Fulfilling Vietnam’s Digital Ambition

From our team’s communication with government stakeholders, academics, communication services providers and technology enablers in Vietnam for the 26th Asia IoT Business Platform, a common theme emerges: Vietnam is at cusp of the next leap forward and how well it does will be dependent on its ability to navigate the new digital landscape.

A study by Mckinsey Global Institute (MGI) summarizes this well: between 2005 and 2010, an expanding labor pool and the structural shift away from agriculture contributed two-thirds of Vietnam’s GDP growth. However this has slowed considerably and Vietnam will need to boost its overall labor productivity growth by more than 50 percent, from 4.1 percent annually to 6.4 percent, in order to meet the government’s target of 7 to 8 percent annual growth by 2020.  

Vietnam will need to harness the full potential of technology and capitalise on its young well educated population and strong technology talent pool. The quantity and quality of Vietnamese software engineers and programmers have earned Vietnam the moniker “Silicon Valley of the East” – if they are able to adapt technology solutions from successful international examples to suit local context, Vietnam could very well leapfrog itself into the digital era.

To assist in this exchange of ideas, we have invited our partners from ASEAN and around the world to share their journey in addressing some of the key issues that Vietnam faces in her digital journey. Through their stories, we hope that Vietnamese enterprises are able to chart their digital journey more confidently and effectively.

1. The Electricity Crunch of Increasing Urbanization

Power needs are marching in lockstep with growth. As a consequence of robust economic growth, electricity demand in Vietnam grew at an average of 14 percent annually over the last decade. With insufficient investment in new power plants, the overburdened electricity network causes sporadic brown-outs for local businesses, who are forced to pause production while power is diverted to residential areas. Digital strategies will place further demand on power and smart cities cannot be fulfilled without a reliable electricity source.

What the Philippines is doing

At Meralco in the Philippines, data is being used to digitally transform its operations through predictive and preventive maintenance.

“Data science and analytics could benefit customers in a number of ways,” said Gavin Barfield, chief technology advisor of Meralco. “If we are able to use sensors and other data to accurately predict equipment failure that is likely to fail before it happens, then we can perform routine maintenance. This could reduce customer outages and increase reliability,” he says. Barfield added that by combining data gathered from its smart meters at an hourly level with data from appliances and other electrical devices, Meralco would also be able to provide customers tailored energy saving tips.

2. Problem of Urban Sprawl – Managing Land Use in Smart City Planning

A report from World Bank showed that HCMC’s built-up land has rapidly expanded in the past 20 years. In parallel to a rapid population growth that occurred between 2000 and 2015, the city`s built-up land cover has expanded dramatically, with some of its two dozen districts showing more than 70% increase in built-up area.

With this rapid development, it is hard for the government to implement urban planning governance and enforce zoning rules. Zoning information for HCMC is still accessed manually and there is an opportunity for technology to generate insights to identify inconsistencies and potential violations, even identifying ‘suspicious” zones that have been subject to rapid change.

What Taipei is doing

As part of Taipei’s smart city efforts, Taipei City Government used aerial drone technology on the Xinyi Planning District, a highly populated area, to collect aerial photography used to create a three-dimensional landscape model and platform. The platform was then used to simulate extended scenarios like traffic route planning, flood assessment and disaster prevention planning, and application of city information at various stages.

In the future, the information will be offered to agencies such as the Department of Urban Development, Land Administration and Transportation of Taipei City Government for future urban development planning applications. Relevant data will also be opened to the public.

3. Elevating Agriculture Production to Boost GDP

Vietnam’s agriculture has made impressive progress in the last two decades especially with the Vietnam Agriculture Competitiveness Project (ACP) launched in 2008 which promoted modern farming technologies to improve productivity and protect the environment. However, a 2015 interview with Dr. Dang Kim Son, former director of the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development, and Dr. Vu Trong Khai, former Rector of the School for Training of Rural and Agricultural Management Experts, shows that challenges remain.

“Our agricultural products are good, but they are only good in quantity, not quality, so their competitiveness is low,” Dr. Dang said. He added that this creates a vicious cycle: more production creates oversupply and lowers the price, but the issue is not about reducing supply but rather, producing the new products the market requires. This is especially the case when Vietnam now faces competition from new agricultural exporters like Cambodia, Myanmar and Pakistan.

Harnessing Data for Precision Agriculture at Monsanto

Monsanto Company is a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products that improve farm productivity and food quality. By applying big data in agriculture, they are helping farmers around the globe gain valuable farm-level insights necessary for precision planting.

Advanced field-tracking tools, such as plant sensors and weather satellites, are used to measure and analyze all the interactions happening on the field, including soil moisture, rainfall, plant health, temperatures, etc. A field-by-field prescription is then provided to the farmer, recommending the best hybrid to plant, and water and crop protection products to apply to their fields, allowing them to maximize every harvest season.

4. Managing Traffic Congestion in Fast Growing Urban Centres

Traffic congestion is one of Vietnam’s biggest problems. With a lack of alternative public transportation options (Saigon’s first two metro lines were scheduled for completion in 2020 but the first line is only half finished after 6 years and the second line still remains largely on paper) coupled with rising incomes, it is estimated that 1,000 new motorbikes and 180 new cars are registered everyday in Saigon. It is not uncommon on rainy days for traffic to come to standstill for hours and the flooding on occasion exacerbates the situation in Vietnam’s city centres.

Barcelona, the poster child for Smart Cities

In the face of the 2008 recession, Barcelona harnessed technology to transform itself into a model of data-driven, sensing, smart urban systems under the leadership of  Xavier Trias, Mayor of Barcelona from 2011 to 2015. Through Smart City Barcelona, he identified 12 areas for intervention, including transportation, water, energy, waste, and open government, and initiated 22 programs, encompassing 83 distinct projects across urban systems.

For transportation, Barcelona has promoted the use of electric cars and bike sharing, and more importantly, investing heavily in improving the bus systems. New digital bus stops turn waiting for buses into an interactive experience, with updates on bus location, USB charging stations, free WiFi, and tools to help riders download apps to help them learn more about the city.

5. Can eHealth work for Vietnam?

For a developing nation, Vietnam has a historically dense hospital network. A study by PwC showed that Vietnam has a ratio of 22 beds per 10,000 inhabitants, a comparable statistic when we compare it to a country like Singapore, who ranks top in many international healthcare systems comparisons, and has 27 beds per 10,000 inhabitants.

However if we dig deeper, many of these hospitals experience overcrowding and high occupancy rates, outdated equipment and limited access to latest drugs – local district and provincial hospitals have a quality gap with national level hospitals, compounding the situation.

Malaysia eHealth Vision

Malaysia’s national health system transformation agenda is to connect all public hospitals and utilise ICT applications for remote and personal monitoring of chronic diseases, as well as to streamline insurance reimbursement by linking health service providers and insurance companies, which will go hand-in-hand with improved information exchange.

The Health Ministry launched the Malaysian Health Data Warehouse (MyHDW) last year, which provided a one-stop centre for health-related data gathered from public and private hospitals that can help healthcare providers make better decision in the provision and planning of healthcare. This can allow more seamless, continuous care and allow patients to access tailored services provided at home or close to home.

6. Sustainable Tourism in Vietnam

Tourism is one of Vietnam’s growing service sectors – contributing 13.9% to GDP in 2015 but predicted to grow to over 15.2% by 2026. However, the management of environment in the localities, tourist safety and lack of consistencies in tourism services (illegal tourism business and tour guides) are challenges that have yet to be overcomed.

Using IoT to enhance Phuket’s Tourism

Phuket is a renowned tourist destination in Thailand and plays host to approximately 13 million tourists each year (3 times the size of the city’s population). Taking this into account, the Smart City project looks to improve the quality of life for the people of Phuket and to provide sustainable economic growth.

Sensors installed in various parts of the city help to improve safety and security for both citizens and tourists. For example, 5,000 closed circuit televisions (CCTV) cameras are to be installed in Phuket by 2020, this coupled with video analytics and data from the immigration department can help in identifying and deterring crime.

The Vessel Tracking Management System, implemented by the Harbor department, also helps to alert vessels of potential hazardous conditions and to head back to shore prior to adverse weather. Out at sea, tourists are also provided with Smart Bands, which can track the distance of the tourist from the boat during activities such as diving. The operators will be aware in real time if tourists go out of range and the appropriate action can be taken immediately to resolve the situation. (More information here)

Meet and learn from these regional case studies at the 26th Asia IoT Business Platform on 12 & 13 November at Rex Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City. Do drop me a line at [email protected] if you have relevant case studies that can help Vietnam’s digital vision.

Yue Yeng Fong

7 September 2018

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