Contributed by SAP Asia
There’s a lot of talk about smart cities in Southeast Asia. This can sometimes be confusing for emerging economies looking to commence their own transformation. Smart cities make use of data, digital tools and technology. Smart cities tackle issues with smart solutions. But a smart city is not merely about the use of new technologies. Nor is it about the adoption of the latest newfangled digital tool.
Think about it. Cities have long been the lifeforce of economic growth in Southeast Asia. But they are more than that. Cities represent the exuberance of its people. The joie de vivre of its physical environment. And the spiritedness of all that put together.
A smart city would have to embody a better version of all that. (It makes sense, doesn’t it?) And that’s the first thing a public service leader should bear in mind when envisioning its city’s transformation into a smart city.
What, then, is the ideal vision for a smart city? There isn’t one single answer. Realising the vision of a smart city requires collective effort. To get to where your city’s collective soul wants to and can achieve together, one needs to begin by asking the right questions.
So, what are the right questions? A good beginning could entail the following: What are your city’s ambitions? What specific public problems are you looking to solve?
These questions may be open-ended but looking at fundamentals are usually sound ways to begin. And they help set important building blocks to guide the transformation journey when more moving parts and complexity come into the picture.
Still, it is often hard to imagine the future if we don’t have an inkling of the possibilities. That’s where today’s real life examples come in.
Smart cities are not new. Many cities have undergone such transformations around the world. And opportunely, many working in Southeast Asia also have firsthand experience in helping to shape these thriving smart cities. In that regard, it makes perfect sense to look at some successful case studies to inspire your smart city journey.
It is key, however, to note that smart cities are not developed in isolation within the public sector. An entire ecosystem – including utilities, transportation, higher education, healthcare – come into play together with the public sector to innovate and deliver value to its people and businesses.
Let’s look at some success stories:
Problem: With urbanisation, traffic volume and overburdened traffic systems are issues in many cities. The consequence is protracted periods of non-productive commuting – a huge opportunity cost to economic health. Resources such as fuel is squandered owing to increased braking and idling, while pollution is intensified. Congestion is also a push factor to foreign companies looking to invest and set up new locations for their operations.
Smart City Solution: With over 8 million people, plus about 10,000 taxicabs, 7,000 buses, and 1 million private cars running throughout the city road network, Nanjing faced this challenge. The city effectively countered it with the implementation of a next-generation smart traffic system. Using sensors, radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips, and advanced analytics, Nanjing can now get continuous updates on the status of transport systems across the city. This is based on sensor data combined with other data such as travel behavior of individuals, fare prices, road conditions, and area accessibility. With this information, it can provide planning recommendations to slash commuting time and increase convenience – all while enhancing the city’s productivity.
Problem: When emergencies such as fires strike, time is literally of the essence. Uncoordinated information exchange between various agencies or control centers can lead to incorrect allocation of resources – which can prove fatal.
Smart City Solution: Cape Town successfully improved public safety with a coordinated incident management system. Named Project EPIC (Emergency Policing and Incident Command), the centralised emergency control platform allows information to be shared, updated, and consolidated between stakeholders. This means first responders at the scene have access to the latest data via their mobile devices – which gives them better control of the situation. Additional functions also allow emergency services to make detailed analyses – which become lessons for future planning.
Problem: The frequency and severity of flooding in Southeast Asia has intensified over the decades. A report estimates that 9.6 million people are affected by the flooding in Southeast Asia. Other than displacing communities, flooding also aversely impacts health owing to contaminated water. And it disrupts tourism and the livelihoods of those who depend on it.
Smart City Solution: With its annual torrential rains, Buenos Aires faced similar issues. To mitigate risks and strengthen its resilience, the city rejuvenated its waterworks system. The new system allows Buenos Aires to analyse real-time sensor data from storm drains and ensure streets and drains are kept clear. Buenos Aires can also notify residents with weather alerts to keep them prepared. The results have been phenomenal. The figures show it: 0 floods after 3 days of torrential rain, 30,000 storm drains continually kept clear, and an 80% response rate to infrastructure issues in 2014, compared to 1% in 2009.
Such smart solutions can be extended to disaster management to build resilience and safeguard tourism.
These examples show emerging economies that the transformation into smart cities can be more than just a visioning exercise. It can be a reality – much quicker than you think.
So, as you ask these questions – what are your city’s ambitions, and what specific public problems are you looking to solve – also think about one crucial aspect: Who you are partnering with? The journey is often simpler when you journey together. Because your partners have successfully shaped transformation journeys, they can also help guide you away from pitfalls, so you get to where you want to – faster and cheaper.
These are purposeful journeys I’m excited to be on with those I work with. For the transformation of a smart city is ultimately about smart solutions breathing new life into a city’s ceaseless engine. And amplifying its ability to fuel continued and sustained growth – to fulfil the dreams and ambitions of its collective people.
That’s what I call meaningful.
SGTech's Smart Nation Chapter has created a series of thought leadership articles on holistic smart city solutions provided by smart technology innovators and adopters for both the Singapore and international markets.
Read the other articles in the series here.
SGTech's Smart Nation Chapter aims to promote and facilitate the growth of an ecosystem of smart technology innovators and adopters to provider holistic smart city solutions for both the Singapore and international markets.
Please contact [email protected] if you’d like to join or find out more about the chapter.