Analyzing data is essential to successful smart city services, Labib Matta, chief business officer at NXN, told Telecom Review. Once a smart city consulting firm, NXN has grown into a full-fledged digital service provider with a list of heavyweight clients. Smart data analytics is the "key cornerstone" of NXN's services, said Matta - the essential component of its growing digital services portfolio.
NXN, formerly neXgen, follows a roadmap of digital services based on customer requirements and rigorous market analysis. The company invested in its smart city as a service platform and other capabilities that its customers needed for smart city and smart district building, such as smart district services, security, IoT, and big data analytics. The common enabler of all these services and at the heart of NXN's digital services platform is information (data).
"Whether this data is coming from systems that are at the district level or city level, or data coming from non-traditional sources like social media or IoT sensors, the heart of it is our platform that's able to collect this data, analyze it and do something useful with it," said Mr. Matta, "not only from a reactive approach, but more importantly from a proactive and then predictive perspective. The platform also integrates nicely with enabling technologies for location based services like GIS (Geographic Information System), for payment and mobility."
The Dubai-based firm has adopted a "hands on" approach to smart cities the past few years. It first emerged as a consulting company and was an early adopter of the concept of smart cities and smart districts. NXN (then neXgen) used to focus on consulting engagements as well as promoting and educating about the concept of smart cities and smart districts, and consulting engagements often concluded with smart city and district strategies and roadmaps.
But there was a gap. NXN's customers were lacking in the capabilities to execute their new strategies. Many of them approached the then-consultants for execution assistance because they couldn't do it themselves. That's when NXN noticed a market gap which entailed it to evolve from a consulting firm to a leading deliverer of smart city digital services. The company transformed to become a "smart city as a service digital operator" covering the consult, design, build and operate for "smart services".
Meeting customer requirements
Mr. Matta's role in NXN was to lead the launch and go-to-market of the initial roadmap of services the company planned to offer, based on customer input and market analysis of the various geographies in the region. The managed services team looked at the commercial requirements, the technical requirements, and the operational requirements needed so that NXN could successfully deliver those services.
Mr. Matta has led NXN's engagements with high-profile clients such as Dubai Silicon Oasis, Zain Group, and Kuwait's Ministry of Electricity and Water (MEW). The company had the advantage of previously working with some of its current clients as a consultant, so they were familiar with its transition into smart city services.
NXN's platform is integrated with multiple systems and software. It was deployed in record time, according to Mr. Matta, who confirmed the platform has been launched in three GCC countries so far: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
One of NXN's high profile UAE clients is Dubai Silicon Oasis, a government-owned free zone in Dubai, which recruited the firm as the consultant for its smart districts strategy. NXN later became supervisor in charge of ensuring the deployment of selected smart city services, along with prominent UAE telecom operator du.
Kuwait-based Zain Group, another leading telco, formed a strategic partnership with NXN for smart city services. Zain's content value management arm (Zain CVM) selected NXN to develop its digital-enabling platform.
"NXN has a digital-enablement platform that allows us to ingest data from various systems or applications, normalize the data, and then use it in a smarter way, such as sending the data to the relevant systems and applications that need it," Mr. Matta explained.
Kuwait's Ministry of Electricity and Water contracted a consortium led by Zain Kuwait and involving NXN, to provide digital utilities infrastructure in Kuwait. The Ministry launched an initiative to implement smart metering and digital water and electricity infrastructure. Zain Kuwait was awarded the project and NXN is playing a role in building and eventually operating the smart metering infrastructure.
"In a nutshell, the value that we bring to our customers is time-to-market, avoiding complexity, and enabling them to focus on their core projects and the outcome that they want to achieve, rather than getting bogged down by technology and operational issues," said Mr. Matta.
But make no mistake: "NXN won't just 'sell you the kit' and then walk away. That's not what we're doing," Mr. Matta emphasized. "We are in it across all phases of services development, to rollout to operations and support."
The company offers three types of commercial models revolving around BOT (build, operate, transfer), BOO (build, own, operate) and OPEX (lease). The former involves transferring the platform to the customer based on a commercial agreement with SLAs (service level agreements) and guarantees for the services provided.
BOO involves transferring the platform to the customer so that it's purely a managed service, where the customer simply pays a monthly fee for it. The OPEX model is basically a lease model for customers who would prefer not to budget and pay up front for services. This is the case for mainly telecom providers as well as private sector organizations, Mr. Matta said.
Intelligent approach to smart cities
NXN's smart city as a service platform is based on analysis of the market, taking into account customer requirements. The current smart city as a service portfolio entails extensive district and city services like energy management, water management and waste management scaling up to include facilities and also physical security (urban security, critical infrastructure protection, etc.).
"The platform's ability to ingest data from multiple sources (whether systems, social media, people or sensors) provides a superior ability to enrich existing services and develop new services as required by customer needs or market shifts," said Mr. Matta.
With energy management services, for example, NXN's ability to collect data related to the KPIs that are set for energy consumption, generation or others, would allow for optimization of the service and to improve the efficiency and outcome for the customer. The same would apply to facility management and security, and so on.
Traditional security services, for example, revolve around having lots of cameras set up to record data. An intelligent approach to security, however, would include taking data not only from security cameras, but also from access control systems, sensors, social media, and correlating it all intelligently to properly analyze the situation and take the right action, Mr. Matta explained.
Cyber-security is an area where NXN's looking to expand, but specifically for smart cities and districts, rather than in a generic "vanilla" offering, because the latter isn't the company's strength - there's already a lot of providers in the market for that. Cyber-security services would complement NXN's current smart city digital services, hence its interest in the area.
Cities with smart services provide economic advantages because they can attract people and new business, and that's what NXN aims to provide for cities through its digital services and innovative approach, said Mr. Matta. The company has pioneered the smart city development in the region even when people hadn't heard of it, and continues to lead the smart city development throughout the Middle East.