Asia's smart cities - future trends and best practices

2017 will see smart city initiatives momentum grow across Asia as digital transformation accelerates and more public sector agencies leverage cloud technologies to improve citizen lives. eGov Innovation speaks to Charles Sevior, CTO Emerging Technologies Division, Dell EMC, to find out more about the latest smart city developments in Asia and best practices in implementing smart city projects.


What does a future city look like and how will it operate behind-the-scenes?

A future city typically has a number of goals – to be efficient and optimise the use of city resources; to seamlessly integrate services into citizens’ daily lives; to be a safe place to live by anticipating risks and protecting its people; and finally, to enrich life for all. To do this, the city needs to empower its citizens, visitors and businesses to improve the quality of urban living, create an efficient city government, develop a strong economy, reduce environmental impact, address infrastructure and urban planning issues, as well as improve the city’s tourism industry.

To run smoothly, future cities need to be built with humanity at the forefront of planning and underpinned by technology – an ICT foundation layer that allows for efficient city management, economic development, sustainability, innovation, and citizen engagement. Data is one of the most critical elements that will underpin the success of a city's transformation into a smart city, interpreted appropriately by human checkpoints. To be deemed successful, a city should be able to harness data from existing government systems, online and mobile applications, third-party applications, and, most importantly, from citizens — the ultimate beneficiaries of smart cities. The data that is gathered can be used to make informed decisions that can improve the quiet enjoyment of citizens.


How do you see smart cities in Asia evolving in the near future?

Urbanization will play a key role in driving the development of smart cities in Asia, as more of the world’s population becomes concentrated in urban cities. By 2050, as per the United Nations' (UN) forecast, nearly 70% of the world's population will be concentrated in urban centres. Around 90% of this increase in the global urban population is expected to occur in Asia and Africa.

With rapid urbanization, there is an increasing need for Asian cities to become more organised and efficient, and governments are starting to recognise that a significant investment into ICT is needed to tackle infrastructure and socio-economic issues. According to IDC, 92% of public sector offices in the region believe in utilizing ICT as a means to meet their operational and strategic objectives.

Smart cities in Asia will also start to build ecosystems that will enable them to attract a steady flow of investments and retain top-notch talent in-country necessary to remain globally competitive.  In India for example, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched a number of flagship initiatives since his election in May 2014, including Digital India, Clean India, Skill India, 100 Smart Cities and Startup India aimed at attracting investments.

In other parts of the world, hosting a major international event such as the Olympic Games has served as a catalyst for governments to strengthen their ICT infrastructure. In preparation for the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Rio Olympics Organising Committee put aside 20% of its 7.4 billion real (US $2.25 billion) total budget to implement ICT  solutions. Closer to home in Asia, we expect to see the upcoming 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in Korea, 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to drive similar goals and outcomes for local government to service both the community and incoming visitors, athletes and international delegates.


What new technologies are governments in Asia using to deliver citizen services?

Governments today are focused on the welfare of the population, and this means ensuring that every element of a human life is considered. This includes:

  • Physical security – using tools such as CCTV to ensure that events are captured and lives are protected; leveraging analytics to predict disasters before they happen and ensure that services can respond during times of emergency.
  • Digital security – ensuring that people’s identities, financial and personal details are protected through data capture, analytics, fraud detection and cyber security protection measures.
  • Developmental security – ensuring that new jobs are created and that people from all walks of life have the ability and opportunity to grow and develop.

In Pune, India’s ninth-most populous city, the state government tackled crime and urban policing issues, as well as mounting terror threats, by introducing the Safe City advanced electronic surveillance and Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) project, built around more than 1,200 modern IP cameras and a state-of-the-art command and control centre (C3) to ensure the safety of its citizens.

A data lake architecture was provided which became the core repository for surveillance data. The solution incorporated this open platform to allow Pune City to scale and grow as new data sources were introduced. Almost from its inception, the system has proven its value in detecting and helping to prevent thefts, traffic accidents, and other crimes. It can also help identify other anomalous situations such as explosions or fires faster than other means, improving the response time and efficiency of emergency services.


What is the government’s role in building smart cities?

The government needs to take the lead when it comes to building smart cities. Smart cities manage significant amounts of sensitive, personally identifiable citizenship data across different government agencies. Governments need a long term strategy to not only manage this data, but also secure it from potential attacks.

Governments leverage this data to improve the lives of citizens and businesses, from minimizing fraud, driving innovation, linking health systems and delivering social services and health benefits across the country, to improving the safety of citizens through surveillance. A leadership role is key to ensuring the data is leveraged accurately and in the best possible way.  


What are the best practices and critical success factors in implementing smart city projects?

There are three critical success factors that will drive success in implementing smart city projects:

1) Be data driven
Governments realize that in order to transform they will increasingly need to leverage Big Data technologies across various information sources to be able to extract reliable, predictable and actionable insights, assist strategic decision making, and deliver improved performance management. For example, accurate and high-resolution feeds from building sensors and CCTV cameras can allow a city to make decisions on how to improve district-level security. In addition to being able to respond to information, data consolidation and protection are essential to becoming a data-driven city. Consolidating and protecting citizen data from various government departments will simplify the use of citizen services while also sustaining continuous access and ensuring effectiveness.

For example, a city will be able to improve its traffic management by analysing data feeds from sensors or cameras at various traffic junctions, cars, social media feeds from commuters and pedestrians or even information from government or third-party mobile applications. The traffic department can use this information to manage traffic flow, ease congestion, and even redirect traffic in the case of an accident.

2) Build a Data Lake empowered city
Many smart city projects are usually industry- or domain-specific; for example, healthcare, utilities, transportation, or border control. These industry-specific projects will have their own dedicated set of systems and applications. As cities expand, these projects must scale while sustaining their service levels and commercial independence. City-level projects such as energy management require interconnectivity between various departments and stakeholders — for example, utilities, municipalities, and building owners. Adding to the complexity is the increasing deployment of sensors by both private- and public-sector; and the data being captured by these sensors.

A Data Lake solution can be leveraged by cities and industries, providing a single landing place from various applications and sensors, maintaining commercial confidentiality and secure access zones while providing the benefits of improved and scalable computer and storage capabilities. To create Data Lake enabled cities, governments and agencies should enhance and pool their existing data-centre investments. Next-generation Data Lake solutions can be built using technologies such as software-defined data-centres, converged infrastructure, and network function virtualisation for improved agility, scalability, standardisation, and efficiency.

3) A smart city is a secure city
Digital security for a city can range from securing industry or project-level networks to citywide or federal-level security strategies. Countries, not just cities, will need to ensure nationwide network integrity and availability. Cities will need to enforce and adhere to cyber-security best-practices. Any breach of citizen data can have severe repercussions for the government in question, since it will impact citizen trust. Smart Cities can deploy solutions such as data encryption and identity and access management, as well as security monitoring and analysis, to ensure the safety and integrity of city networks.  The data lake itself must be secure.