Takeaways from AIBP Insights Smart Cities: Safeguarding the Future of Cities – Liveability and Sustainability

With our panelists from Cyberview and Digital Penang of Malaysia, Digital Economy Promotion Agency (depa) of Thailand, Jakarta Smart City of Indonesia, PLANET Technology, PLDT, Inc., Qualcomm and Total Access Communication (dtac), today’s discussion was focused on opening up a conversation about how smart cities will ensure that communities are liveable and sustainable, and progress towards Society 5.0.

As urbanisation picks up pace in ASEAN, a key focus of ASEAN governments lie in enhancing livability and sustainability of urban areas and cities through various smart city initiatives. Connectivity and 5G will play a key role in enabling access to public services for everyone. The key question today was: How can we use technology to create a human-centered society?

Key topics of the discussion today were priorities for smart citiescreating partnerships and ecosystems, and the future of smart cities for ASEAN.

Cyberview, Digital Penang of Malaysia, Digital Economy Promotion Agency (depa) of Thailand, Jakarta Smart City of Indonesia, PLANET Technology, PLDT, Inc., Qualcomm and Total Access Communication (dtac)

AIBP Insights is a series of closed-door regional roundtable discussions which are part of our ongoing engagement with enterprises in ASEAN to look at topics affecting digital transformation for their businesses. The purpose is to enable the exchange of ideas between industry stakeholders and spearhead creative collaboration across industries and countries.

Priorities for Smart Cities

What is the purpose of a smart city? The panel today largely agreed that priorities lie in creating people-centric smart cities. As Tony Yeoh, CEO, Digital Penang, summarises it nicely, we have to look at it from a broader public perspective; smart city projects are not trophy projects – economic growth should not sacrifice the city’s heritage and charm. Likewise, Dr. Non Arkaraprasertkul, Senior Expert, depa, highlights that fostering a sense of belonging depends on preserving the city’s cultural, historical and social aspects. 

Dr. Non believes that possibilities for smart cities are open-ended today, and the creation of smart cities is a learning process. For him, the key lies in doing less to gain more by using technology in the right way. 

Juan Kanggrawan, Head of Data Analytics, Jakarta Smart City, highlights the importance of providing seamless and user-friendly services. He shares that pilot projects are being implemented in cities, but the key lies in ensuring feasibility by supporting new innovations with the appropriate policy frameworks, partnerships and people engagement. 

Shafinaz Salim, Head of Technology Hub Development, Cyberview, believes it is important to foster a sense of belonging while encouraging digital skills and technology uptake. A key focus of Cyberjaya is to promote R&D in the city to accelerate start-up development and enable solutions for the city. 

From the policy-maker point of view, Tony shares that it is vital to think about creating value for the community while generating revenue. To him, it is important to fuse digital and heritage.

While smart cities will drive growth and development for the city and its people, the panel brought up some challenges that smart city implementations face – the need for open and secure data, infrastructure, connectivity, and funding. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries are also facing economic downturns amidst the need to push through with smart city initiatives to ensure safety and sustainability. 

As head of data analytics, Juan highlights the importance of driving access to open data across the various government agencies. With regards to the collection of data, Tony also highlights the importance of maintaining digital trust among the people. To this, Dr. Non sees a clear distinction between 2 groups of people today – those who believe that sharing their data is risky and those not concerned with data privacy. 

In addition, Tony believes that for their smart city initiatives to come to fruition, the basic building blocks of infrastructure and connectivity must be addressed.

Ehsanul Islam, VP Engineering, Head of Sales & Marketing SEA, Qualcomm, believes that 5G should be accessible to all. He highlights 2 key aspects of liveability that smart city initiatives will improve – safety and security. In this generation, the city mayor will increasingly play the role of a Chief Technology Officer for the city – they will have to evaluate smart use cases to improve the people’s quality of life. He also shared how Qualcomm’s smart campus and accelerator programs provide use cases for various aspects of society, such as surveillance, security, transport, and mobility. The exploration of what can be implemented with 5G, and how to make sense and use of data is ongoing. 

In addition, Phoebe Chen, Region Manager, PLANET Technology, believes that 5G connectivity will improve system management efficiency and reduce costs of maintenance.

Creating Partnerships and Ecosystems

Smart city initiatives require cooperation and coordination among various stakeholders including citizens, government agencies, solution providers, and telecommunications providers. 

John Gonzales, VP for Enterprise Digital Solutions & Technical Services, PLDT Inc, believes that telecommunications providers play a critical role in a nation’s progress as connectivity brings with it much opportunities. For the past 5 years, PLDT has been investing heavily in expanding wireless and fibre infrastructure to provide expansive coverage to support Filipinos’ needs. 

Likewise in Thailand, Narit Duangkruaratichote, Head of IoT & 5G Partnerships, dtac shares that dtac engages in partnerships with both the government where they work closely with and align with smart city master plans, and the private sector to collaborate for use case implementation. He also shares how dtac seeks to align solutions with the pain points of the Eastern Economic Corridor of Innovation (EECI). In addition to the EECi, another component of the EEC’s promoted zones, Dr. Non shares that depa is responsible for the Eastern Economic Corridor Digital Park (EECd), and seeks to ensure that the people are equipped with the necessary skills.

In a similar vein, Shafinaz shares how Cyberjaya supports emerging technologies by acting as a testing ground and working with various government agencies to provide the necessary networks and environment for their various projects and POCs. At Cyberjaya, key projects for micromobility have involved city councils, regulators, to adjust policies and accommodate new innovations in the city. 

Likewise, Juan believes that digital talent and a digital ecosystem are essential parts of a smart city – the people should be equipped with digital skills. At the same time, global companies, local start-ups and universities are encouraged to develop projects and products.

From the telecommunications provider perspective, Narit shares that public-private partnerships are dependent on government directions. However, dtac has been working with communities and solution providers to implement 5G and smart city use cases for sustainability, such as smart water meters to monitor water management and consumption in Thailand. The telecommunications provider is also looking to work globally for capability transfers.

In the Philippines, John shares that PLDT has participated in building local government command centers for traffic, infrastructure and emergency response services. He also believes that smart city initiatives require awareness of available technologies, as well as replicating projects in various cities as quickly as possible. To him, 5G is a key enabler of smart cities, with the ability to expand capabilities and opportunities to the community. 

The Future of Smart Cities for ASEAN

Our panel addressed the future of smart cities at the state, nation, and regional level. Cooperation among the ASEAN member states will enable us to learn from one another and apply solutions across countries. 

Sparked by Tony’s point about strategic exportation of smart city projects and experiences, the panel spoke about the possibilities an ASEAN ecosystem will create for smart cities and nations in the region. While political factors and interests remain as key determinants for cooperation, Tony believes that, ideally, an ecosystem can be created by pinpointing the commonalities across the region. Juan thinks that provincial, national and regional policies must be executed hand in hand. 

For Dr. Non, regional cooperation and open data will help make smart cities scalable, replicable and sustainable, as the different stakeholders can exchange information and adjust themselves with agility. Dr. Non visualises smart cities as the incorporation of a middle layer of open data to make smart cities a possibility by connecting the physical and virtual worlds. 

Additionally, Shafinaz speaks of exporting talent for smart city solutions to different city councils to understand different problems faced by the locals. She highlights that localisation of innovations, ideas and skills to specific cities is essential as well. 

Majority of the panel agree that smart cities cannot be implemented in isolation. Smart City stakeholders, be it government agencies, enterprises or the people, must work together in a complementary manner for smart cities to be sustainable and liveable. 

These are exciting times we are experiencing – technology is now a necessity, and transformation is inevitable, not just for smart cities. As Dr. Non summarises it nicely, everyone is looking at it from different perspectives, but it’s the same thing at the end of the day – we are making use of technology to improve our lives. 

Upcoming sessions Banking and Finance which will be held from 20th-22nd April 2021. Do reach out if you wish to find out more about our upcoming sessions, or if you wish to contribute to our conversations for digitalisation in ASEAN!


7 April 2021

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