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As you might know, Singapore scores pretty well amongst the world’s smart cities – Otherwise, why else would they shoot WestWorld here?

That said, we’re not the only one out there. Cities around the world are all racing to compete as ideal places to live, work and play, improving the lives of their citizens.

Smart cities have numerous benefits, including reducing wastage, saving on manpower costs, being environmentally sustainable, and of course, improves the lives of its citizens by making government services either more accessible, or more efficient.

As part of our 3-part New Year special series, we’re taking a break from looking at initiatives in Singapore, and focusing on some other smart cities around the globe instead.

First off, the capital of Holland – Amsterdam

Fun fact: Apart from being amongst the world’s top 10 smart cities, Amsterdam shares more than a few similarities with Singapore. It was once a fishing village, and though our urban landscapes differ, their colourful 17th century low-rise historical buildings are somehow reminiscent of our Straits-Chinese shophouses (if you use a little bit of imagination).

They say great minds think alike – let’s see what our Dutch friends are up to!

The Mijnbuur app

The Mijnbuur app is probably the most wholesome thing you’ll hear about. It connects you with your neighbours, the local police, or your neighbourhood director if you’re in need of help (be it a robbery, or if some day-to-day maintenance issues). In the Netherlands, apartment owners are expected to work together to maintain and keep their apartment complexes clean.

This is done through the charging of a monthly fee, and you’ll be able to request for compensation from the pot of accumulated finances if, for instance, your neighbour’s pipes were to burst and damage your ceilings. Or, you could just use the Mijnbuur app to get a coffee with your neighbours. The best part: you don’t have to know Dutch to use the app, it auto-translates your messages for you.

Singapore’s One Service app serves a similar function, except you won’t be liaising with your neighbours, but your feedback on municipal issues will directly be routed to the relevant agencies.

Ultimately, the aim of the Mijnbuur app is to foster a sense of social responsibility, and to allow neighbours to peacefully solve disputes among themselves. Besides improving community relationships, data from the app provides government agencies with a clearer idea of the common issues faced by residents in different neighbourhoods.

Waste detection using cameras

Waste management has always been a challenging task for modern cities. Each area has its own pattern of garbage production and the optimisation of waste collection helps to both reduce costs and maintain the cleanliness of the city.

As the city of Amsterdam relies on its residents to drop off their trash bags at designated collection points at specific times, the collection process has to be optimised to avoid the accumulation of trash at these points.

To counter this problem, Amsterdam is currently teaching an image recognition system to identify different types of waste, and its garbage trucks will soon be fitted with smart cameras which can quantify the amount of rubbish there are on the streets and at collection points.

In Singapore, we manage our waste slightly differently – waste is consolidated in rubbish chutes and bins. That said, towns in Pasir Ris and Tampines are rolling something out that’s pretty similar – a smart waste system that informs collectors when the system is almost full!

Easier access to parking lots

The stress of driving is sometimes too overwhelming, especially if you’re hyper-aware of the line of cars queuing up behind you as you very slowly and shoddily attempt a parallel park. In fact, a whopping 30 percent of city traffic is caused by drivers seeking a parking space. Finding a parking space faster would thus lead to a reduction of congestion, fuel use, air pollution levels and of course, drivers’ stress levels.

Smart Flow, an IoT cloud-based platform, monitors sensors to report traffic flow and parking availability across Amsterdam. When Smart Flow was first launched, the average time required to find a parking space was significantly reduced by 43 percent. On top of that, it helps drivers to make more fiscally responsible choices by listing the cheapest options within the area.

Well, Singapore isn’t too far behind either with something in the works by our very own ST Electronics – the Smart Car Park Platform. Combined with smartphone technologies, drivers will eventually be able to search and book for car park spaces, check parking rates and even apply for season parking through the mobile app.

Smart Lighting

Energy efficiency is one of the biggest goals of a smart city. Unfortunately, though the lights along the streets of many cities use timers or light sensors to limit the length of time the lights are turned on for, the intensity of the lights cannot be adjusted. Not only is this a waste of energy, light pollution can pose a threat to the health of wildlife and plants.

To solve these problems, Luminext developed an urban lighting system that regulates light intensity according to the needs of citizens. This smart lighting system operates through remote sensors, and can also be adjusted from a control centre depending on how bright or dim specific streets the city authorities desire them to be. Streetlights reach maximum intensity once vehicles or people pass by and return to the lowest intensity when the motion sensors do not detect anything in its periphery.

Back home, we’ve also realised the potential for lighting systems to improve urban planning and operations. Our smart lampposts in Singapore may not adjust their intensity automatically, but they do have sensors that can detect and monitor changes to environmental conditions like humidity, rainfall, temperature and pollutants in the air!

In addition, mounted cameras have analytic capabilities to count and analyse crowd build-ups, as well as count, classify and monitor the speed of Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs) to enhance safety in public spaces!

So there you have it – great minds (and great cities) do think alike!

Stay tuned for the next Smart City, Helsinki!

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments across the world are standing their ground in capitalising on digital technology to provide seamless transactions during the new normal despite safety restrictions. In line with these efforts, government agencies and even state-owned firms are rethinking their operation models to be more equipped in providing services to the citizen base. 

This scenario is evident in Indonesia, where the government has early on committed to accelerating its digital transformation to boost public service and governance. In fact, according to an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the Ministry of National Development Planning emphasised the role of information and communications technology to boost the country’s social capital index. This index is the measure of the whole population’s social stability and well-being. 

Building on this commitment, Indonesia’s state-owned electricity company PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) announced that it has formulated a new innovative strategy to provide services to households across the country. In a statement, the company said that consumers can easily apply for a COVID-19 electricity stimulus package through the PLN Mobile application.  

The electricity firm ensured that they are distributing 450 volt-ampere (VA) and 900 VA subsidised electricity packages to 32 million household consumers. It added that this number excludes the 450 VA power packages to 459,000 business customers. 

Postpaid customers under the 450 VA group are entitled to a 100% electricity discount while a 50% power subsidy is given to postpaid consumers under the 900 VA power segment. PLN’s Executive Vice President for Corporate Communication and CSR Agung Murdifi said: “postpaid customers will immediately reduce the cost of electricity bills. Then for 450 VA, prepaid tokens can be obtained through the method described. Meanwhile, for subsidised 900 VA household customers, a stimulus is received when purchasing electricity tokens.”. 

The Executive Vice President added that they “see that the distribution process is running smoothly and customers have enjoyed the electricity stimulus.” 

The state-owned firm emphasised that using the PLN app is easy and convenient during the new normal. The application can be downloaded via Playstore and App Store. Once downloaded, customers can register for the power subsidy by clicking on ‘PLN Cares for Covid-19’ under the Info and Promos tab. They will then be prompted to enter their Customer ID or their electricity meter number. A free token will appear which can be entered by customers in their meter reading to avail of discounts. 

For those who have trouble accessing or downloading the PLN app, they can log on to the PLN website or send a message through WhatsApp. The company’s Executive Vice President stated that they have launched these additional services to provide as many alternative options to citizens who are in need of discounts on their electricity bills. He added: “PLN adds Channels through the PLN Mobile Application to make it easier because customers can just open the application on their cellphones, enter the Customer ID / Meter Number, and get the token number.” 

The introduction of subsidised electricity is part of the government’s IDR 695.2 trillion (US$ 49.4 billion) stimulus package during the pandemic. This government effort aims to shore up the country’s economy which has taken a hit since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Through this initiative, the government is also optimistic that the stimulus package will help maintain employment levels.  

Since August last year, over 30 million households, businesses and industries have been seeing lower amounts in their electricity bills following the release of an IDR 15.4 trillion (US$ 1.09 billion) funding for power relief measures. This amount is on top of the IDR 54.79 trillion (US$ 3.89 billion) yearly electricity subsidies set aside by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources.

Enterprises and government agencies alike are increasingly shifting their gaze to online payment portals as tools that can help them navigate through public transactions more conveniently. This is as the world recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic which has left major economies accelerating faster in their digital transformation journey. 

In the Philippines, several government departments are experimenting with ways to integrate online payments into their operations. These include teaming up with other agencies and those in the private sector to ensure a speedy and more efficient turnaround in transactions. 

This vision is shared by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) which in a statement announced that it has inked a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with state-owned LandBank of the Philippines (LBP) for the integration of web-based payments for MARINA services. 

The agency explained that under the agreement, the MARINA Payment Facility will be integrated with the Landbank LinkBiz portal. This portal is currently being used as a virtual payment channel that allows government and members of the private sector to have cashless payments for MARINA’s products and services. 

The LinkBiz portal was earlier launched to lessen direct and indirect costs that are attributed to cash and physical distribution of in-kind goods. The LBP likewise aims to foster accountability and effective tracking of funds on top of prioritising online payments instead of cash transactions to unclog traffic and in turn, save on operation costs. 

The portal is equipped to handle large-value funds and quick confirmation of payments through email. It can be accessed by the government and the public sector seven days a week, except during system maintenance. 

According to Capt. Jeffrey Solon, who is the Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the Deputy Administrator for Planning of MARINA, the department is optimistic that the new virtual payment facility will bring in more convenience and efficiency in government transactions. He also expressed gratitude on behalf of his organisation to Landbank for the collaboration. 

He added during the virtual signing ceremony: “With the eventual implementation of this memorandum of agreement, the MARINA looks forward to maximising the use of this e-payment facility as our modest contribution to the government’s efforts for ease of doing business, and also to adhere to the principles and practices of good governance.” 

This statement was echoed by officials from the LBP, adding that they are anticipating that the cashless payment service will enable them to also fast-track their financial dues from MARINA. Marilou Villafranca, the Senior Vice-President of the North National Capital Region Branches Group of the LBP, noted: “Following our MOA signing today, this e-payment facility will be made available to your clients, allowing them to settle their monetary obligations to MARINA in a faster, more secured and convenient manner.” 

The MoA signing was well-attended by officials of both MARINA and the LBP, including the Senior Vice-President and the OIC of MARINA’s Office of the Deputy Administrator and the MARINA Administrator Vice Admiral. Officers of LBP’s North NCR Branch Groups Cluster also attended the online event.  

The agreement is alongside government efforts to improve the current business climate in the Philippines and government transparency. Republic Act 11032, which promotes the ease of doing business and efficient delivery of government services, was enacted in 2018. It enhanced and amended the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007 by reducing processing time and eliminating red tape activities in government. 

To achieve these goals, many agencies in government are gearing towards digitalisation to fast-track transactions and lessen turnaround time. As earlier reported by OpenGov Asia, a local government in the Philippines has adopted a zero-contact policy. The programme required all departments within the local government to adopt electronic means in the submission of government applications, requests and payments. 

India deployed the world’s largest WhatsApp chatbot , MyGov Corona Helpdesk, in March 2020 to aid the country’s fight against the pandemic by disseminating timely and right information.

According to a report, the onset of the global pandemic brought about a panic wave in the country, so the government took it upon itself to curb the spread of rumours and misinformation. The government wanted a solution that would empower citizens with the right steps to take precautionary measures for staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The key objective was to offer a 24/7 helpdesk that answered COVID-19 queries and helped prevent the spread of false information. It was also important to handle the scale and diversity of queries being directed from millions of users across the country in English and Hindi.

Haptik is a Conversational AI company that built the MyGov Corona Helpdesk in record time. This Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA) is essentially an AI-powered WhatsApp chatbot that provides accurate information. The chatbot has the following functionalities:

  • Help users check symptoms and get a diagnosis.
  • Provide tips and precautionary measures to stay safe.
  • Share the latest updates and advisories from the Ministry of Health.
  • Bust myths around COVID-19.
  • Share information about the official helpline.

Timely and accurate communication has been a key pillar in the fight against COVID-19. This has been greatly strengthened with the MyGov Corona Helpdesk, which has been handling millions of diverse queries in both English and Hindi. Since its launch, the helpdesk has successfully catered to over 25 million users with over 36 million queries. Remarkably, the chatbot was deployed in a record time of only five days.

A similar application was launched to help the public deal with COVID-19. Under the Digital India programme, in collaboration with Accenture and Microsoft, the government unveiled MyGov Saathi, enabling citizen communication. The bot uses AI and natural language processing to understand customer questions and provide appropriate responses.

The bot also directs residents to webpages with comprehensive information. Initially started in English, it has now been expanded the bot to Hindi and other regional languages so that it can reach more citizens in a personal, direct way. Currently, the bot has around 250,000 monthly users, and daily active sessions range from a few hundred to a few thousand, with total active sessions over a 16-day period nearing 600,000.

Further, another chatbot, Aaple Sarkar Bot, allows users to access information regarding public services managed by the state government and can process many queries every day such as analysing, maintaining records, and providing the user with the most useful information.

Through the app, an individual can search for services such as permanent water connection, driving licenses, and access-related information including prerequisites for the application, tracking the status of the application, and monitoring progress.

A news report explained that as part of the Right to Services Act of 2015, the bot is deployed to complement existing mobile apps and websites that help with queries related to healthcare, education, public utilities, rural development, revenue, and other public related services. The chatbot comprises of a range of algorithms that has the ability to process many queries every day, such as analysing, maintaining records, and providing the user with information. Haptik used its own personalised tool for creating the bot which comprised of three parts, including a bot-builder, human chat agent, and analytic dashboard.

India and Japan recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to enhance cooperation in the field of information and communications technologies (ICTs).

The MoU was signed by the Indian Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, and the Japanese Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications, Takeda Ryota. The agreement was exchanged through a video conference on 15 January.

According to a press release, the Indian Department of Telecommunications and the Japanese Ministry of Communications will enhance mutual cooperation for 5G technologies, telecom security, spectrum management, smart cities, high-altitude platforms for broadband in unconnected areas, and disaster management and public safety.

Japan will also help develop a submarine optical fibre cable system for the islands of India. It has been agreed that apart from Ministry-level cooperation, Indian governmental organisation such as C-DOT and ITI Limited, along with industry partners from Japan, will also be a part of this cooperation.

Speaking at the ceremony, Minister Prasad highlighted the timely execution of connecting the Andaman and Nicobar Islands with submarine optical fibre cable as a great example of cooperation between India and Japan. He also mentioned India’s rapid adoption of technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic. These included the AarogyaSetu app, employing the Aadhaar-Enabled Payment System for the doorstep disbursement of cash by the India Post, digital hearings in Indian courts, and the development of digital payments.

He further added that during COVID-19, due to policies like Postal Life Insurance (PLI) and the Scheme for Promotion of Manufacturing of Electronic Components and Semiconductors (SPECS), a large number of investments have come to India in the field of electronics manufacturing. He urged the Japanese electronics industry to invest in India and avail of the benefits of the new technologies.

He also explained the potential that India holds for Japanese investors in the field of 5G and 5G-based services, the Internet of things (IoT), and digital health technologies. Minister Ryota expressed the commitment of the government of Japan towards mutual cooperation and investments in India.

In October last year, the two sides signed a memorandum of cooperation (MoC) in the field of cybersecurity. As OpenGov Asia had reported, the agreement promoted cooperation in 5G network and artificial intelligence (AI).

It also included capacity building in the areas of cyberspace and the protection of critical infrastructure. It aimed to promote cooperation in capacity building, research and development, and security and resilience in the areas of critical information infrastructure and IoT, among others.

The countries committed to work together on emerging technologies and to share information on cybersecurity threats, incidents, and malicious cyber activities. The nations would develop and exchange best practices to counter cyber threats and create joint mechanisms to mitigate cyber risks for ICT systems.

Through the MoC, the sides also affirmed cooperation in the international arena including in the United Nations; discussing and sharing strategies to promote the integrity of the supply chain of ICT products; strengthening the security of ICT infrastructure through government-to-government and business-to-business cooperation, and continuing dialogue and engagement in Internet governance.

The Housing Development Board, Singapore launched the HDB Flat Portal. The one-stop online platform will make it easier for prospective buyers and sellers streamline the process. The Minister for National Development, Desmond Lee announced, “This new portal will make it more convenient for home buyers and sellers to gather information on the purchase or sale of a flat through a single integrated platform”.

Some of the salient features of the portal include a customised financial calculator for buyers to check their budget and payment plan and sellers to estimate sales proceeds, and flat listings collating information on current and upcoming Build-to-Order (BTO) launches.

The website will also have loan listings for buyers to get information on housing loans offered by HDB and participating financial institutions, said Mr Lee. He added that HDB is looking to include resale flat listings in subsequent phases of the portal’s rollout. The HDB Flat Portal is the second phase of the HDB Resale Portal launched in January 2018.

Its launch took place after a series of engagement sessions with industry players and stakeholders, he said. “The HDB Resale Portal has halved the time needed for resale flat transactions from 16 weeks to around 8 weeks and reduced the number of appointments with HDB from two to one,” said Mr Lee. “We will continue to look into ways to further improve the transaction process for HDB home buyers and sellers.”

Buyers can use the suggested payment plan in the portal as a benchmark when talking to property or bank consultants before purchasing a resale flat, said Ms Christine Sun, head of research and consultancy at OrangeTee & Tie​​​​​​​. The section on upcoming Build-to-Order (BTO) flats is also helpful as buyers can view information on upcoming launches and subscription rates of previous launches in one website, speeding up the search process, she added.

Features of the online portal:

The portal has provisions for every buyer and seller to have a profile which requires a login via SingPass. The website also has a “My Flat Dashboard” which tracks the number and category of the application you want to make.

Another fascinating feature is called “Finding a Flat”. Using this feature a buyer can input his/her price, location, flat type, waiting time, and mode of sale preferences and can get suitable results based on them.

Apart from making the transactions move twice as fast, the portal significantly reduces the amount of previously required administrative work and the number of appointments. Documentation and formalities like Submitting a resale checklist, applying for flat valuation, HDB loan application letter which earlier had to be done on independent websites can now be done in a single place.

This portal will also enable less reliance on property agents. All their functions like linking the buyer and seller, driving the schedule on transactions and formalities are managed effectively by the portal itself without any charge or fee.

The HDB Online portal is a boon for the Lion City’s citizens helping them realise the dream to own a house by simplifying and accelerating the process.

The role of information and communications technology (ICT) has been redefined at the onset of the global COVID-19 crisis. Pre-pandemic, ICT was already considered a critical backbone of emerging markets but this was made more apparent today as organisations struggle to get back on their feet and recover from the massive impact of the pandemic. 

As countries move toward digital transformation in the new normal, technologies like AI and cloud computing leverage ICT networks to track the movement of services, streamline operations and improve existing work patterns. In healthcare, this technology has been harnessed to monitor patient outcomes and make intelligent decisions based on data gathered. In business, ICTs are also crucial in pointing out areas of improvement within the workplace. 

For government agencies, ICT is a tool for enhancing public service. Through this technology, organisations can improve governance and public participation. When there is an integrated system of communication technologies like wireless networks and broadband services, as well as social networking programmes, community participation is fostered. Likewise, positive perceptions of government accountability and transparency are upheld. 

For several agencies in Indonesia, the implementation of a fortified ICT system during the pandemic requires strong collaboration. One of these organisations is the Ministry of National Development Planning which in a statement said that working together with help from technology is the solution towards boosting the nation’s social capital index. 

Suharso Monoarfa, Head and Minister of the National Development Planning, stressed that society and government must work together to contribute to the nationwide recovery. Hence, there is a necessity to improve through ICT the nation’s social capital index, the sum of the perceived social stability and well-being of the whole population.  

He stated during the recently held Blueprint for New Heroes Webinar: “we realise that the handling and recovery of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is actually a collective work of all of us. Therefore, the government and society at large should join hands. Social capital in society is the key to controlling this Covid-19.” 

To explain further, he cited as an example the advantage of a robust social capital in Taiwan. The Minister said that there were no large-scale lockdown nor social restriction policies there, but the Taiwanese government was able to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus in a short period.  

The importance of balancing social capital is seen from research that showed countries with higher social capital index recorded a decreased mortality rate by 17% to 32%. 

As the government remains committed to developing its digital initiatives, the role of ICT in boosting social capital is made more crucial. This is the case in healthcare where community cooperation needs to be ramped up by improved ICT processes to implement health protocols and facilitate monitoring of COVID-10 cases. The Ministry emphasised: “in a situation of high uncertainty, in the current period of recovering from the impact of Covid-19, building trust, awareness and mutual cooperation in the community is important.” 

Investing in ICT is also important in bridging gaps in information-sharing to a population consisting mostly of millennials. The Minister said that government agencies must realise that they are not tapping into technology for citizens but a population of netizens.  

The Minister took the opportunity to discuss that Indonesia’s Vision 2045, part and parcel of the nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, is to be prioritised under the National Medium-Term Development Plan. This initiative, he said, can be achieved by banking on different areas like human resource development, economic development and e-governance.  

He also cited that efforts must be strengthened in boosting technology. This is in line with earlier statements of government officials that digitalisation and tech remain a top priority this year. As reported by OpenGov Asia, the Ministry of Law and Human Rights announced that it is set to embark on a digital revolution this year by building on various innovations it has adopted in 2020. 

The Vietnamese Government Office and the Embassy of Japan in Vietnam recently co-hosted an online seminar in Hanoi, which shared Japan’s experiences and policies to promote e-government, towards a digital government.

The event virtually brought together experts from Japan and 23 cities and provinces in Vietnam. It was chaired by the Minister and Chairman of the Vietnamese Government Office, Mai Tien Dung, and the Japanese Ambassador to Vietnam, Takio Yamada.

Addressing the seminar, Dung said it is the third event of this kind and forms part of Japan’s activities to support Vietnam in building e-government. In the context of social distancing measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, the use of information technology (IT), artificial intelligence (AI), and digital technologies is crucial to sustain the normal functioning of the Vietnamese economy.

During the event, specialists from Japan discussed Suga’s new policies in developing digital government and shared experience in digitalising public services as well as formulating policies for the application of AI.

Vietnam has developed and operated a number of the e-government’s key information and database systems, which have not only promoted a new way of working at governmental units but also facilitated the delivery of online public services to businesses and people, he said.

These systems have allowed society to save up to about VND9.8 trillion (US$426 million), in expenditure annually. The Minister further noted that such success would not be possible without the help of the government of Japan through the Japanese Embassy in Vietnam, Japan’s Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

E-government development must ensure a close connection between IT application, public administrative reforms, and improvement in transparency and publicity. The satisfaction of people and businesses is among key factors to measure the e-government building.

Ambassador Yamada highlighted the significance of e-government and digital government at the time of COVID-19, saying the use of digital technologies at many administrative bodies in Vietnam enables the delivery of a variety of online public services with added values and no direct contact.

He said he is impressed by Vietnam’s proactive response to the pandemic with the quick rollout of a contact-tracing app NCOVI. E-government is also one of the top priorities of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. The Japanese government will continue adopting more cooperation programmes to assist Vietnam’s reforms in the coming time.

In 2019, the Vietnamese Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) held the first joint coordination committee meeting on information security.

OpenGov Asia reported on the event, during which the two sides decided to strengthen support for a project that raises awareness about information security and law enforcement capacities for the same in Vietnam. Around the world, network security is the most important problem while digitalising and implementing e-government that creates a digital economy.

Over the last few years, MIC’s cybersecurity units have worked closely with Japan and shared their experiences. At the meeting, the two sides discussed the project implementation progress and exchanged ideas and technology solutions.

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