COVID-19 Makes Smart City More Urgent
Professor Dato Dr Ahmad Ibrahim
Fellow Academy of Science
Head of Research, Confexhub
The concept of smart city is not new. It has been around for a number of years now as the world pursues sustainable development. In the UN-SDGs, sustainable cities come as the goal number eleven. Many cities around the world have in fact adopted much of the technologies and tools to better manage their cities. As we are all aware, there are many things cities have to efficiently manage so that the people living in the cities can enjoy a secure and healthy living. Some of the challenges of cities include traffic congestion, pollution, waste handling, water disruption, flash flood, crime, fire safety, commercial matters and infectious diseases, just to name some. Getting city administration to migrate towards smart city is not easy. Change as we know is always difficult. Most are already comfortable with the current system and are therefore resistant to change. Unsure about financing is another reason why changing to a smart city is slow.
The Ministry of Housing and Local Government, KPKT, launched the nation’s Smart City Framework in 2019. It contains all the rationale for smart city, as well as the many steps needed to move the agenda forward. A department under KPKT, PlanMalaysia has been tasked to oversee the implementation of the Framework. I recently listened in to a virtual forum on what has been happening so far. Jointly organised with MIGHT, the forum showcased the progress made by some township in adopting elements of the smart city framework. Both Putrajaya and Cyberjaya shared their strategies on making their cities smart. They spoke about some challenges they faced implementing the initiatives developed under their blueprints. A feature which was common in both was the fact that to effectively implement the projects, active engagement with the communities was critical. And it is also important to have buy-in from the city authorities as well. A presentation from a private company spoke about how to monitor the progress of projects and initiatives in each smart city program using digital technology. The concept of the digital twin has been practised in some cities to plan and monitor projects initiated under the smart city umbrella program.
What became clear from the forum papers was that the success of any smart city initiative would depend a lot on the willingness of the city administration to embrace change. What was shared by a company in Singapore in another forum was that, the first step in getting cities to migrate to the smart city concept is a mindset change not only among the administrators but also among the citizens. Once that is done, then only to look at the many processes in city management and identify which of the processes are most amenable to digitalisation and smart operation. These would then be selected as the initiatives. Another speaker from a private company spoke about how the smart city agenda suddenly came to life after the appearance of the Covid-19 pandemic on the scene. In fact, it has somehow created more urgency for cities not only to go digital but to deploy the right internet-driven technology to manage the pandemic. Arising from the pandemic, city dwellers become more aware of the usefulness of the internet in contact tracing and digital ordering of food and other merchandise.
There is no doubt that technology is at the core of all the smart city solutions. Digital technology dominates the range of technologies deployed in the many components of a smart city. It is all about the assimilation and analysis of data. Sensor technology is used in all the systems to capture live data. The IoT captures such data using internet technology. Then big data analytics would make sense of the data enabling more precise decision making. One of the papers spoke about having a central command centre to have first-hand knowledge of what is happening in the city. Any problem detected is alerted through the early warning system for the appropriate action. Problems can include natural disasters such as floods and landslides, traffic deadlock, crimes and vandalism. With the advent of the pandemic, smart cities are now looking for sensors to generate data on public health monitoring.