Vision, not technology, the key to better cities: SAP
By Gabey Goh December 5, 2013
- Cities remain best engine for any nation to attract investment, develop industries and drive economies
- Key to building better cities is a solid vision with community participation; with technology as an enabler
GREAT cities are built not on technology but rather the vision of leaders and the power of community.
That was the sentiment expressed by Vivek Puthucode (pic), vice president for Public Services at SAP, during a recent media briefing in Kuala Lumpur.
“From a government’s perspective, it’s not just about the political will to improve and optimise cities, but an economic imperative. People no longer expect just work to be provided by the cities they live in, but also quality of life,” he said.
Cities remain the best form of engine for any nation to attract investment, develop industries and drive economies. The vision of an ideal city does not differ greatly from country to country, with aspects such as good transportation, traffic management, housing, healthcare and security topping the list.
Vivek noted however that one could see big differences between Asia and Europe, with the latter paying host to many old cities that are now optimising their operations and resources, while the former has a mixture of both old and new cities taking shape.
The term ‘smart city’ refers to a developed urban area that creates sustainable economic development and high quality of life by excelling in multiple key areas: Economy, mobility, environment, people, living, and government.
Urban performance currently depends not only on the city's hard infrastructure but also, and increasingly so, on the availability and quality of knowledge communication and social infrastructure.
Vivek pointed out that there are 200 smart city projects in China with a total of 800 expected in two years, adding that in a recent McKinsey report outlining top cities in 2015, the majority were situated in China, India and South-East Asia.
“Getting this right is imperative, with the benefits to be gained well recognised. Part of the reason for making cities smarter is to enable the optimisation of limited resources and that’s where we believe SAP comes into play. We can help governments and partners take advantage of technology to provide a better future,” he claimed.
Vivek claimed that 63% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) output touches an SAP system, with companies in industries such as utilities, financial services and oil and gas using SAP in some form to carry out their work.
“SAP clearly has a role to play and we have a responsibility to help governments optimise and formulate policies toward better cities, and we have the innovative technologies that could help in this,” he said.
Vivek shared that SAP is already talking to existing customers in the public sector and all have visions in terms of ramping up the next stage of urbanisation and improving their cities.
“How it’ll translate into roadmaps moving forward, we don’t have an indication of this yet as there are many challenges that must be considered -- such as who has better authority over a particular issue,” he said.
Vivek said that SAP is seeking to provide the public sector with enterprise-class solutions, not just the software and hardware but solutions based on industry best practices.
He added that some initiatives could be implemented quickly, such as those centred on physical infrastructure. But when it comes to softer infrastructure, it is also about inclusion of all stakeholders, bringing mobility and greater access to the public into play.
“Cities have to start thinking like a business or a startup in getting closer to citizens, with existing resources. The only way to achieve that is to use technology such as social media channels and leveraging existing data while respecting user privacy,” said Vivek.
A key aspect of a ‘smarter’ city is the level of engagement and participation from the people living in it, and Vivek pointed to one of SAP’s offerings, CityApp, as a possible solution.
“It’s not just about the app, it’s about an idea and how one monetises it. For governments, it’s about making use of information assets that exist and enabling evidence-based policy-making processes,” he said.
“Technology innovations now offer governments the ability to process massive amounts of data in real time, to get information to people where they are and offer it in such a way that’s not locked down to capital expenditure limits,” he said.
Vivek noted that bringing all the available information and data together in a meaningful way is a challenge, with the amount of data not the issue but rather the quality of it.
SAP’s CityApp, which remains in development phase, is touted to be a one-stop shop for citizens to stay updated about their city and for authorities to inform and engage.
Features include traffic updates, public transport schedules, events and availability of public facilities for residents. It offers authorities tools such as transport planning optimisation and citizen polling, in addition to targeted policy testing and implementation.
“The tools are here to enable more impact on the ground and to run better services. It’s not just about better administration but moving from effective administration to good services, with a heavy focus on improving citizen services moving forward,” he added.
Vivek said that SAP is already working with a few cities in Europe to trial the product and hopes to achieve similar trials in South-East Asia soon. In Malaysia, he shared that the company is already in discussions with some city councils but declined to share further details.
Other solutions intended for public sector deployment which SAP offers include an electronic medical record system and its accompanying user app that provides healthcare professionals access to patient records from mobile devices. The company has also developed apps for emergency and disaster response, and law enforcement incident notification.
When asked about whether cost is an inhibitor to cities moving faster to adopt technology solutions, Vivek said it is never about the cost but rather the value-add that can be multiplied.
“It’s about getting that ‘click’ in the mind-set of leaders in realising what can be achieved with technology. But first and foremost it’s about getting the vision right and vision is hard work, with both industry and media having a role to play in helping formulate it,” he said.