Singpore and other cities in Asia have set their sights on becoming the next smart nation. Source: Shutterstock

How to build a smart city – the blueprint

SMART CITIES have the power to transform the world around us, making these urban areas a melting pot of culture, community, and business, all powered by technology.

Truth be told, many people think a smart city is a data challenge. But it’s not. It’s also an innovation challenge.

“Innovation will be key for Singapore’s Smart Nation success but data alone will not be sufficient to realize this success,” highlighted Leslie Ong, Country Manager, Southeast Asia, Tableau Software who is working with the Singapore government to elevate its Smart Nation program.

However, building a smart city isn’t the easiest thing to do. Many factors come into play and ultimately, it depends on the balance of objectives or vision of what the committees want the city to achieve.

Sometimes cost efficiency takes precedence, sometimes attracting talents and investments from world-class companies are key, and in other cases, the safety and security of citizens are the focus.

Smart City imperatives also need to be clear also on the budget and risk profiles.

In an exclusive interview with Tech Wire Asia, Yeong Chuan Lim, ASEAN Strategy Director, Honeywell explained some of the subtleties of building a smart city.

“For early-stage technologies, the costs, risk of deployment and take up can be high.  The business model for investment also plays a role: whether the technology is a platform upon which private sector is allowed to rent or freely use to develop applications or a specific application to solve a problem,” explained Lim.

Smart city committees and councils must also understand that the success of the project also depends on the challenge of managing each individual city and the theses for the investments.

Building the infrastructure

Typically, platforming technologies are riskier but can also provide good returns in the longer run.

Platforming technologies are the infrastructure required to build specific applications such as ubiquitous broadband communications, LPWAN, city data exchange, and e-governance workflows. Investments in specific applications such as security, traffic management or routing are easier to assess and may have faster returns.

Returns may come in the way of financial and operational efficiencies, or more likely the improvement in the quality of life or reduction in some sort of intangible costs such the as risk of crime.

When evaluating a smart city project, here’s what Lim suggests:

  • Start by asking what you want the city to be
  • Find the fundamental 20:80 problem that causes many other downstream problems in your city
  • Ask what existing policy, people, and workflows solve before assessing what technologies are available to help
  • Remember that technology may make it faster or cheaper to solve problems but they don’t solve anything by themselves

Are smart cities are more sustainable?

Governments and municipal commissions must also remember that building a smart city can also help achieve sustainability goals.

However, it depends on how the city defines sustainability and how it intends to achieve it broadly.

Renewable energy generation, usage efficiency, and storage are trending in the world of sustainability now.

The gradual lowering of costs in computing, data storage, sensors, and communications, for example, allows for better integration and for the more efficient generation and usage of energy.

Technology also makes distributed green energy generation, demand response in utilities, sensor-based energy management systems, and intelligent storage and release of energy possible as well. It’s up to the city to plan how best to make use of the technologies to turbocharge their sustainability program.

Lim will be speaking at the ConnecTechAsia summit in Singapore next week, discussing more about this subject.

The long-term view

“In my view, the most important benefits are in operational efficiency and long-term cost management. There are many examples where smart cities concepts have achieved these benefits,” said Lim.

In many ASEAN cities, e-governance and e-payments have greatly improved the bureaucratic workflow and responsiveness. Application of connected technologies and analytics in surveillance, law enforcement, and situational awareness have made cities safer or at least made crime management more tractable.

More applications are still being developed and we are still learning of more ways to apply smart city technologies effectively especially in this dynamic region.