Given the fragility of global conditions and increasing emphasis on using digital innovation to build a safer and more sustainable future for the betterment of people, we are seeing a greater focus on actualising smart communities around the world.
Malaysia’s focus on smart cities and smart communities is also gaining momentum and reflects the broader trend. The global smart cities market size is estimated to grow from US$457 billion last year to US$873.7 billion by 2026, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.8%, according to a Markets and Markets report,
Taking a few steps back, the unveiling in 1996 of Malaysia’s digital economy vision started with Cyberjaya, seeded as the country’s smart city, within a national vision to become a digital economy hub starting with the MSC Supercorridor (MSC Malaysia) platform.
As a smart city zone, Cyberjaya was tasked to become a testbed to nurture emerging technologies and to become a preferred tech investment location, according to Najib Ibrahim, managing director, Cyberview Sdn Bhd, in an interview with Disruptive Asia last year.
Jumping ahead a few years to last year, we saw two launches to spur Malaysia’s smart city aspirations: the Smart City Handbook: Malaysia on 22 June 2021 by Malaysia’s former housing and local government (KPKT) minister YB Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin and the UK’s high commissioner, H.E Charles Hay; closely followed by the soft launch on 29 June 2021 by technological partnership think tank MIGHT (Malaysia Industry-Government Group for High Technology) of its Smart City Outlook 2021/22 (MSCO) report.
Continued significant smart city developments include the Smart Selangor initiative, aiming to make it the most liveable state within the region by 2025; Smart City Iskandar Malaysia, and various digital programmes under DBKL (Kuala Lumpur City Hall) under its Kuala Lumpur Smart City Blueprint 2021-2025.
In the same week of MIGHT’s report, the government announced the appointment of Swedish ICT company Ericsson as 5G development partner to build an end-to-end rollout of an SWN (single wholesale network) in Malaysia at a total cost of RM11 billion (US$2.65 billion), according to a statement by Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB) – which is the government entity overseeing the rollout of MyDigital.
Interestingly, Malaysia’s announcement of its national 4IR policy, which was also in the first week of July, posited a smart city framework. As envisaged by Malaysia’s Smart City Framework under the 12th Malaysia Plan 2021-2025, of which MyDigital is a component, the digitalisation of society and the economy is seen as vital to accelerate Malaysia’s recovery and to enhance the quality and safety of life.
However, at the time of writing, the regulator Ministry of Communications and Multimedia (MCMC) and the Finance Ministry tabled a memorandum slated for 11 March 2022 to the Malaysian Cabinet to decide on the possibility of opting for a dual wholesale network (DWP).
Regardless of the rollout approach, the 5th generation wireless technology is viewed by industry and governments as positing the potential to spur smart city growth and bring more communities into the digital arena.
Recently, the country’s housing and local government minister Dato’ Sri Reezal Merican said, “At the top of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government’s agenda is to promote the philosophy of ‘Liveable Malaysia’ in line with the 12th Malaysia Plan. ‘Liveable Malaysia’ emphasises on ensuring that the rakyat’s [the people’s] wellbeing is safeguarded and defended within the purview of our ministry. Among the key focus of ‘Liveable Malaysia’ is mainstreaming digitalization in the service delivery of local authorities as well as adopting advanced technology in the development of cities within the Malaysia Smart City Framework.”
Panel: Keys to a Smart Digital Economy
His comment came in late February of this year during the United Kingdom’s virtual Smart Cities Mission to Malaysia, serving as the newest spur to review the smart cities and smart communities aspects of Malaysia’s digital transformation agenda.
Held 22-24 February, the three-day mission’s objectives were two-fold: increasing collaborations to encourage smart city development in local government and housing and related fields and introducing offerings from about 40 UK smart city solutions providers.
Speakers at the panel discussion (see video below) on capitalising technology to build a sustainable and smart digital economy included Asia Pacific Digital Trade Network regional director Christopher Bush (acting as the moderator, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) vice president Ir Dr Karl Ng, Tech London and Global Tech Advocates founder Russ Shaw CBE, and TM ONE executive vice president Shazurawati Binti Abd Karim.
In her opening, Shazurawati pointed to AI as constituting a key driver today among emerging technologies, enabling new levels of efficiencies for businesses and organisations of any size as well as its use in daily lives through mobile apps for shopping, transport, banking, customer service through chatbots, cyber security detection and mitigation, and so on.
Citing a recent IDC report – IDC MaturityScape Benchmark: Artificial Intelligence in Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan) – that revealed 42% of Asia Pacific enterprises were deploying AI albeit in isolated projects, she affirmed that: “AI offers a core capability in digital transformation and maturity levels in the region, and another research study assessing Asean suggests that AI may add one trillion dollars to the region’s GDP by 2030 if we do this right.”
Russ Shaw concurred with her comments on the importance of AI and added 5G, blockchain, among others. “We need high-speed connectivity to enable emerging technologies across enterprise and public sectors, including smart cities.”
Indeed, founder chair of Outreach UN ITU Prize ACM for good Global Summit Stephen Ibaraki writing from his pro bono work involving more than 100,000 CEOs, investors, experts and scientists, concludes that: “By 2030 AI will measurably influence and impact more than 8.5 billion people, across all sectors, and human and diverse earth ecosystems on an unprecedented scale.”
Building Happy Cities
“Technological impact on Malaysia with technologies through smart city adoption is rightly balanced with sustainable – green technology – considerations. Malaysia is blessed with a lot of ongoing development from an infrastructure perspective,” commented Shazurawati, citing the use of technologies such as IoT sensors to detect, predict and mitigate local climate challenges such as haze, regular flooding, soil erosion, and traffic management.
Speaking to other societal aspects, she said: “Safety and convenience of the community is a high priority: For example, using AI and smart service solutions, we believe that integrated smart city surveillance such as using CCTV is only really useful with the use of analytics and AI through an integrated operations centre. Beyond public safety, we can use it as a tool for cohesive disaster management, which will be enhanced with the coming of 5G. The volume and required speed of 5G will be part of the perfect recipe for smart city developments.”
Shazurawati added that Malaysia’s adoption would need to embrace solutions beyond CCTV such as drones to cover larger surveillance areas such as ports, platforms and refineries.
“During the pandemic, we learned to use drones to deliver medical supplies to remote areas. With regards to 5G, she said that Malaysia’s aim is to roll out 5G coverage to 80% of the population by 2024 in order to deliver impactful opportunities and benefits through services for smart city development.”
Malaysia’s smart digital economy testbed cases demonstrating the potential of 5G hark back to 2019/2020 when MCMC – together with various telecoms stakeholders such as Telekom Malaysia (TM), Celcom Axiata, Digi Telecommunications, Edotco Malaysia, Maxis Broadband, U Mobile, Petroliam Nasional, and YTL Communications – held 5G Malaysia Demonstration Projects (5GDP) in six states involving an initial investment of RM143 million.
At the time, Malaysia envisioned 100 use cases embracing nine verticals – agriculture, education, entertainment/media, digital healthcare, manufacturing and processing, oil and gas, smart city, smart transportation and tourism. Some of these use cases demonstrated some of the benefits that digital technologies with enhanced communications such as 5G would bring, such as enhanced security, safety and economic opportunities to communities on the island of Langkawi and its potential as a smart island.
Shazurawati said, “[Since then] TM ONE has worked with several council municipalities with surveillance, smart traffic, smart lighting, smart building projects are part of the matrix to enhance the quality of life, to use technology to raise happiness levels of a city – to develop happy cities.”
This approach bodes well with sentiments from other industry leaders. Closing the digital divide and benefitting humankind were two themes in a recent interview with UN agency ITU (Telecommunication Standardisation Bureau) director Chaesub Lee. “There is a lot of talk about AI in emerging technical areas, but we want to find a practical approach,” Lee said. “We bring someone having problems they need to solve, and we bring someone who wishes to provide the solution, and then we have them meet to facilitate how to utilize AI and ML to help humankind.”
Similarly, Jouko Ahvenainen, a pioneer in digital finance and data analytics, opined that smart city models often overlook one key component – the people in them that though ‘one main objective of smart cities is to collect data to improve and develop services, the value of such developments to people and their privacy appears to have a lower priority’.
TM ONE’s stance is to offer building blocks to the private and public sectors – such as smart premises, smart agriculture, smart manufacturing, and so on – to develop smart happy cities, said Shazurawati.
Digital Foundation & Partnerships
MDEC’s Dr Karl echoed these trends by detailing some of the projects MDEC has been encouraging. The availability of data, balanced with security and privacy concerns, remains one of the challenges. The need for policy and government direction coupled with skills and proper awareness are other factors to use technology to enhance productivity and generate wealth.
Co-creation, partnerships are vital to moving forward, Shazurawati said. She added that global spending on smart city solutions could reach US$2.5 trillion by 2026.
“To better unleash innovation, connectivity is fundamental and we cannot live without this. To deliver services, we need to build these on a strong digital foundation – formed by cloud, data centres, cybersecurity and smart services,” she said.
Shazurawati agreed with Dr Karl that data and the correct exchange of data is a powerful enabler of executing more citizen services and applications.
“We need to be open to explore new business models with a human-centred, integrated approach geared towards raising happiness levels. A strong, sustainable digital foundation with collaboration and new ways of working is the way forward,” she said.
“Citizens deserve a one-stop service with single-sign through a digital ID on for services as part of an effective smart city model, Shazurawati added. “Public and private partnership platforms will certainly accelerate development.”
Russ Shaw echoed these statements and added that public and private capital investment is a critical element for smart economy and smart city development. “The importance of growth capital from both sectors is needed to enable the innovation and implementations discussed in the panel. How to encourage businesses of all sizes and Cale to measure their environmental impact- this is the importance of data as Shazurawati and Dr Karl have been speaking eloquently about.”
Smart cities operate through the collection of data to improve and develop services. Establishing smart cities relies on smart data – or in other words – cohesive connections between advanced technologies, a flow of data combined with relevant culture change, and administration processes will help to heighten Malaysia’s sustainable smart city development: a trajectory fit to meet the demands of the 4th Industrial Revolution era.
Speaking back in 2017, Hazmi Yusof, managing director, Malaysia and senior vice president at Frost & Sullivan, said: “Communication service providers and network service partners play a key role in forming the technological backbone to rollout smart cities. Singtel in Singapore and Telstra in Australia have laid out US$500 million and US$100 million, respectively, to enable smart city technology platforms and infrastructure. Telekom Malaysia in Malaysia plans to build a data centre and provide cloud computing and smart services in a technology park,” said Hazmi back in 2017.
He also said, “Connectivity will be a key enabler while designing an omnichannel experience platform across all touchpoints including online and mobile. Data from sensors will enable new technologies to integrate softer aspects, such as customer perception and citizen awareness.”
In the pre-pandemic era, Frost & Sullivan pointed to 10 cities in Asia Pacific that were posited to become smart cities by 2025.
Technology and governance will be among key enablers for participants in the smart city ecosystem in Asia-Pacific, he said. “Several government agendas in this region are driving the building of smarter cities in Singapore, Japan, China, and South Korea. Investments are expected to grow from US$55.6 billion in 2013 to US$260 billion in 2020,” he said. “Eight emerging cities also have standalone smart city projects, which when scaled-up, can achieve the smart city status by 2030 and beyond.”
The analyst firm’s definition is that: ‘Smart cities are cities built on “smart” and “intelligent” solutions and technology that focuses on managing and improving its citizen lives in a responsible and sustainable manner.’
Together with the critical importance of balancing the pace of urbanisation with the need to manage planetary sustainability, a smart journey will separate the winners from the laggards.”
As part of its smart cities and inclusive growth programme, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2020, released a paper, which, acknowledges the timeliness of utilising the benefits of smart cities as “particularly critical to help cities and countries manage and rebound from this unprecedented global crisis.”
Moving forward, Najib, in his recent Disruptive.Asia interview asserted that “Cyberview is one key thread in Malaysia’s smart city story”, adding that the ‘new masterplan has been designed to provide dynamic synergies between companies from various industries and entire value chains, addressing one of the gaps faced by businesses today: working in silos. Its four distinctive zones will optimise productivity and amplify growth with the three tech clusters to enhance liveability, ultimately transforming Cyberjaya into the centre for global tech powerhouses and promising startups.’
In 2021, COVID-19 related challenges were added prompts to Malaysia’s public authorities to embark on a track to refresh smart city initiatives using digital smart services to upscale service levels, citizen wellbeing, and especially important at this time – to forge the space for sustainable economic growth and recovery.
TM ONE, in accord with other industry players, sees the smart city concept pivot from the ‘nice to have’ to the ‘must implement today’ for Malaysia.
Furthermore, an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) paper in 2020, released as part of the organisation’s programme on smart cities and inclusive growth, reinforces the timeliness of smart city development as “particularly critical to help cities and countries manage and rebound from this unprecedented global crisis.”
A consistent sentiment in most industry and public conversations is that the meaningful development of smart communities and cities to deliver real benefits to people and societies depends on highly collaborative public-private partnerships, supplemented by academia.
The year 2021’s COVID-19 related challenges also helped to encourage Malaysia’s public authorities to refresh and accelerate smart city initiatives to maintain as well as upscale service levels, citizen wellbeing, and especially important at this time – to forge the space for sustainable economic growth and recovery.