Yes, not rock and roll, but lots of technology, cybersecurity and inclusivity. This is how APAC can build more smart cities…

The rush for global economies to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind them has highlighted the importance of advanced technology in maintaining business and operational continuity amid national sustainability commitments.

In our region, smart city (aspirants) such as Shenzhen and Singapore may have inspired even more contenders to ramp up efforts to leverage the extreme data of AI, IoT, 5G, and technologies like digital twins to prepare for the next pandemic.

However, the road to transformation has not and will not been easy. What were the pain points and challenges faced in the past? What are the hurdles for smart city contenders to anticipate? What public-private collaborations are vital for success and sustainability.

One firm that has figured prominently in advising on smart-city telecommunications and tech infrastructure has been Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise. Its Senior Vice President for the Asia Pacific region, Pierre Samson, has some ideas to share with DigiconAsia readers …

Pierre Samson, Senior Vice President, APAC, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise

DigiconAsia: How do you rate smart city developments in the Asia Pacific region (APAC) against North America and Europe, and which cities stand out here?

Pierre Samson (PS): with many governments in APAC pushing for smart city projects and rapid digital transformation, the region’s spending on IoT in 2019 was 35.7% compared to the US (27.3%) and Europe (21.2%). APAC is projected to account for 40% of the global addressable market growth for smart city projects by 2025.

This drive to develop smart cities is supported by the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, which was set up in 2018 for member cities to work together towards smart and sustainable urban development. Among the member nations, Singapore has long been recognized as a leader in smart city development. Malaysia has also been lauded for its pilot testing of a smart traffic management system.

Indonesia has also enjoyed successful completion of its ‘100 Smart Cities Movement’ program—with key projects including the implementation of one of the world’s largest connected street lighting systems, and the establishment of a synchronized traffic monitoring system to solve traffic congestion in real-time.

DigiconAsia: What are some common pain points for smart cities, considering the thousands or millions of IoT devices necessary in their deployment and the rapid rate of digital transformation?

PS: There are still many common challenges facing smart city solutions today — especially considering the rapid rate of digital transformation and IoT deployment:

  1. The number one concern is cybersecurity. For example, the connectivity of IoT introduces more cyber risks. This is even more crucial in smart infrastructure projects where IoT is used for critical sectors like energy, transportation, as well as water and waste management.
  2. Data privacy is another area of concern. Smart city dwellers may see some smart city developments as invasive, especially in the areas of data collection and surveillance. There are real risks in how personal data is managed and used, and it is natural for people to be worried.
  3. Additionally, any severe digital divide is an urgent pain point for governments. About 52% of the region’s 4.3 billion people continue to lack internet access. How can governments ensure that the digital deployments in smart cities are accessible by these groups?

DigiconAsia: How should APAC governments address these challenges to increase efficiencies in providing public services?

PS: For the cybersecurity aspects, governments should take a multi-level approach to IoT security to protect the individual user, device, and network level. A robust IoT containment strategy should also be developed to secure the onboarding process of new devices and help deploy the right network resources to run the systems efficiently.

In having strong cybersecurity, governments can assure citizens that their data is managed and stored reliably, and that their privacy is paramount. To support these measures, governments should also look into developing guidelines of what types of data are collected and analyzed, for how long they are kept, and who gets access to them.

In addressing the digital divide, it is important for governments and technology providers to work together to identify solutions that can still have a positive impact on ‘offline’ citizens. For instance, even old-tech voice calls can be intuitively automated to offer a superior communication experience.

DigiconAsia: How would enterprises stand to benefit from city-wide IoT deployment and smart cities?

PS: There is a duality in the role of an individual in any city: citizen and consumer. Therefore, any technologies that serve to improve the lives of citizens, can also improve their lives as consumers.

An example is Singapore’s SingPass national digital identity database. While the platform was once exclusive for government use, its benefit in authenticating citizens also offers an opportunity for the rest of the country to perform user verification.

In smart city deployment, public and private sectors can find synergies to collaborate on city-wide automation. Our Rainbow Workflow platform is a great example of how enterprises and governments can work together. The platform can integrate various smart city use cases—including government vendors for smart lighting, smart waste management and smart video surveillance.

With the smart video surveillance solution, for instance, network cameras set up by private companies can be used to detect emergency events, which is then sent to the Rainbow Workflow platform. The platform can intelligently alert public emergency services, so that fast response units can be dispatched immediately to incident sites.

DigiconAsia: What do you think is needed for further public-private cooperation in evolving the smart city vision?

PS: Each city has its own features, after-all; it is crucial that every stakeholder is aligned on focus areas and priorities, and understands what success looks like. So, governments and smart city planners must first formulate a framework that allows all parties to understand the needs and problems faced by citizens and public administrators.  

Another crucial requirement is ensuring the city has a workforce equipped with the necessary skills to run the smart city. Providing specialized training to ensure that public and private sector talents are equipped with the right skills is just as important (if not more so) than investing in the technologies themselves.  

At the ground level, governments should work to engage their citizens and rally support for smart city projects. When smart city projects have local support, cities are in a better position to attract private partners and accelerate plans.

Projects that have clear social benefits tend to be embraced by residents acclimatizing to a smart city; and these also appeal to businesses’ social responsibility goals. The likelihood of receiving philanthropic support therefore improves when the project serves the needs of the residents, while supporting the mission of private companies.