Smart Cities

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A digital government operates in a manner that is digital by design, focusing on the requirements of users and maximising data. Fundamentally altering the way the Australian government operates now, it offers enhanced social, policy and economic outcomes.

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) of Australia believes that a digital government better prioritises the requirements of individuals and businesses. It entails investing in cutting-edge technology to deliver a personalised experience that is stable, safe and dependable and ultimately anticipates the demands of each user.

Australia’s Resilience and Growth Rely on Digital Government

In an exclusive interview with OpenGov Asia, Lucy Poole, General Manager, Digital Strategy, Architecture, and Discovery Division, Digital Transformation Agency, Australia shares her journey and some success factors for deploying digital solutions in the public sector. She strongly believes that the next frontier in digital transformation is the de-duplication of how citizens and businesses access and engage with the solutions.

“We cannot underestimate the impact of programmes and concepts such as ‘Tell us Once’ – not requiring customers to continue to re-tell their story as they access government services,” Lucy emphasises.

They are beginning to see both this de-duplication in service delivery and a side effect of more efficient investment through what they have dubbed the “Australian Government Architecture” (AGA).

The AGA is a vision to reduce the time agencies need to navigate the complexities of government in building digital and ICT-enabled solutions. It is designed to be a catalogue of applicable policies and standards combined with an index of repeatable patterns and capabilities for re-use.

Because of the increased speed-to-market, the Government can respond to priority needs using modern, best-of-breed approaches gaining “overall efficiency in how we digitally connect government services”.

“Silos of excellence” are a significant challenge. While Australia has some policies in place to reduce investment in duplicated capability, this is a difficult barrier. While some core functions of a platform may be the same, the needs of the service that uses that platform may be very different. “It’s always a struggle to strike a good balance.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to transforming government services, there are often legacy, disconnected systems that must be addressed and eventually decommissioned. This requires time, effort, and, most importantly, commitment. When compared to the release of a new system, it is more difficult to create a good-news story about turning off a system.

“Our people are at the heart of so much of what we do in the Public Service. This heart is often the dedication that the government requires of people who are passionate about serving citizens and businesses,” Lucy acknowledges.

The money available to the public sector, particularly in the digital streams of work, can make it difficult to compete with the private sector. This means that their best and brightest often leave for greater returns and better opportunities. “Our big challenge will be crafting our employee value proposition – across the Australian Public Service and all agencies.”

One of the most important technological advancements ever made, digital identification has enormous advantages for businesses, consumers, and governments. Australia is a pioneering nation in the field of digital identity. The Trusted Digital Identity Framework that supports the Australian Government Digital Identity System isn’t simply based on industry best practices from throughout the world; it’s also regarded as best practices in many other nations.

Underscoring her belief in the Trusted Digital Identity Framework (TDIF), Lucy says, “At the DTA, we’ve been building policy for Digital Identity – the Trusted Digital Identity Framework (TDIF) – for several years.”

The DTA is responsible for the Whole-of-Government Digital and ICT Investment Oversight Framework – a six-stage, end-to-end framework that provides Government Agencies with direction for managing their digital and ICT investments across the full project lifecycle. Government Departments and Agencies are obligated to consult with the DTA on all digital and ICT investment plans throughout the framework’s numerous stages, per the Framework.

Moreover, the TDIF serves as the guiding principle for the Australian Government Digital Identity System. It is based on worldwide and industry best practices and standards and it establishes strict guidelines for privacy, security, transparency and trust.

The TDIF is regarded as a world-leading accreditation framework for digital identity providers. It has supported the implementation of best-practice digital identity policies in Australia’s government and corporate sectors.

The TDIF has evolved and continues to adapt in response to changes in the service delivery landscape and consumer expectations as digital identification technology quickly evolves. It has gone through four major revisions, with a fifth now in the works.

In addition to incorporating accrediting programme findings, the next version (release 5) aims to prepare the TDIF for the future of digital identity as verifiable credentials and digital wallets become more popular and technology continues to grow at a rapid pace.

More than 9 million Australians, on the other hand, have decided to create a Digital Identity (using myGovID to build a Basic, Standard, or Strong identity) to access over 125 government services online, with 26 services supplied by states and territories. Over the past year, 1.3 million people used their Digital Identity more than once while 12,000 people have used their Digital Identity more than 65 times.

“We also have more than 1.4 million businesses that use Digital Identity to access business services, like our tax agency. This makes it easier for them to do business by reducing the amount of paperwork they have to do,” Lucy reveals.

Identification fraud can be reduced using a digital identity. In Australia, Digital Identity is predicted to save the economy AU$3 billion per year from identity theft and online fraud. The Australian Government Digital Identity System also provides extra privacy and security safeguards, such as no central database where papers are held, the inability to trace or sell a person’s behaviour, and all information being securely encrypted.

On the surface, this looks to be a simple issue. But, a response must include service standards, service design, accountability systems, collaborative service delivery with other jurisdictions, feedback mechanisms, open data and open government.

The design of performance metrics to monitor end-user experience begins with the service design. That is, gathering baseline data, investigating what data is accessible and, most crucially, finding the questions that yield performance data to enable continual improvement.

Monitoring the performance of a service or product is frequently done through a lens other than digital. The annual Report on Government Services (RoGS), for example, provides an annual study of government services in terms of equity, efficiency, and effectiveness.

The RoGs must incorporate state and territory government services as well as those of the Australian Government because other similar service experiences can influence user satisfaction ratings.

All government services must pause and assess how well they are satisfying the requirements of their users. myGov, the largest platform for providing government services to citizens, is currently subject to an independent user audit. The audit’s recommendations are expected to have significant implications for government service delivery across the board.

The Australian Public Sector (APS), like many other organisations and institutions around the world, is reorienting and evolving to embrace digital transformation and harness the power of data. “Realising that these are critical to our ability to continue to effectively serve the interests of Australia and the Australian people in a world defined by increasing speed and complexity,” says Lucy.

She agrees that it’s hard to keep the momentum and focus needed for long-term digital transformation with all the other priorities and crises that the public sector has to deal with at the same time. A key part of this is recognising and emphasising the link between digital transformation and trust and satisfaction in government on the part of citizens.

Even though the pandemic forced people to rely on their governments more, the overall trend is obvious. Against this backdrop, the Australian Government has made it a top priority and a requirement for the APS to do its job to win back the trust of the people.

“In the DTA, we make it clear how the ongoing digital transformation and the whole-of-government reform agenda are linked and depend on each other,” Lucy asserts.

The agency continues to stress the importance of services that focus on people and are easy to use. They are also building strategies that support the transformation that is sustainable, efficient, and centred on people. She points out that Australians who are happy with government services are twice as likely to trust their government.

Paving the Way for the Future of Digital Transformation

Australia is experiencing the effects of the rapid rate at which the digital world is evolving. Its APS Reform, which has a 2030 perspective, provides the government with a clear vision for the transformation of the public sector. The main objective of this agenda is to revolutionise how digital is done by making the APS more effective and efficient.

Ensuring that people and businesses are at the centre of policy and services is a core tenet of APS Reform. To ensure that transformation meets and surpasses user expectations, early and meaningful interaction and co-design are given a lot of attention in the digital space.

Trust is an issue for governments everywhere and is closely related to citizen expectations. In Australia, as in many other nations, public trust in the government had been dwindling before the outbreak. Although COVID had a brief uptick, regaining the public’s trust remains a major problem facing the government and its institutions.

To ensure that the government puts its constituents at its centre, the digitisation of government is key to the endeavour to reestablish confidence. The Independent Review of the APS in 2019 recognised this priority, and the nation is already moving in the right direction.

The key will be to define who is responsible for delivering initiatives and to raise the transparency of the progress by publicising how well key metrics are performing. However, confidence is not just dependent on how well-run and open the government’s operations are. It includes safeguarding data as well.

Criminal and state-based actors are rapidly developing their offensive capabilities, which is causing the cyber threat landscape to change all the time. These more sophisticated cyber-attacks are aimed against Australia.

A big compromise of Australian Government networks is a matter of “when,” not “if,” without massive reorganisation and cyber upgrading. “In light of this, we are hardening the government’s own IT, through a centralised model of cyber security services, called Cyber Hubs. We’re currently testing the feasibility of the Cyber Hubs model through a pilot. So far the pilot has shown the centralisation of the provision of services can help improve cyber security,” Lucy explains.

The government and institutions have vast amounts of information about Australians. This data is the fuel that drives the progress of artificial intelligence. Over the next 5 to 10 years, there is a chance to harness this data and use AI to innovate and improve public service delivery, resulting in better efficiency and transformation. But AI’s use of this data comes with risks and challenges for everyone, including the public sector. These risks and challenges need to be handled morally and responsibly.

Quantum computing is still in its infancy, but its application could represent the next step in the digital revolution of service delivery. AI is only as good as the data it’s trained on. Large datasets are currently being used by governments and institutions to train AI models and make them more useful.

However, when these datasets become scarce, governments and industries will be forced to find new ways to improve AI programmes. Quantum computing is one such method. Quantum computing refers to a class of supercomputers based on quantum mechanics.

To process information, these quantum computers employ the laws of quantum mechanics. That is, they can detect patterns in data that are nearly impossible to detect using traditional computers. They are substantially different from today’s computers in this regard.

Lucy believes if these powerful AI capabilities are utilised responsibly and data is saved and maintained safely, confidence and trust in government and institutions will grow. “More will need to be done in the next 5 to 10 years to integrate human values like transparency and fairness with AI’s goals of efficiency.”

Lucy is optimistic about the future and the role the DTA will play in guiding the government on developments in digital and ICT. She sees great potential for the agency to act as a government advisory body for its tech-enabled initiatives going forward as well as to serve the country in its digital ambitions. In summary, that is what she believes the agency exists for – to aid the public sector to offer the best citizen experience possible and help the nation thrive.

NSW businesses seeking to commercialise their innovative ideas can now help tackle some of the State’s most complex challenges through the second round of the NSW Government’s Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) programme. As part of the programme, NSW Government agencies outline specific problem areas that need to be addressed, with small businesses given the opportunity to propose solutions.

The NSW Minister for Science, Innovation and Technology stated that the AU$12 million programme would provide small businesses with grants of up to AU$100,000 as part of the first phase, to work alongside the government and undertake feasibility studies into their proposed solutions.

The minister said that the programme aims to leverage the region’s local businesses to improve social, environmental, health and economic outcomes while also creating high-value jobs, which will help grow the economy and secure a brighter future for NSW.

The SBIR programme has already seen 10 new technologies, addressing a wide range of issues, progress to a proof-of-concept phase. This next round of the programme will deliver more solutions and outcomes for our community.

Challenge areas outlined for round two of the programme include:

  • Biosecurity Surveillance Challenge– NSW Department of Primary Industries is seeking innovative technology solutions that leverage the power of citizen surveillance to more accurately identify and validate threats to the biosecurity of primary industries and the environment in NSW.
  • School Zones Alerting System Challenge– Transport for NSW is seeking innovative solutions to improve the existing School Zones Alerting System to further improve road safety around schools.
  • Vital Sign Monitoring Challenge– Corrective Services NSW is seeking non-invasive technology solutions to monitor the vital health signs of inmates while in their cells. This technology will be used to monitor ‘at-risk’ inmates and help prevent inmates from committing self-harm, which could result in suicide.
  • Recycled Content Verification Challenge– The Office of Energy and Climate Change is seeking a solution that could trace and verify recycled material to help NSW Government agencies procure local recycled products.
  • Waste Recovery and Management Challenge– NSW Health is seeking resource recovery technologies and waste management solutions that: offer an innovative design for new facilities; redesign and reconfigure existing facilities; and uncover ways of modernising our waste collection and processing systems separation and collection of waste that can be implemented across NSW Health.
  • Cultural and Linguistic Diversity Services Challenge– NSW Health is seeking Artificial Intelligence powered solutions to support the delivery of health services to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities.
  • Urban Heat Island Challenge– the Greater Cities Commission is seeking innovative solutions that could be trialled at the Westmead Health and Innovation District to mitigate urban heat island effects and/or improve the resilience of our systems in response to extreme heat events.

The NSW Minister for Small Business noted that the programme harnesses the power of local innovation and supports small businesses by investing in ideas to grow high-tech industries now and into the future. He added that small businesses are a vital pillar of the State’s economy, and this funding will help many SMEs realise their potential and make the difficult leap from great ideas to commercial products and services that meet critical needs.

Information and communication technology (ICT) is used in a smart city to improve government efficiency, public engagement and the standard of living for its residents.

Advanced technologies and data analytics are at the heart of the concept of a “smart city,” whose primary goals are the enhancement of city services, the promotion of economic growth, and the betterment of residents’ quality of life.

The recent pandemic and other critical events have forced the citizens of the Philippines, as it has in other countries, to rely on their government for a wide range of services to be offered innovatively.

Agencies moved rapidly to digitalise services and set standards for data storage, security and workflow. Central and local governments have implemented a wide range of ICT strategies to lessen the impact of these catastrophes.

For instance, Makati City, the business capital of the Philippines, launched the Makatizen Card and the Makatizen App to offer financial help and services, such as online legal assistance, teleconsultations, and online learning, to its residents.

Challenges Turn Inspiration: Embarking on Smart City Projects

Charles David Ramos, the Head of Information Technology for Makati City in the Philippines, is firmly convinced that innovation helps governments and public sector organisations deliver services faster, better and cheaper. Moreover, it can also help with long-term problems caused by social, economic, demographic, environmental and technological change.

“We will be able to increase our revenue and service efficiency through innovation,” Charles asserts, citing the recently launched “MakaTurismo” website to underscore his point, which was made to help the local tourism sector.

The website is Metro Manila’s first travel website focused on attracting tourists into a post-pandemic environment. Apart from the lifestyle centres, eateries, and hotels, the City of Makati is home to numerous undiscovered treasures, such as special historical sites.

Since it includes details about the city’s tourist attractions, lodging options and free walking tours, the project could significantly assist businesses in attracting clients and customers.

While discussions of digital transformation typically centre on improvements to remote working capabilities, Makati City has instead begun investing in infrastructure upgrades. As a result, they are modernising their server infrastructure by switching from a physical to a software-defined network (SDN) and merging various data centres.

Charles noted that Makati City is concerned with project implementation and database consolidation. In addition, they integrate analytics into all projects and increase automation to improve their functional services.

Makati City opened the Makatizen Hub in 2021, to further assist its citizens in their transactions during the ongoing pandemic. The local government has set up satellite offices so that everything can be done online.

Charles emphasises that, as they integrate technology in a variety of ways, they are centralising a strategic approach to planning and managing the direction of the city government’s use of technology.

To accommodate its diverse population, Makati provides a wide range of publicly available services. In addition, there are services designed exclusively for residents, catering to their unique requirements based on factors such as age, health, education and overall satisfaction with life.

The city has been able to successfully manage these programmes, but officials are always looking for ways to improve efficiency. This is made possible in large part by technological advancements. As the population of Makati expands, so do the city’s needs and the hopes and dreams of its residents.

The responsibility of the administration lies in anticipating the wants and needs of the people. By bolstering them with cutting-edge tech, agencies can reimagine service delivery and foresee what people will need in the future.

As an example of a programme designed for the future but implemented today, the Makatizen Card is a useful tool. The Makatizen Card is an innovative programme that provides residents of Makati with access to a variety of new social, informational, identifying and financial services.

For more than half a million people living in Makati, this single government-issued ID card unifies access to a wide range of economic and social services.

Charles is one of the authors of IT Security – the Security 3.0 book, published by Mithra Publishing in London. It discusses the infrastructure framework’s fundamentals that underpin the city’s primary data centre and the local government information system that has recently undergone upgrades.

“The data centre’s IT capabilities can only be improved through upgrades. By upgrading ageing or inefficient IT assets, they improve reliability, performance, efficiency, cost, security, and uptime -which resulted in serving the public efficiently,” Charles explains, further elaborating on the steps taken by the municipal government to improve flood and earthquake early warning systems.

Makati was named the first-ever Resilience Hub in the Philippines and the Southeast Asian Region by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) in the third quarter of this year.

According to the UNDRR, a resilience hub is a city, municipality, or local authority with the political will and expertise to take action to reduce vulnerability to disasters and climate change. With the help of the Making Cities Resilient Campaign (MCR), which Makati joined in 2010, the city has successfully integrated disaster risk reduction into all its strategic plans and programmes. The region’s cities have joined several international networks to learn from and implement its DRR best practices.

Additionally, in collaboration with the Department of Trade and Industry – Board of Investments (DTI-BOI), Digital Pilipinas officially launched its Innovative Cities initiative to technologically advance one city at a time. It does this by bringing together local government agencies, academic institutions and the private sector to establish numerous centres of excellence.

In association with the Resiliency Innovation Sustainability & Entrepreneurship (RISE) Certification Programme, the City of Makati was selected as the programme’s pilot location. With a focus on making the Philippines relevant in digitalisation and Web 3.0 conversation, the Innovative Cities initiative seeks to increase the Philippines’ innovation and technology quotient to support local economies and expand their industries.

The city’s digital transformation journey in local government has been completed at minimal or no cost. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) have been used to implement larger-scale projects and some solutions have been provided for free in exchange for Makati serving as a model for the adoption of these technologies by other LGUs and institutions. Even when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020, Makati was still able to serve its citizens efficiently without endangering their health.

A true and effective digitalisation strategy entails a fundamental rethinking of the traditional organisational structures of industrial activities and business models to make them significantly better.

With the help of Makati Mayor Abby Binay, who is very encouraging of digital transformation, these initiatives were able to come to fruition. Charles believes that the use of technology and innovations is merely a tool to accomplish this goal, so it’s critical to pick the approaches that can most effectively help an application achieve its objectives.

“Digital transformation is, at its core, a mindset. It is a long-term, ongoing journey rather than a single undertaking or endpoint. As the business changes and appropriate technologies become available, iteration is necessary.”

Two tech companies operating within Hong Kong’s Smart Government Innovation Lab announced the roll-out of solutions that are now ready to be acquired by companies and institutions.

Solution I – Cloud-native Project Management & Collaboration Solution

Solution description

A tech company under the Smart Government Innovation Lab has developed a cloud-native project management & collaboration solution called Julius. The solution is able with applications across the project lifecycle. Designed from the ground up with feedback from industry leaders, the solution enables digital transformation without server deployment.

Application Areas

The solution was developed to be applied in the area of City Management.

Technologies Used

The solution employs the latest in Cloud Computing and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Use Case

The solution allows users to:

  • Gain control of and visibility into the customer pipeline as well as the sales and revenue situations of each project. Users can also track and manage cost vs. budget in real time; understand current progress status and stay ahead of potential risks and issues before it’s too late; enforce and evaluate against the quality standards without slowing down teams.
  • Access and analyse customer and sales data on the fly; CRM functions tailored to the property sector including sales channel, commission and performance analysis; track inventories, sales velocity and payments; document full sales cycle between customer visit and contract payment to ensure smooth transaction; smart alerts on delays, returns and sales performance issues.
  • Control every cost item to avoid cost overruns; manage change in real time – creating budgets that more accurately reflect where the budget stands at any moment; generate detailed financial reports to see how the spending decisions affect projected profits at close out; facilitate faster approvals, more accurate communication and eliminating the need to proceed at risk.
  • Stay on schedule; quickly identify potential issues and their impact on schedule and budgets; avoid unwanted surprises with better visibility of every project task; track all steps and speed up the approval process.
  • Understand and correct issues before they become a problem; built for the site, making it easy for site teams to contribute to and comply with construction safety regulations and quality specifications; all the necessary documentation, reference materials and records needed to ensure standards are met with verification methods that create accountability along the way.

Solution II – Vehicle Queue Monitoring Solution

Solution description

Manual queue monitoring is a time and resource-consuming process that is prone to human errors and miscalculations. The Vehicle Queue Monitoring system uses computer vision to derive insights from the video cameras installed in the regions of interest. It analyses the traffic, calculates the number of vehicles in the predefined areas, conducts classification (taxi, public bus, private car), and notifies the user of specific scenarios.

For example, a user will receive an SMS/email alert if the queue exceeds 20 vehicles. The system also displays real-time and accumulated statistics in a web-based dashboard, tailored to the user’s needs. The Video Analytics system can be implemented in various locations that include vehicle traffic, such as car parks, tunnels, gas stations, highways, etc.

Application Areas

The solution was developed to be applied across the areas of City Management, Infrastructure as well as Transport.

Technologies Used

The solution employs the latest in Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and Video Analytics.

Use Case

An example of the application of the Video Analytics system is in queue-monitoring in gas stations. The system can detect, classify and count the number of vehicles queueing at a gas station. Once the queue exceeds the predefined region, an SMS alert is sent to the chosen number of users informing them on the queue status. Users can view a livestream to verify the queue and take appropriate actions. Additional features include analytics services where various daily/weekly trends are recorded and presented in the form of graphs and diagrams in a user-friendly web-based dashboard.

The National Parks Board (NParks), the Elections Department of Singapore (ELD), and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) all use advanced technology and a team from GovTech tagged as the Modelling and Simulation (M&S) team to manage enormous areas of land across the country. The cross-agency division combines knowledge of geospatial information systems, data, 3D visualisation, and other technologies to help with city planning and administration.

SLA‘s main responsibility is to maintain state-owned land and property. To complete this labour- and time-intensive task, the agency began utilising drones and machine learning (ML) in 2016. After all, drones can travel great distances much more quickly than people. They can also quickly reach areas of buildings that are inaccessible by ground-level visual inspection. Drones eliminate the need to use equipment like cherry pickers, boom lifts, and truck cranes, which may not be able to access difficult-to-reach areas. Additionally, drones can be used to scan areas with thick vegetation.

Roy New, Senior IT Manager at SLA, claims that because officers are less likely to be bitten by insects and be exposed to heights during their inspection work, especially on state land with dense vegetation, the overall safety risk they face is significantly reduced. Additionally, SLA officers can view images taken by drones while on the move and the enormous amount of data produced by contemporary systems is employed effectively.

To visualise the building and its general location, photogrammetry is also used to create 3D objects. Instead of looking at pictures of just grass patches or grey walls and trying to figure out where the picture was taken, officers can quickly locate maintenance issues with the help of the map and 3D view. As a result, physical inspection no longer needs to take eight hours but just one. Additionally, it is predicted that early maintenance issue detection can cut repair costs by as much as 40 per cent.

On the other hand, the ELD, which organises and oversees Singapore’s elections, works with a lot of data from various source organisations. The population within a constituency, for instance, determines its size and composition, so the department needs to have current residential data.

Derrick Ong, Geospatial Information System Architect at ELD, shared that the team’s ability to access data and collaborate more easily has been made possible by the recent switch to a cloud-based system, which has decreased the amount of manual work required for data preparation. Utilising geospatial data to plan and visualise electoral boundaries, which are updated prior to each general election, is another aspect of ELD’s work.

With the aid of technology, election officials can more efficiently set up voting locations for citizens, including polling places within each constituency, ensuring a fair distribution of voters to reduce the likelihood of long lines forming.

Moreover, the 350 parks and gardens on the island saw a sharp rise in visitors after Singapore implemented Covid-19 safe management measures, such as restricting access to shopping centres, as people turned to green spaces for recreation.

NParks and GovTech worked together to create a public portal with a map in response to this increase in foot traffic. NParks was able to efficiently manage visitor levels and enhance parkgoers’ experiences by utilising geospatial tools, security cameras, and other technologies.

In the end, all the teams concur that creating a digital public sector can be a difficult and drawn-out process. However, they also think that the discomfort is worthwhile because of the tremendous long-term benefits of digitisation, and they find it satisfying when users recognise the work and advantages the new system offers them: greater convenience that enables the public sector to improve lives.

Smart City Projects in Thailand continue to flourish and evolve. In this, the sharing of data across smart city apps and sectors is a financial and technological growth opportunity from which cities can benefit. Sharing between cities and the development of information interchange show that smart cities have reached the next stage of creating value for citizens and local governments.

The Digital Economy Promotion Agency (depa) is the committee and secretary of the Board of Thailand’s Smart City Development, in addition to encouraging and supporting the economic growth of private enterprises in Thailand.

They manage the planning of Smart City development and provide the rules and mechanisms to sustainably support Smart Cities in Thailand -they ensure that the places need to be well-organised, accessible, and secure.

The Board of Thailand Smart City has decided to construct a City Data Platform (CDP), one of the five Smart City development principles. The CDP is a repository for digital data that facilitates data connectivity and sharing between government departments, private organisations, and municipal residents. To generate the most value for the city, it is also important that personal information be safeguarded.

Smart City: A New Urban Planning Paradigm

Dr Passakon Prathombutr, SEVP/CTO Digital Technology and Innovation Development Unit, Digital Economy Promotion Agency (depa)

In an exclusive interview with Mohit Sagar, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of OpenGov Asia, Dr Passakon Prathombutr, SEVP/CTO Digital Technology and Innovation Development Unit, Digital Economy Promotion Agency (depa), Thailand revealed that there are more than 60 cities around the country that have submitted proposals since the government established the smart city steering committee in 2017.

The committee was eager to promote smart city development and has allowed any city in Thailand to apply for incentives under the government smart city programme.

“Thirty (30) cities have met the requirements and are currently undergoing the development process to become smart cities. Our smart city concept suggests using technology to creatively address urban problems. Of course, the betterment of the citizen is one of the values,” Dr Passakon explains.

Smart cities are multi-sectoral endeavours that have a big impact on daily life with wide-ranging challenges to be addressed. While infrastructure and logistics are issues, he feels the largest obstacle is for city leaders to shift their mindset and accept new technologically based solution paradigms.

Infrastructure and technology are required for a smart city, which has created a substantial market for technology. Numerous opportunities were offered to companies and startups to develop novel solutions.

As part of depa’s approach, according to Dr Passakon, they built an ecosystem to help both the supply and demand sides by utilising a variety of financial channels and capacity-building tools such as training, digital transformation vouchers and business matching.

The City Data Platform (CDP) is the most important part of a Smart City and focuses on the needs and problems of citizens for sustainable development.

“The three features provided by the CDP are the data catalogue, data exchange and data governance allowing a solution provider to quickly examine and incorporate CDP data. The data is mostly open data and follows the same metadata standard for each city,” Dr Passakon elaborates.

He acknowledges that the data is the property of the owners of the data. It could be public or private, hence, the data governance in the CDP would help control the quality of the data and the rights to share.

When it comes to concrete instances and lessons learned from his experience that might be helpful to others, Dr Passakon has suggested starting with the needs of the citizens rather than with technology or solutions. “We must identify the problems, and then match them with practical solutions.”

Dr Passakon knows the importance of engaging the next generation of citizens and is acutely aware of the role of depa. When asked how he encourages the younger generation to take part in smart city projects he shares, “We pass on our knowledge to the next generation via the smart city (young) ambassador programme!”

The Smart City Ambassadors (SCA) Programme aims to encourage the development of smart cities from young people’s fresh viewpoints and to promote local employment that attracts young people to their hometowns.

Before serving as “smart city ambassadors” for participating organisations in the public or private sectors for a period of 12 months, participants receive training to advance their digital skills and fundamental knowledge of smart city development, with the help of local staff serving as their mentors.

They will be able to use their knowledge to address urban problems, identify better city solutions and promote the growth of smart cities in each of their respective regions.

The SCA Programme will be expanded into a second cycle of success, the depa and partners have announced. This time, the goal is to develop the 150 young smart city ambassadors chosen from 150 regions around the country by enhancing their knowledge and abilities in areas pertinent to the mission.

The depa anticipates that the second wave of the SCA Programme will result in 50 emerging smart cities and 150 locations with rising smart city development around the country, in addition to other projects that enhance the quality of life.

The development of smart cities in Thailand is expected to be accelerated by the encouragement of the construction of smart city promotion regions.

Although 105 smart cities are the goal of the national plan for 2027, technology and urban problems will evolve with time. “Our nation needs a sustainable and resilient city that can handle the problem on its own!”

In the next three years, Thailand will deploy best practices and city leaders will become more knowledgeable about digital technology. In addition, over the next five to ten years, the nation will address new challenges and acquire new technologies.

“Today’s solutions will become commonplace as we encounter new issues and technological advancements, necessitating the need for a smarter city. It is a lifelong undertaking,” he acknowledges in conclusion.

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) and a leading property developer based in Hong Kong signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to strengthen research collaboration among industry, academia and research organisations to drive innovative solutions for sustainable development of the Greater Bay Area (GBA).

The partnership leverages the combined strengths and experience of PolyU in interdisciplinary research with that of the company in property and community development. The MoU sets out a framework for both parties to conduct three pilot research projects to explore innovative solutions and technology applications to help achieve the goals of carbon neutrality, an inclusive society and a green economy.

Through this industry-academia collaboration, the company and PolyU will develop new technology and systems to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption in a next-generation data centre, explore new types of intergenerational housing for future Hong Kong community settlements in the GBA, and experiment with the use of blockchain technology in promoting green economy.

Witnessed by the Executive Director and CEO of the company, the Executive Director and COO of the company, the Deputy Council Chairman of PolyU, and the President of PolyU. The MoU was signed by the Deputy CFO of the company and the Deputy President and Provost of PolyU.

The Executive Director and CEO of the company stated that joint efforts across industries are essential to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The signing of this Memorandum of Understanding is a step forward in fostering business collaboration with academia and research organisations in order to pioneer innovative technological solutions.

Meanwhile, the President of PolyU stated that this industry-academic collaboration will see PolyU and the company working together to create solutions for major sustainability challenges including energy consumption, climate change, an ageing population and the adoption of green behaviour.

The University will continue to deepen its collaboration with key partners and stakeholders in society to proactively translate research outcomes into real-world solutions to foster more liveable and sustainable communities in Hong Kong, the Nation and the world.

Under the MoU, the company and PolyU will also continue to explore cooperation opportunities in areas including support to start-ups and entrepreneurship, application and commercialisation of new technologies, environmental, social and governance strategy and measurement, and carbon neutrality.

In 20201, the global green technology and sustainability market size was valued at US$11.49 billion in 2021. The market is projected to grow from US$13.76 billion in 2022 to US$51.09 billion by 2029, at a CAGR of 20.6% during the forecast period. Analysis indicates that the market showed an average growth of 19.8% in 2020 as compared to 2019.

The solutions and services being developed are rolled out across various applications including green building, crop monitoring, air and water pollution monitoring, and carbon footprint management.

This market’s potential is expected to spike rapidly in developing economies and emerging markets in the coming years. Innovators across the globe are likely to capture market share for their own green technologies. To capture the addressable market, more international and domestic venture capital (VC) will be required to ramp up R&D spending and drive innovation in the market.

Recently, PolyU signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a Hong Kong-headquartered artificial intelligence company to collaborate on research and development related to metaverse technologies and autonomous driving applications. The partnership will focus on the research and development of metaverse tech and autonomous driving applications and will work together to strengthen research and development capabilities in AI-related technologies.

The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee recently launched an information system to handle administrative procedures. This system was developed by combining the online public service portal and the electronic single-window system. A representative from the Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group (VNPT) noted that the VNPT-built system is capable of handling 17 million dossiers each year.

According to Lam Dinh Thang, the Director of the municipal Department of Information and Communications, people and enterprise-centred systems are connected with the National Public Service Portal, the electronic authentication, identification systems, and information systems and databases of ministries and central agencies. This has created favourable conditions for individuals and organisations to handle administrative procedures in a swift and accurate manner.

Ho Chi Minh authorities have always considered administrative reforms as an important task, the Chairman of the municipal People’s Committee noted. The city considers people’s satisfaction and enterprises’ development as the metre of administrative reform effectiveness and civil servants’ capacity.

Around 13 million people in the city, including the local population of almost ten million and people from other localities, require administrative procedures to be processed. It will be hard for civil servants to complete handling papers on schedule if they use traditional methods. Therefore, applying an information system for handling administrative procedures is an urgent need, the Chairman explained.

In August, Ho Chi Minh City authorities announced that it will coordinate with a global financial institution to develop a data management strategy, aiming to better cultivate data for government operations. As OpenGov Asia reported, the strategy identifies a vision, specific goals, priority areas, and plans for the implementation of data and digitisation projects to improve the city’s data-driven governance.

The two organisations had earlier completed a survey and assessment of the current status of data and data usage needs of local state regulators, with a focus placed on three areas: urban planning, citizens’ information, and economic and financial development.

In its digital transformation journey, the country envisions the development of smart cities and provinces, and Ho Chi Minh is among the top cities in terms of digitisation. In the 2021 Digital Transformation Index (DTI), the city climbed two spots to rank third, after Da Nang and Thien-Hue.

The city aims for its digital economy to account for 25% of the southern hub’s gross regional domestic product (GRDP) by 2025. Accordingly, the local government will focus on raising public awareness of digital transformation, organising the implementation of digital transformation tasks, and completing the digital government. Authorities will work to integrate and effectively exploit data to aid post-COVID-19 socio-economic recovery and development and support modern-oriented governance.

Specific action programmes will be mapped out and implemented, while the application of information technology will be accelerated across fields. The local government will also work to ensure information security and safety when building the digital government, economy, and society. The government said it would strongly invest in human resources development, focusing on training and fostering cadres, civil servants, and public employees.

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