It takes a village to build a Smart City

  • Cities are turning towards technology to address urban challenges and enhance quality of life
  • City planners need to understand the importance of data as a source of valuable, actionable insights


It takes a village to build a Smart City


It takes a village to build a Smart CitySMART Cities are on the rise — faster than ever. Cities today are increasingly turning towards technology to address urban challenges and enhance citizens’ quality of life, especially those in densely populated metropolitan areas. This is no different in Asia Pacific, home to some of the world’s most populous cities.

For instance, Jakarta is in the midst of upgrading nearly 90,000 street lamps for its Smart Street Lighting system, which will enable city officials to efficiently monitor the lighting infrastructure and remotely manage illumination levels to match different needs by district.

South Korean telco operator SK Telecom has also recently completed a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) deployment to cover 99% of the population and support new tech-enabled public services.

At the forefront of Smart Cities is the island city-state of Singapore, who takes it a step further with its bold Smart Nation programme: the world’s first nationwide initiative to integrate tech-driven solutions into every aspect of a Singaporean’s life. By tackling tomorrow’s problems today, Smart Nation aims to improve the lives of citizens, create more economic opportunities, and build stronger, closer communities.

At the heart of a Smart City lies the Internet of Things (IoT), the proverbial bricks that lay the cornerstone for a hyper-connected and intelligent city.

IoT has gained significant traction over the past few years with its promises of enhancing our lives, dominating conversations and even inspiring dedicated events such as IoT Asia 2017, which gathers technology visionaries and experts to discuss the opportunities and challenges in IoT.

What makes a city… smart?

The concept of IoT is a simple one, to connect devices to the Internet and other systems. However, a Smart City goes beyond connectivity. It seeks to make sense of IoT to maximise the return on investment, create new value that can transform end-user experiences, and pinpoint where technology is making the most impact — for the ultimate purpose of reaping its full economic and social benefits.

While many aspiring Smart Cities do have the breadth of technology for IoT, the current ecosystem still stands fragmented and prevents interoperability between devices, services, and people. This potentially translates to tedious rollouts, difficulties when connecting two systems together, and discordant objectives within an organisation.

Strong collaboration between different entities, such as business- and IT- minded personnel, is key for Singapore to ensure a smooth journey on an otherwise bumpy road towards becoming the world’s first Smart Nation.

Here are three key considerations business leaders and city planners should keep in mind for a successful IoT deployment.

Defining a clear IoT strategy while driving a shift in mindset

It is a common misconception that IoT projects are solely the IT team’s responsibility. However, technology alone is not enough. Consider critical factors in an implementation process, which include budgets, resources, and operations.

These will require the buy-in of other business units — from finance to sales and marketing — and more importantly, the senior management and the boardroom.

Without a clear and unified IoT strategy, IoT initiatives run the risk of being just standalone projects instead of a deployment that can help drive strategic business goals.

Hence, as stakeholders, it is important for the entire organisation to realise the significance of IoT for their business so they can work together to determine the success of IoT projects.

Only when organisations align technology with a common objective, be it to address end-user needs or enhance existing service portfolio, can they deliver a unified, outcomes-based approach and facilitate purposeful IoT innovation.

Taking on fragmentation in IoT technologies

IoT is already becoming today’s reality, but complexities in IoT deployment and technology fragmentation are holding it back from truly flourishing. Many organisations dived into IoT without grappling with the resource requirements that come with it and this proved costly and time-consuming, especially when it comes to connecting many disparate systems that are unable to interoperate.

According to McKinsey&Co, of the total potential economic value IoT provides, interoperability is required for 40% on average and for nearly 60% in some use cases.

Ideally, IoT vendors working on different aspects of the ecosystem, such as storage, platform, apps, integration, and security, should complement one another and collaborate to develop best-of-breed solutions that can knit multiple platforms together into one single management console — a platform of platforms — and enable an end-to-end approach to IoT.

This will help organisations speed up time-to-market and free up resources that can be meaningfully channelled into service innovation and drive greater services and experiences for end-users.

Turning data into actionable insights

Big data was all the rage a few years ago and has incited many organisations to amass large amounts of data, both structured and unstructured. IoT itself is built upon the idea of collecting and making sense of data. Yet according to a recent Aruba IoT report, 39% of organisations are not analysing data within their networks — missing on insights that can boost business decisions.

What we need today is not more data, but more intelligence. For city planners looking to build Smart Cities, they need to understand the increasing importance of data as a source of valuable and actionable insights to continuously improve their services.

Visualise a single platform to aggregate the data of 150-200,000 sensors, running on a spectrum of platforms including elevators and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), and use artificial intelligence or machine learning to improve efficiencies, maximise equipment lifecycle and more for better building management.

Maximising the value of data is a four-pronged approach:

  • There needs to be a strategic data management solution in place to manage and centralise business-critical data streaming in from tens of thousands of sensors
  • Dedicated data analysts and data scientists go a long way to help bridge and facilitate exchanges between public and private sectors
  • Organisations need to understand and visualise data to detect patterns and pinpoint outliers for next best steps
  • Insights should be leveraged effectively to improve current services and offerings, identify new end-user demands and identify new revenue streams

As Singapore continues to chart its path towards becoming a Smart Nation, key players have to recognise that while Smart Nation is much bigger than IoT, IoT is still a key element to realising this vision.

Getting there requires even more robust collaboration between stakeholders from both the public and private sectors — governments, technology vendors, service providers, communities, and even citizens.

That is why Singapore’s Smart Nation vision may come to fruition faster than predicted as the nation pulls together its multi-billion R&D investments, world-renowned universities and fast-growing collaborative community of start-ups and technology giants to foster an ecosystem of innovation.

Charles Reed Anderson is the IoT Asia 2017 Conference Chair and founder, Charles Reed Anderson and Associates, Singapore.


Related Stories:
3 essentials towards capitalising on Asia Pacific’s IoT supremacy
Asia to lead smart home market by 2030, despite weak take up in SEA
Singapore one of the most sustainable and smartest cities in the world: Report
Singtel launches smart lifestyle solution


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