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EXCLUSIVE: Smart Cities Must Think Locally, Partner Globally

Horng Shya Chua, Managing Director, Oracle Singapore, shares an expert opinion on how Smart Cities must think.

Digital innovations developed across Southeast Asia in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are a testament to the region’s ongoing commitment to building a range of “smart” infrastructure and applications.

The Singapore government, already a leader with its cutting-edge Smart Nation initiative, has deployed two mobile apps—SafeEntry and TraceTogether—to curb future COVID-19 infections by determining if individuals were in close proximity to someone who later tested positive for the virus.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the Malaysian government has developed the MySejahtera app to assist it in monitoring COVID-19 outbreaks, help users monitor their health and risk of infection, and assist them in getting treatments if needed. State agencies in Thailand collaborated on developing the DDC-Care mobile app, which helps people self-assess whether they have contracted COVID-19 and tracks those who travelled from at-risk countries and thus must quarantine themselves for 14 days.

The pandemic has taught us that there are no simple solutions, but we can overcome them together. A vital platform is the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, where cities from the 10 ASEAN member states learn from one another’s experiences working with global partners to adopt smart technology, as they advance their common goal of sustainable urban development. “We must deepen collaboration and create new opportunities to exchange information and experiences at the regional level,” emphasized Dr Amy Khor, Singapore’s senior minister for sustainability and the environment, at a recent event.

Make better, faster decisions together

Partnerships with vendors play a crucial role in bringing emerging technologies to the public sector. For example, in late 2018, the Singapore government announced a five-year plan to migrate most of its on-premises IT systems to commercial cloud services. As of late last year, it reportedly had moved more than 150 such systems to the commercial cloud and had negotiated contracts that year alone valued at over S$870 million to double its number of commercial cloud systems.

While Singapore’s ambitious moves make it an exceptional example for aspiring smart cities, other countries in Southeast Asia are not far behind. According to a recent study by think tank ESI ThoughtLab, sponsored by Oracle and other partners, most of the region’s major cities are investing heavily in cloud and cloud-based AI technology services, and more plan to do so within three years.

However, while government agencies recognize that cloud services will enable them to innovate at scale faster than ever before, they still have security, regulatory compliance, and budget concerns. That could be why 83% of ASEAN city leaders say they prefer a hybrid cloud approach to deploying smart city services. Hybrid clouds allow cities to keep the most sensitive data and workloads on premises, integrated with more open, citizen-centric, collaborative workloads in the cloud.

Meanwhile,  cloud service providers and other large organizations with specialized expertise are working hand-in-hand to move this emerging technology beyond the research labs and into the mainstream. For instance, Singapore-headquartered iviva has developed and implemented proprietary software solutions for workplace management and smart buildings. With the facilities management solution of iviva’s application suite, iviva.facility, hosted on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI), iviva’s mission is to help its customers coordinate management of day-to-day operations of existing premises, delivering time and cost savings and operational efficiencies over the entire building life-cycle.

Another area where AI holds great promise is in relieving traffic congestion, a major cause of environmental pollution as well as frustration in major Southeast Asian cities such as Manila, Jakarta, and Kuala Lumpur. Road congestion currently costs Asian economies 2% to 5% of their gross domestic products every year, according to a McKinsey report, an amount forecasted to exceed US$35 billion by 2030.

Singapore’s Smart Mobility 2030 plan aims to help city planners reduce those environmental and economic costs, by working with industry partners to apply AI algorithms to diverse datasets in order to manage train, bus, car, and bicycle traffic in real-time. The Malaysian state of Selangor is pursuing a similar agenda with its Smart Selangor initiative.

Adopt a ‘whole-of-world’ approach, building an ecosystem of opportunities

The main goal of these public-private digital initiatives and information-sharing is to enhance the quality and accessibility of services, and thereby improve the quality of citizens’ lives.

Global dialogues such as the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting and the World Cities Summit, both taking place in Singapore this year, bring city leaders and industry experts together to discuss the most pressing urban challenges, share solutions, and forge new partnerships.

Collectively, leveraging innovation and entrepreneurship strengthens the region’s capacity to create an ecosystem of opportunities as well as demonstrate what is possible for the rest of the world to emulate.

While the right digital infrastructure and services give smart cities the capabilities they need to solve their most important challenges and seize the biggest opportunities, just as important is building an ecosystem of trusted partners to develop and extend those sustainable solutions.


Horng Chua is speaking at an OpenGov event on – Making Smart City System More Efficient, Robust and Event Smarter with Digital Twin

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