‘new ways of working’ included adopting a hybrid work model, going to a client’s site or even working from home.
Remote working has become extremely popular in the wake of the pandemic. A recent Michael Page survey showed that more than 60 percent of UAE’s workforce would like to have the possibility of working remotely full time; In Abu Dhabi, that percentage is a high 70 percent, but also in Dubai (63%) and the other emirates (60%) where a vast majority of people would like to have the choice to work full time from home.
Expo is proving ground for IoT
MindSphere, a cloud-based IoT operating system from Siemens that stores operational data from connected devices, plays a big role in connecting devices and services throughout Expo. Mindshpere is a platform as a service (PaaS), on which IT managers can run analytics and other applications. For developers, it offers open APIs and development tools.
The IoT network will help to connect 137 buildings, and play a part in the operation of applications designed to maximize show-goer comfort and building energy performance. For example, Navigator is a cloud-based energy and systems performance platform that integrates data and analytics to control energy systems performance.
Expo 2020 is, in a sense, a prototype for smart cities – communities that make use of IT and operational technology such as IoT to optimize energy, transportation and utility services. For Expo 2020 show-goers, a trip to the Dubai fair will offer a glimpse into the future of cities around the world.