With the growing need and dependence on data protection and management, investing in the right cloud application, finding the right partners and hiring the right people with innovative mindset are key solutions for government agencies to consider in giving their operations a boost in terms of efficiency and flexibility.
This was the cornerstone principle put on the table for discussion during the OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight: Optimising Cloud Deployment for a High-Performance Digital Government held on 8 December 2020.
The virtual session was attended by ICT executives from governments across Singapore. The session saw a plethora of insights, perspectives and opinions being shared not only regarding problems that government offices encounter but about various data management solutions that agencies can utilise for effective operations.
The overwhelming response from digital executives from Singapore paved the way for intense dialogue. Top officials from a wide cross-section of government agencies presented challenges they encountered with the shift to data management as a tool to handle voluminous information. Solutions were also discussed at length on how to engage government agencies’ workforce in adhering to a rollout of innovative data and cloud storage systems.
Catering to citizens’ demand for government services through cloud solutions
Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief at OpenGov Asia, believes to keep up with the increasing demand for government services by increasingly tech-savvy citizens, agencies must invest in the right solutions and the partners to ensure that its glass is always kept full.
A smart nation means ensuring that everything is working in top shape, being flexible and being connected at all times. While this notion is not new, what has essentially surfaced during the COVID -19 pandemic is the importance of scalability.
To emphasise his point, Mohit expounded on how citizens have become smarter. They have technology at their fingertips to ask and receive services and can engage with private providers anywhere, anytime. What this means for government agencies is that they have to continuously invest in integrated, scalable and seamless data management applications, all tailored to fit both the needs of their offices and the general public.
One of the solutions offered by Mohit in his opening speech is quite simple – keep your citizens happy. This principle goes to the very core of public services that agencies have sworn to abide by.
Government agencies should go beyond putting up in-house data security systems but rather must capitalise on its big IT arm. They must also team up with partners for data management services rather than try doing everything by themselves.
Finding the right data management solution
Expanding on the concepts laid down by Mohit, Neville Vincent, Vice President, South Asia Pacific, Nutanix, simplified the concept of using public cloud by likening it to a hotel. It needs to be available, convenient and flexible. While there is truth to the notion that investing in data management is an additional cost, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
The next level of cloud solutions was compared by Neville as a service department. There are many features in a cloud data service that can be customised by organisations. Regardless of whether an organisation is public or private, people should always look for three components: security, performance, and economics.
Neville eased the apprehension of participants by adding that there really is no such thing as the best cloud application in the market for a specific organisation. The answer is to mix and match between several modalities and apply a multi-level approach to achieve the right mix of quality performance, reliable security, and economics custom-fit to suit an agency’s needs.
For Neville, finding the right cloud data service is a balancing act. All three elements must be considered by government agencies. When it comes to choosing effectively which data system would work best, the question to be pondered is whether one has the right workload at the right workplace and at the right time.
The power of taking risks
Glenn Ashe, Chief Information and Technology Officer, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, highlighted the steps his office undertook with regards to teaming up with the private sector for secure cloud solutions.
Glenn addressed some of the usual problems that most agencies are exposed to in their daily operations. To solve these, Glenn and his team opted to transition from a traditional mode of gathering and storing data to cloud storage and management. This solution significantly improved operations.
“We transferred the IT operating model. We went down the pipe to transform our ICT to be much more flexible, resilient, and to be able to deliver high-performance services. We have scaled on prime modes to meet business demands. It accelerated modelling turnaround time,” Glenn explained.
The benefits of shifting to innovative data services are many. For one, these solutions are flexible and on another standpoint, they are resilient. These elements allowed Glenn and his team to handle a massive amount of data in healthcare with data computing technology. Prime resources, he added, can be added much more flexibly.
He added that the impact of the COVID -19 pandemic also pushed the organisation to look for a strong system that would allow it to handle an immense amount of data while allowing the workforce to work within the confines of their homes.
After the presentation of the speakers, attendees were engaged in an in-depth discussion facilitated through the polling questions.
The first question inquired about the current cloud strategy employed by the various attendees. More than half (56%) said that they rely on a hybrid cloud system.
According to a senior delegate from the Accountant General’s Department, with so much happening in government operations including that of standardisation, a hybrid cloud program is the best way to go. Questions to be considered would be narrowed down to those related to end goals of an organisation and the type of data classification needed in storage solutions.
As to how their agencies leverage data, again almost half answered that they currently employ data integration. This is despite stringent government-instituted policies and classified data make agencies wary to share in an online platform. Notwithstanding, there is still data sharing that happens in some government offices, including those providing health services.
The issue of how organisations get the right skillset from the workforce it hires was also raised during the session, with about a third (37%) of respondents saying they consider other modes of acquiring appropriate skills from employees through means other than training, hiring, and partnership. This was tailed closely by training (33%).
For a majority of the participants, the trick is not just to train or to hire but to mix two or three modes. Hiring a good employee is one thing but hiring should also be followed by rigorous training.
One interesting point made during the poll was that protection is a significant added value for agencies relying on cloud services and infrastructure. A majority (61%) voted for protection as a significant added value.
An executive from the National Environment Agency felt that protection is closely intertwined with reputation. A breach on data would mean a breach of reputation which government agencies and organisations work hard to maintain.
When asked how attendees differentiate between cloud providers for workload solutions, the attendees identified services over than performance and integration as the main differentiator. The reason is that optimum performance from cloud service providers is already a given, as well as integration. With services, this feature must be fully integrated to fit a specific government function.
On the final question, almost three quarters (73%) felt that the biggest challenge for agencies and organisations are the workforce and employee skill-set. While, as Neville stated, knowledge of people is important, it is critical to continuously foster a high level of curiosity with employees to make them open for changes – in the organisation and solutions, including shifting to online data management.
The session came to a close with some food for thought from Neville on how organisations can receive help in choosing the right partners and putting forth a new mindset for its employees. He said that cloud management is a real game-changer. With this technology, things have become more complex. The big question then is how to make the best of it and use it for organisations’ own advantage.
In the end, the answer lies in addressing the need to make the right cloud decision. This, Neville said, can be done by maintaining an appetite for knowledge, information, change, and guidance.
Is happiness quantifiable? This is an age-old question that ancient philosophers have tried to answer. Even the meaning of happiness and motivation eludes an exact definition. For utilitarians, happiness is, in its rudimentary sense, the absence of pain and the existence of pleasure. For Aristotle, happiness is the highest good and is closely equated with virtue and purpose, a concept which he referred to as eudaimonia or an activity expressing virtue.
There is still no single meaning of happiness, more so now that the global economy is struggling to adapt to changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the realm of business, most companies are sustaining their momentum in digital transformation. They are scaling up their operational blueprints and adapting to the new normal of implementing remote workstations.
They visualise investments in technology and infrastructure to level up their game. However, many of these organisations delay investing in one key area of the workforce – the mental wellness of their employees, their level of happiness.
An Oxford study shows that a happy worker is 13% more productive. This increased productivity does not just benefit employees; it spills over to company profits and return of investments. Hence, the well-being of employees is equally important as other areas in business operations.
This is the same sentiment that Joye Founder and CEO Sanjeev Magotra lays on the table. Leveraging this perception, he found an innovative method to use artificial intelligence in tapping into the mental well-being of employees.
During an exclusive interview with OpenGov Asia, Sanjeev discussed that they have launched an AI-powered digital service to help map out employees’ level of satisfaction, as well as their emotional and mental state.
Joye was created alongside the company’s vision to attain what Sanjeev referred to as the “10,000-step mental health habit” which is equivalent to taking care of one’s self physically. Joye’s AI is trained to recognise users’ unique situations with extreme privacy, and it will guide you to the right care at the right time.
These suggestions include mood analytics and contextual behaviour tips, podcasts and mindfulness audios. This service tries to understand employees’ feelings through contextual nudges and uses data gathered from these interactions to formulate a plan that would help employees address their life stresses. It also allows them to keep track of their emotional and mental well-being on a daily or weekly basis.
Sanjeev further explained, “Our vision is that when you finish your video conference, and there’s a lot of stress in that video conference, we’ll pop up the Joye button to help you as opposed to staying stressed and becoming unproductive. We’ll help you immediately express yourself, self-reassess yourself and we will give you behavioural nudges to help you immediately turn positive.”
The idea behind the Joye application is not new. Sanjeev said that employers have long realised the importance of investing in employees. Employees have also formulated their routines in keeping themselves emotionally predisposed to life and workplace stresses by hanging onto their support systems and social networks.
What sets apart the Joye application is three-fold. At the outset, Joye is the first company to integrate a voice-enabled interface where individuals can express their feelings. This is in contrast to other apps that rely heavily on chatbots and not on systems that use voice responses.
It is also the first firm to insert this type of programme into a company’s existing mental health and employee engagement apps. Sanjeev said that they are looking at enhancing this feature of the Joye app by embedding it in enterprises’ video conferencing programmes especially during the new normal.
The more important distinction is that while most health platforms bank on mindfulness content or digital therapy and counselling, the Joye app employs a contextual behavioural nudge approach. Sanjeev stressed that “you say what is happening to you and we will tell you what you should do. We try to find out what is happening in your mind and what you should do at that point in time.”
He was quick to add that the Joye application puts a premium on privacy. Although it uses digital methods to gather and analyse employee data, there is still a cloak of anonymity that keeps these data private.
Sanjeev added, “Privacy is an important element of our design. We anonymise the data of the employee immediately after the session is finished, but we will keep the analytics so that the employee can see these data from time to time and that is a good way for the employee to manage their fitness over a period of time.”
Additional challenges during the new normal
The new normal is shaping the way many enterprises work, including looking for innovative ways to run their business workstations. Sanjeev emphasised that remote work opens up additional challenges that piles on top of existing stresses an individual is experiencing. This is where the magic of Joye comes in.
He also mentioned that the mind is the trigger of all actions and behaviour. The scenario is more amplified when working in a remote environment, as there are lots of new stresses and isolation working in the minds of the employees. This, he said, becomes an additional challenge to address.
The Joye application tries to nip future issues in the bud by addressing them at a time when they are small and inconsequential before they balloon into bigger problems that are harder to address.
As the world continues to trudge on during the new normal, some enterprises are adamant in investing in employee support technology like Joye, as they put more value on digital tools that can help streamline their operations. Sanjeev dispelled this notion by saying that investing in employee productivity does wonders to improve profits.
The Founder of Joye explained that: “if we invest in something like this, first of all, it’s a necessity in the remote working environment. Second, this investment has a very good return on investment in terms of improved productivity for the enterprise.”
Sanjeev concluded the discussion by leaving food for thought to employers. He reiterated that ultimately, employees’ mental health and well-being are crucial, more now as enterprises embrace a new remote working environment. To ensure that employees’ well-being is prioritised, Joye offers a quality solution. What differentiates it from other apps is that it helps the whole employee population and not just a small number of employees who are in most need of support. Their tool, he added, is for all 100% of employees who experience stress and anxiety daily and this can be overcome by engaging the workforce through a platform like Joye.
A Hong Kong Baptist University-led (HKBU) research team has launched an online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programme called “EASE Online” to help people with a social anxiety disorder (SAD). It incorporates virtual reality (VR) scenarios that are common triggers for social anxiety, allowing participants to respond as they would to real-life situations and receive counselling services from mental health professionals.
The programme is recruiting 600 participants aged 18 to 70 with a social anxiety disorder. It will also provide training to around 100 local mental health professionals on how to operate the programme, to serve more people in need in the long run.
Blended mode of counselling to treat social anxiety disorder
People with social anxiety disorder are characterised by excessive fear and anxiety which are disproportionate to the social situations they encounter, such as meeting someone new, eating or even making phone calls in public. This overwhelming fear can keep them away from social contact and prevent them from seeking counselling services.
Dr Pan Jiayan, Associate Professor of the Department of Social Work at HKBU, who led a team comprising investigators from the Department of Social Work and the Department of Computer Science at HKBU, has developed a 13-week programme called “EASE Online” to help them cope with social anxiety and improve their quality of life with CBT. CBT is goal-oriented psychotherapy that helps people cope with life challenges by adjusting their patterns of thinking or behaviour.
Having started in 2020, the four-year EASE Online programme will run until 2023. It adopts a blended mode of service delivery including both online and offline counselling. The online service comprises nine weekly online modules delivered on the programme website or mobile app. The online modules include a briefing on CBT skills, case demonstration videos, exercises and feedback, a forum and self-assessment.
Integration of VR exposure therapy
The counsellor will provide three face-to-face sessions plus two telephone follow-ups to supplement the online service and review the service progress. VR exposure therapy will be adopted in two out of the three face-to-face sessions. The research team designed five VR environments that reflect real-life scenarios, such as giving a presentation and attending a job interview, for participants to experience the anxiety and fear associated with such settings.
These scenarios are designed by the research team and delivered in Cantonese. They are adapted and produced from local cases to fit the language and cultural context of Hong Kong.
Therapist-guided VR exposure therapy is an intermediate treatment step for SAD clients that exposes them to real-life social situations. A trained counsellor will guide participants in person throughout the exposure process and provide a debriefing for them on a variety of strategies as well as advice on how to tackle social anxiety.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the programme, participants need to fill in an online questionnaire upon completion of the programme, and at three- and six-month follow-ups, respectively.
Novel alternative tackles social anxiety
“Social anxiety disorder sufferers feel more than just shy or nervous in certain social circumstances. Their difficulty in building up good social and interpersonal relationships brings them unspeakable pain,” said Dr Pan.
Online counselling and VR exposure therapy create a safe and non-threatening environment for people with social anxiety to learn how to cope with fearful social situations. It is especially suitable for those who do not want to be stigmatised by society or cannot afford traditional face-to-face counselling services. The team hopes that the EASE Online programme will bring SAD sufferers’ social life back on track, Dr Pan added.
The programme is supported by a grant of more than HK$6 million from the Research Impact Fund of the University Grants Committee and HKBU. Besides investigators from HKBU, the EASE Online programme team also includes researchers from the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University, and the programme has also partnered with the Richmond Fellowship of Hong Kong and the Caritas Wellness Link – Tsuen Wan.
Digital technology has accelerated aggressively during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to safety restrictions and health protocols, drastic changes in the workplace, including the adoption of remote workstations, have been implemented. As consumers began to shift to e-commerce and other online platforms from traditional methods of carrying out transactions, enterprises had to be on the lookout for innovative means to cater to the public’s demand.
The same scenario is seen in the public sector, with governments across the globe laying out various initiatives to mitigate the economic impacts of the health crisis. One of these initiatives is by ramping up the ease of doing business through the implementation of new technology.
Early on, the Indonesian government has been at the fore of amplifying its digital initiatives. According to an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the Ministry of Industry is reforming its operational models by putting a premium on technology. Under this innovative framework, the Ministry undertakes to provide technical training as part of goals to improve investments and foster human resource development through tech. This comes as a support for efforts aimed at decreasing the unemployment rate and boosting the competitiveness of human resources.
The Ministry of Agriculture is innovating along the same vein. In a statement, Agriculture Minister Dr. Syahrul Yasin Limpo encouraged the Agricultural Research and Development Agency to step up its game in developing innovative techniques to improve methods employed in agriculture.
During a workshop with the theme “Implementing the Use of Innovation and Provision of Superior Seeds”, the Minister underscored the importance of utilising technology to streamline the agriculture sector, one which has long relied on traditional methodologies.
He added that the Agency is an important unit under the Ministry in introducing innovation. The Minister also said that they are looking at “being able to discover new engineering and breakthroughs, those that are currently unavailable. There must be innovative engineering.”
The Minister also expressed his enthusiasm over the strides that the Agency has made last year despite challenges recorded due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He stressed that the Agency was able to show its resilience during that period and was able to create new programmes and to develop policies to accelerate in the new normal. He said he is hopeful that the same momentum will be sustained this year, as the country continues to anticipate economic recovery.
He emphasised that: “in 2021 it must be better, even faster. This is the momentum that must be used to actualise our research and development. This is the time for research and development to produce work that breaks through existing engineering, technological research and applications.”
The Ministry likewise announced that it has given a directive to the Agency to conceptualise and formulate its targets by the end of the first quarter of the year. It added that it anticipates to see commodity targets such as those for soybeans, garlic and corn, increase to achieve goals of producing 6 to 8 tonnes of these products per hectare.
This target, the Ministry said, can be achieved through a multi-tier approach –by looking at targets from upstream to downstream. To jumpstart this initiative, researchers were urged to start developing and building on existing agricultural varieties of crops. The next step would be finding ways on how to maximise post-harvest processing to hit targets.
By re-strategising, the Ministry hopes that the Agency will be able to streamline agricultural processes through innovative techniques. This directive is in line with commitments earlier made by the Indonesian government to meet the increasing food demands of about 273 million citizens and to make farmers more innovative in their craft.
A Western Australia-based solar glass developer has begun installing the company’s transparent solar PV integrated glass units (IGU) on-site at the $7.45m grains research precinct at Perth’s Murdoch University. The greenhouse will utilise the company’s transparent solar glass technology which is designed to preserve glass transparency while generating electricity.
Data supplied by the company indicates the technology delivers a minimum of 30 watts per sqm while maintaining 70% transparency. The IGUs feature solar PV cells around the edges of each unit. The units incorporate a nanoparticle interlayer and spectral-selective coating on the rear external surface which allow much of the light to pass through but redirects infrared and UV light to the edge of the IGU where it is harvested by solar cells.
The company’s CEO stated that the company expects the greenhouse, when operational, will generate greater market awareness of its building-integrated PV (BIPV) technology. They are starting to see strong interest globally for the firm’s product from greenhouse suppliers, growers and other protected cropping end-users, he said. They expect the fully constructed greenhouse to lead to even greater market awareness of the technology and product.
The main construction of the supporting greenhouse structure was completed in December 2020 and the installation of glazing is expected to be finished within the coming weeks ahead of commissioning with plant trials due to start in March or April 2021.
The greenhouse is being built adjacent to two recently completed polycarbonate research greenhouses that form part of a larger research precinct. The project is the first commercial-scale demonstration of the company’s PV IGU technology in a protected-cropping agriculture setting and the company is confident it will perform well.
The solar glass developer’s datasheet indicates traditional greenhouses experience a temperature range of +/-6° from optimum temperature while its technology delivers a temperature range of +/-2° from the optimum temperature, providing an increased growth rate of up to 20-30%.
The CEO stated that the company looks forward to updating the market once the greenhouse is commissioned in the next few months, and as the larger research aspects of the project progresses.
When work began on the greenhouse in December, the CEO noted that the project marked a “major milestone for the company”. The trial results would not only help facilitate the commercial application of the technology across protected-cropping agriculture markets but also across high-rise commercial buildings.
While BIPV is yet to enjoy the same widespread deployment as building-applied PV (BAPV), it has been identified by the Australian PV Institute (APVI) as one of five key avenues for increased market penetration of PV. The APVI said the multi-functionality of BIPV meant it had huge potential.
More on the transparent solar glass technology
According to another article, the company’s proprietary transparent luminescent solar concentrator is a spectrally selective polyvinyl butyral interlayer sandwiched between two panes of glass. Most visible light is transmitted through the glass, but infrared light is deflected by inorganic particles in the interlayer to solar cells in the frame. UV light is converted to infrared and also deflected to cells on the window perimeter via total internal reflection.
A luminescent solar concentrator (LSC) is made from plastic or glass with fluorescent materials or quantum dots in or on it. The hope for the LSC is that cheap dyes or phosphors can make the system inexpensive as well as tolerant of defects or angle.
The luminescent ingredients can be dialled-in to absorb and re-emit at selected wavelengths. Luminophores used in LSCs can be quantum dots, rare-earth ions, nanoclusters and organic molecules. There has been a recent move away from organic dyes towards more stable inorganic phosphors.
“Being a smart nation is not about flaunting glitzy technology, but … applying technology to solve real problems that will make a difference to people’s lives, and across the whole of society.” These were the words of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loog as he addressed the audience at the Smart Nation Summit in 2019.
PM Lee’s statement resonates well with a recent commentary by Carol Soon and Shawn Goh from Institute of Policy studies. They believe that to realise the vision of a Smart Nation for all, the next phase of Singapore’s Smart Nation must pivot and focus on securing impact on citizens in three ways — strengthening our digital psyche, closing the participation gap, and scaling up partnerships.
Singapore has successfully established itself as a digitally advanced nation, one of the few nations who were well placed to manage the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic. But the recent debates about the use of Trace Together data for criminal investigations have highlighted that factors like people’s trust and comfort level with the technology greatly impact the adoption of the digital service.
All these debates and discussions have brought forth the fact that becoming a smart nation requires more than making available the hardware and infrastructure requires to implement it. The “software” challenges also need to be overcome to fully enjoy the benefits of digitisation.
To strengthen these ‘softer’ aspects of becoming a smart nation in the true sense, Singapore needs to focus on the following 3 pillars:
Strengthening our Digital Psyche:
With the rapid digital transformation in the last 10 months, citizens have been bombarded with digital scams and misinformation. In a recent study, it was found that Singaporeans of higher age group and lower socio-economic backgrounds, were found to be more susceptible to false information.
People with high confirmation bias and low knowledge of the digital media landscape were more vulnerable. They were more likely to believe falsehoods aligned with their existing beliefs and were unaware of how and where information online originated from.
These findings highlight key areas of improvement in strengthening Singaporeans’ digital psyche. In particular, public education encouraging residents to be introspective about individual biases when navigating the online space can be ramped up to build national resilience against misinformation that exploit such vulnerabilities.
Another is to equip people with more knowledge on the digital media and tech landscape, so they can better appreciate and assess the credibility of the online information they receive.
Such interventions are resources we can turn to when enhancing digital literacy programmes here by adapting what works for our local context.
Closing the Participation Gap:
The second pillar of focus is to reduce the participation gap due to age, income, and occupational lines. The idea is to not leave behind a single citizen and ensure that they can leverage the technology to its full potential.
A first step to closing these disparities is to establish a national framework that maps out key digital skills all Singaporeans should possess to fully participate in today’s digital world. Countries that have established such guidelines setting minimal standards residents should work towards have seen their efforts bear fruit.
These include digital foundational skills that underpin all other digital skills, such as knowing how to connect to the Internet and maintain online login information.
The framework also outlines digital communication skills, such as communicating with others via email or instant messaging apps and using word processors to create and share documents like a personal resume.
Yet another group of skills looked at those needed for online transaction skills, like being able to access digital financial services and fill in request forms for public goods and services.
Establishing a similar framework for Singapore will help map out basic but critical digital literacies and identify the digital skills gap for different segments of society. This will aid the design of targeted interventions whether by the Government, self-help groups or non-profits to plug existing participation gaps.
Scaling up Partnerships:
The third pillar is to focus on Several new digital initiatives like Seniors Go Digital, and Hawkers Go Digital to speed up the roll out the National Digital Literacy programme.
The private sector has been also been bolstering public sector efforts in meeting the needs of targeted segments. Organisations such as the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Singapore Airlines and Temasek Foundation donated and distributed mobile phones to various communities during the pandemic, in addition to face masks, hand sanitisers.
The people sector has also stepped up to provide ground-up solutions to help fill existing gaps. Initiatives like Engineering Good collected and donated laptops to low-income students. Others, like SG Bono and Readable Asia, have conducted classes for children on how to access the Internet safely.
Singapore has achieved great feats in its smart nation journey and has been able to accelerate it throughout the pandemic. The next step in this journey should be to make technology and digital initiatives more inclusive and citizen-friendly.
In collaboration with
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.
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.