Cities around the world making a difference with varying degrees of success.
By Mint Kang
December 15, 2015
The smart city concept is an appealing one that promises to improve people’s lives and spur new business opportunities. Not surprisingly, cities around the world have tried with varying degrees of success to implement smart city policies and technology. But what really goes into the creation of a smart city?
On the invitation of The Business Times, a panel of thought leaders from industry and the government came together recently to discuss the challenges and possibilities of smart city implementation. Moderated by Ho Teck Hua, Deputy President, Research & Technology, NUS, the panel comprised Akihiko Tobe, General Manager of Social Innovation Promotion Division, Hitachi Ltd; Jacqueline Poh, MD, Infocomm Development Authority; Chay Pui San, Deputy Head of Smart Nation Programme Office; and Siew Yim Cheng, CIO, Jurong Town Corporation.
The following is a summary of their discussion.
Central to implementing a smart city is the idea that the population’s needs and priorities come first. The smart city’s objectives should not be about putting policies or technology in place, but making a difference in citizens’ lives: for example, making life easier for the residents of an estate or the workers in a company, making the environment greener and more pleasant, forging ties in the community.
“The benefits provided by a smart city will depend on the context of the cities and what is most needed and valued by the population,” said Ms Poh.
In Singapore’s context, the priorities are urban mobility, liveability, healthcare and ageing, and the smart city solutions here should be formulated accordingly. Mobility, for example, would involve improving the public transport system, as the majority of the population takes the bus or MRT: potentially having buses arrive on demand, or crowd sourcing bus routes for the most effective service. Liveability, for example, would include being more sustainable. For example, this would mean increasing the energy efficiency of chillers, since in Singapore’s tropical climate, air-conditioning represents a very large proportion of electricity usage. “Think about the needs of the people and build your priorities from there,” added Mr Tobe.
In Singapore, smart city technology will have many uses. It will provide public and social infrastructure, such as improving aspects of the healthcare system. Ms Poh shared that in Bedok Polyclinic, for example, the Eastern Health Alliance has launched a pilot self-service MyHealth Kiosk that allows seniors with well-controlled chronic diseases to check their own health indicators and get medication without having to physically see a doctor.
Smart technology will also improve sustainability in daily living. In the Yuhua public housing estate, a smart living pilot project is using various forms of smart city technology to optimise estate maintenance and waste collection, help residents track their electricity and water usage, and monitor the safety of elderly residents. The project, which will draw extensively on residents’ feedback and interactions with the technology to better understand how it affects their lives, is the first of its kind in Singapore.
From the industrial perspective, smart city technology will be a tool for supporting the city-state’s economic development. It will impact various aspects of industrial planning such as the location of industries, the use of space, and the way buildings are constructed and maintained, right down to integrating technology into building design such that it is scalable and future-proofed over the next two to three decades.
“Purposeful ‘smart city’ planning must create systems that are flexible, customisable and scalable because needs are always evolving,” observed Mr Tobe. “This is the key to good and long-lasting public infrastructure.”
The primary barrier faced by many cities is limited control outside their municipality. While cities find that trialing solutions is faster at municipal level, scaling that solution can be tough within a city alone. With transportation, for example, cities have little influence over what happens to a train, car or bus after it leaves the city limits. Similarly, education or ICT policies may be directed by national or federal policy, making it difficult for individual cities to implement their own solutions.
Also, cities may not always be able to find the talent and resources they need to implement smart city policies, or to develop these policies into sustainable business solutions over the long term. Such solutions are often put in place on a project basis, only to be discontinued once the trial period is over.
In addition, smart cities face the challenge of having to appeal to all segments of the population. Seniors, in particular, may find it harder to embrace the technology inherent in smart city policies. Although computer usage among seniors aged 60 and above in Singapore has risen to 27 per cent in 2014, from 16 per cent in 2012, as shown by IDA’s Annual Survey on Infocomm Usage in Households 2014, there is still room for improvement. Worldwide, too, this age group does less well in the knowledge economy. Singapore, of course, has the advantage of being able to avoid some of the above obstacles.
“We have control over a lot of these policies that many other cities don’t,” observed Ms Poh. “Our small size lets us carry out policy development on a national scale.”
Public-private partnerships are essential for the successful development of a smart city. In Japan, for example, the Kashiwa-no-ha Smart City was developed as a multi-party collaboration involving the local government, private sector investors who contributed part of the initial capital outlay, technology companies that provided hardware and software solutions, academic institutions that provided thought leadership, and extensive feedback from residents and businesses.
“Turning it into a smart city is about bringing together the ideas of the people living there, the ideas of the builders and makers, the ideas of the academic field. It is a form of value creation. And when you do this, it is key to have an investor that can add value,” said Mr Tobe.
In a smart city, technology and innovation are key drivers of growth in the economy. Hence, all stakeholders – institutions of higher learning, multinational corporations, government agencies, research institutes, and so on – need to work together in a coordinated manner to identify and address the needs of an urban economy.
“The public, private, and academic fields must work out how best to leverage on each other and create a mutual ecosystem whereby the talent, innovations and technology produced are what each other wants to hire and implement,” suggested Ms Siew. “The entire smart city concept is about what we have to put on the table and contribute to others.”
Over the long term, the Smart Nation initiative hopes to improve the lives of citizens, particularly seniors, who will benefit from advances in medical technology and changes to the healthcare system that will enable them to better monitor and manage their own health. At the same time, changing workplace roles and the greater use of automation may make certain tasks easier for seniors, allowing them to remain productive and connected as they age.
In the short term, there will be significant digital disruption affecting the non-high-technology and non-high-touch industries, those which are not knowledge-based or focused on customer relationships. The demand for talent will change as a result. Any repetitive work – blue collar or white collar – may slowly be automated away and the remaining workers made more productive through technology. Companies are also likely to look for professionals in fields following the Smart Nation imperatives, such as information, communications and technology (ICT). ICT, in fact, already has some 14,000 vacancies across the board in a wide range of positions. At the same time, entrepreneurs who can turn new technologies into business ideas and bring them to the market will also be in great demand.
“We must teach the next generation the skills they need to command the jobs of the future, whether these involve developing systems, building content, or analysing data,” says Ms Chay.
This is the final part of the Smart Nation series, which also featured thought and commentary pieces on various aspects of the smart city topic written by LKY CIC, SUTD. To view articles published earlier, please visit https://brandinsider.straitstimes.com/hitachi/
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