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Making Smart Manufacturing Real in Malaysia

August 04, 2022
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Highlights discussion during a Smart Manufacturing event, featuring TM One Rejab Sulaiman, on where Malaysia today towards Industry 4.0 maturation.

If we take an overview of what smart manufacturing means today – it is generally described as the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation in manufacturing, which is targeted toward evolving the ideal factory of the future.

This is usually defined by industry commenters as an intelligent factory utilising robotics, AI, and internet of things (IoT) technologies. Actual implementation focuses on installing sensors to collect data of products and equipment at each phase of the production process.

Meanwhile, robots should work autonomously and collaboratively to achieve often complex actions. Each processing station and production can work independently or in collaboration and self-adjust procedures in synch with the intended process.

Summarised in a Deloitte report1, connectivity and convergence are the underlying themes in Industry 4.0 as applied to manufacturing systems. Ideally, ‘it is a leap forward from more traditional automation to a fully connected and flexible system,’ the key features of such a manufacturing system can be summarised as: responsive, adaptive, and connected.

An April 2022 release by market research firm Vantage of Smart Manufacturing Market Growth and Trends2 report expects the smart manufacturing market to reach a valuation of US$237.4 billion by 2028, driven largely by demand in the retail sector, however.

Interestingly, Asia Pacific has been singled out by the report as the fastest regional to adopt smart manufacturing. Examples include India’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, which has zeroed in on automating in-house manufacturing facilities.

Reality check

In Malaysia, the country’s digital economy focus, which includes developing smart communities among many other components, is anchored to the same transformational trajectory as the rest of the world

As smart manufacturing is another important component of the nation’s thrust, a recent industry forum set out to3 probe the current state of smart manufacturing in Malaysia.

Moderated by Karamjit Singh, CEO of Digital News Asia, the discussion featured industry speakers: Rejab Sulaiman, Vice President, Products & Innovation of TM One; Barry Leung, General Manager of SmartMore; and Prof Dr Yeong Che Fai, Chairman of DF Automation & Robotics.

Photo – Screenshot of the online event

As part of the introductory round, the panellists were asked for their opinion on where Malaysia was today as a nation on the road to Industry 4.0 maturation. On a rough scale of 0-5, the consensus was deemed to be average – 2.5. This could be related to 98% of businesses in the country being small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which could barely rate 1+, while those larger companies, already on the transformational road, were pushing 4+.

Both SmartMore’s Leung Prof Dr Yeong opined that resistance to adoption could be attributed to many factors: low minimum wage rates in the country preclude the need to adopt digital (such as robotics) on a large scale; no pressure on profit margins, and also low awareness of digitalisation, especially among smaller companies.

On the positive front however, all three speakers pointed to more digital projects and a steady increase in awareness of the benefits of digitalisation in the sector.

  • Deeply experienced with solutions across the entire range of areas such as cybersecurity, smart services, business analytics, data centre, cloud and the internet, TM One’s Rejab outlined the company’s proven track record to unlock the potential of smart services for businesses.
  • Serial entrepreneur and advocate for smart industrial automation solutions, Barry Leung said the Shenzhen-based AI unicorn business, SmartMore, set up in Singapore as part of its regional expansion, helped by a recent US$200 million investment round from Chinese venture capital companies. Slightly more than two years old, the company focuses on smart manufacturing solutions and has rapidly expanded with more than 100 smart manufacturing projects on board so far.
  • Also an associate professor at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Prof Dr Yeong said DF Automation & Robotics was founded in 2012 to develop automated guided vehicles, food delivery robots and so on.

Rejab also pointed out that due to the pandemic, manufacturing companies today said their top three (3) priorities are to build resilience for their business and operating models; to enhance operational excellence; and to automate routine human tasks.

Although digital adoption is still low; the sector is starting to actively explore these solutions.

Bringing new realities

Some of the insights from the panel were recently confirmed by reports from various analysts and commenters.

SmartMore’s Leung pointed out that the technologies underlying smart manufacturing were pretty mature.

Many commenters generally agree on the key trends arising from these technologies in manufacturing. For example, a Forbes commentary cited4 together StarUs Insights5, a platform scouting startups, has put pointed to some current contributors to Industry 4.0, a few or which are quickly noted here:

  1. IIoT, the industrial internet of things I the use of interconnected devices to collect data.
  2. 5G and edge computing, will enhance reliable, low latency connectivity; the use of private 5G networks on premises will eschew much of the need for cables and also enhance data security.
  3. Predictive maintenance, which in a manufacturing is the use of IIoT device data and artificial intelligence to monitor patterns in components and machinery and calculate which is part is likely to fail.
  4. Digital twin technology can help simulate the supply chain to see how machinery operates. According to Deloitte, 70% of manufacturers6 may be using this technology to carry out evaluations.
  5. Extended reality technologies such as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) is expected to support enhanced product design, humans on assembly lines, training and planning, and is part of a gradual move into the metaverse. One example of this an extension of which is scenario planning for both short and long term disaster responses.
  6. Automation, driven by AI, is linked to better accuracy, productivity and reduced costs. Fully automated factories, dark factories do not need humans to be on site.
  7. Robots and cobots are another aspect of automation. Cobots are those that work alongside or assist humans – such as exoskeletons to safely help manoeuvre heavy parts.
  8. 3D printing has become more efficient, scalable and cost-efficient. Also called additive printing (AM), some commenters see this as a game-changer, which could enable a shift from a centralised to a distributed model for production across different locations.
  9. Blockchain technology and distributed computing technologies such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) will help manufacturers monitor supply chains.

These all underpin the importance of manufacturing as the core building engine of our society.

In his introductory remarks, Rejab stressed that, “Today’s TM One is not just about offering digital connectivity, it’s not just about fibre, it is also about wireless – both 4G and 5G: we are building the digital infrastructure foundation that we can offer all of our enterprise and government customers. These sectors range across healthcare, banking, oil and gas, education, and others.”

TM One has built a strong foundation to help industries revolutionise and reshape businesses and cities, he said, when outlining an array of technologies, expertise and relevant skills readily available to drive transformation in Malaysia’s manufacturing sector from TM One.

“Digital transformation (DX) is a process of moving to a technology-enabled platform to positively change a business model while providing new revenue streams and after-sales opportunities.”

With smart manufacturing, the end objective of any initiative is to bring in automation by digitalising very aspect of the touchpoints from digital supply chains, connected and highly informed customers: convergence or linking of the business imperatives with operational data.

The journey comprises connecting machines to systems, monitoring and tracking, analysing the data, applying intelligent devices towards semi-automation – which is all part of a process towards full automation of production and the digitalisation of the ecosystem: one which is aiming for 100% work efficiency.

Smart skills needed

Rejab pointed out that advanced manufacturing capabilities in Malaysia will find fresh impetus with the roll out of 5G’s speed, low latency and other advantages. “Initial 5G rollouts will start with KL, Cyberjaya, Penang and so on. In terms of smart manufacturing, is expected to experience immediate impact for larger manufacturers in the beginning, especially with the use of the massive number of sensors [as in massive machine-type communications or mMTC]; time critical responses, which needs 5G specs, [as in ultra-reliable low latency communications or uRLLC]; and high capacity services [as in enhanced mobile broadband or eMBB].”

As manufacturers in some sectors are already using IoT and 5G enhanced connectivity to build more agile production – such as with automated guided vehicles (AGVs), and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) – understanding what a smart factory is important, said Prof Dr Yeong.

UK based independent research and technology organisation, TWI Ltd (formerly the British Welding Research Association7), defines a smart factory as ‘a digitised manufacturing facility that uses connected devices, machinery and production systems to continuously collect and share data. This data is then used to inform decisions to improve processes as well as address any issues that may arise.’

Since the technologies used include AI, big data analytics cloud computing and IIoT, more technical skills are needed and today’s manufacturing workers need to be hired for their brains as well, traditionally – their hands.

These skills span coding to handling AI pored robots, which can all be learned by employees and students ready to develop these competences.

Initiatives from government are of course welcome to promote the skill sets needed for smart manufacturing, said Prof Dr Yeong. “From the university perspective, we can help prepare our students, encouraging them to work on projects in smart manufacturing; government encouraging projects – universities face the challenge of providing a foundation as the scope demanded by industry is too vast.”

Pushing forward

Around the world, commenters have8 noted increasing government support for smart computing, which includes investing in IoT and industrial 3D printing research and development for IoT.

Malaysia too is rolling out initiatives such as the country’s Industry4WRD policy9.

Furthermore, although low adoption has been linked to smaller concerns, Rejab in response to a question about using smart manufacturing solutions in kampung or rural based businesses (sometimes called cottage industries in some western parts ) pointed out that: “Smart manufacturing is not just about robotics; it is about putting together solutions that are appropriate to your factory. Businesses can install IoT sensors into your plant operations, and collect insights for dashboard reporting. There are many uses for these solutions because the core lies in the use of sensors throughout your chain and the use of data from it.”

The encroaching reality is that more and more companies are facing the problems of costs, and will realise it is time to adopt smart solutions, said Prof Dr Yeong, adding that adoption levels are also aligned to raising the level of awareness, and further government encouragement will help accelerate digital adoption.

Echoing two themes noted by industry watchers, the panel agreed that trust and confidence will be needed to build awareness and dispel much of the uncertainties arising from the pandemic era

Another is to refresh scenario planning to offset future disruptions in the industry, a process explored by TM One during one of its leadership events, LEAP 202010.

Coupled with selecting the right solutions, building deeper partnerships between manufacturers and customers are important parts of transformation, affirmed TM One’s Rejab, who later added: “The next few years will indeed the most important ones for Malaysia’s manufacturing, warehousing and associated industries to build for sustainable growth and generate value in the digital arena.”

This article first appeared in Disruptive News Asia11


1 The Smart Factory – Deloitte Report —
https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/4051_The-smart-factory/DUP_The-smart-factory.pdf
2 Global Smart Manufacturing Market | Vantage Market Research — https://www.vantagemarketresearch.com/press-release/smart-manufacturing-market-149600
3 Top In Tech Series – EP23: Smart Manufacturing in Malaysia – Reality Check – YouTube — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhYWOgKD-BA
4 The 10 Biggest Future Trends In Manufacturing — https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2022/01/25/the-10-biggest-future-trends-in-manufacturing/?sh=4eb91ffd4d56
5 Top 10 Manufacturing Trends & Innovations for 2022 | StartUs Insights — https://www.startus-insights.com/innovators-guide/manufacturing-trends-innovation/
6 7 Amazing Examples of Digital Twin Technology In Practice | Bernard Marr — https://bernardmarr.com/7-amazing-examples-of-digital-twin-technology-in-practice/
7 What is a Smart Factory? (A Complete Guide) – TWI — https://www.twi-global.com/technical-knowledge/faqs/what-is-a-smart-factory
8 Top 10 Smart Manufacturing Trends for 2022 | ATS — https://www.advancedtech.com/blog/smart-manufacturing-trends/
9 Industry4WRD Readiness Assessment | Official Website of Malaysia Productivity Corporation — https://www.mpc.gov.my/industry4wrd/
10 Jumpstarting Malaysia’s digital economy with scenario planning — https://disruptive.asia/jumpstarting-malaysias-digital-economy-with-scenario-planning/
11 Making Smart Manufacturing Real in Malaysia – https://disruptive.asia/making-smart-manufacturing-real-in-malaysia/

Powering Smart Agriculture with Internet of Things

November 29, 2022
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In the digital age and Industrial Revolution 4.0, the agriculture sector is undergoing a massive change by leveraging on digital technologies, especially the Internet of Things (IoT), to create a smarter agriculture.

With the help of robots, drones, remote sensors, and computer imaging combined with continuously progressing machine learning and analytical tools, farmers are monitoring crops, surveying and mapping the fields and using data-driven insights to enjoy higher productivity, saving time, and optimising resources and efforts.

One of the systems that is increasing in popularity and creating smarter agriculture is the Smart Farming system. Smart Farming makes extensive use of sensors (light, humidity, temperature, soil moisture, crop health, etc.) to monitor farm and crop conditions, and automating the irrigation and/or fertigation system.  IoT enables devices embedded with sensors to connect and interact via the internet. These devices can be anything from pumps and tractors to weather stations and computers. Smart Farming allows farmers to monitor the field conditions from anywhere, at any time, in real time. Using the combined power of IoT with Big Data and Cloud, a successful communication, connection and transference of data between devices, are done most effectively and efficiently. Digital Connectivity and Cloud Computing are the essential enabler for Smart Farming. Digital connectivity is the foundation without which none of the Smart Agriculture solutions can take place. It is the necessary pre-condition that allows communication between devices and access by stakeholders. Meanwhile, cloud computing enables the hosting platform for IoT and Big Data as well as powers up the data analytics and visualisation.

Solving common agriculture challenges

The value of smart agriculture solutions lies in its promising ability to address some of the longstanding industry challenges – both at the macro and micro level:

  • Food security – With increased prosperity, population growth, and urbanisation, comes food security issues. These call for sustainable agricultural practices that can produce more with less resources.
  • Climate change – Climate change disrupts agriculture in a massive way, where natural catastrophes and unstable weather conditions are posing challenges to farmers globally.
  • Low agriculture productivity and yield – With greater urbanisation, reduction in arable land and the use of traditional methods of farming are leading to reduced yield, high wastage and sub-optimal productivity.
  • High operating cost – With labour shortage especially in agriculture where manual labour is seen as difficult and energy-consuming, farmers are facing high manpower cost. Meanwhile the cost of fertilisers is also increasing globally, leading to the increased need to ensure its efficient use.
  • Health hazards to farmers – the traditional way of fertilising crops, for example through manual spraying, is posing health hazards to farmers due to exposures to agricultural chemicals

The benefits of IoT in agriculture

With the use of IoT in agriculture, farmers are reaping the benefits from increased agility and data-driven farming. Thanks to real-time monitoring and prediction systems, farmers can quickly respond to any significant changes in weather, humidity, air quality as well as the health of each crop or soil in the field.

  • Integrated and technology-driven solutions to improve success rate
  • Increase domestic production and reduce agriculture imports
  • Improve farmers earnings and provide income sustainability
  • Catalyst of change for other agricultural innovation

TM One – The Right Partner for Your Next Agriculture Future

With TM One’s comprehensive and fit-for-purpose digital solutions, from connectivity right down to the digital and smart systems and applications, combined with the technical experts who are ready to guide our customers throughout their digitalisation journey, players in the agriculture sector can be assured of a smooth and seamless path to the Next Future of Agriculture.

To know more about TM One’s smart agriculture solution, visit https://www.tmone.com.my/solutions/smart-services/smart-agriculture/

Celebrating Success: Ipoh Smart City – TM One and MBI breathes new life into Ipoh

August 30, 2022
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With TM One, Ipoh's ambitions of transforming into a smart city are progressing into reality by enforcing multiple initiatives to improve the living experience of their citizens. Read what Ipoh’s Mayor, Dato’ Rumaizi, has to say about these initiatives.

“TM One is the main agency pioneering the foundation of our nation’s digital infrastructure. Through this strategic collaboration, it greatly helps Ipoh City Council in managing the city more efficiently and in an orderly manner,” – Dato’ Rumaizi bin Baharin, Ipoh Mayor.

With the blend of heritage, food and great scenery, the Lonely Planet ranked Ipoh as one of the best cities in Asia to visit. As a hotspot for tourism, the bustling city provides abundant business opportunities. The city has harnessed this potential by increasing the readiness of its digital infrastructure for mobile and fixed broadband internet.

Keeping this in mind, Ipoh envisions becoming one of the first smart cities in Malaysia by 2030. The Smart City 2030 action plan targets seven domains – Smart Living, Smart Environment, Smart Governance, Smart People, Smart Digital Infrastructure, Smart Economy and Smart Mobility – to effectively address urbanisation challenges faced by the people of Ipoh and to realise Ipoh as a Green and Low Carbon City by 2030. We are embarking on a journey to prepare for a digital future, with TM One acting as the digital enabler and provider to assist the city in its transformation.

In conjunction with the City Leap Summit 2022, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was established between The Ipoh City Council and TM One. The strategic collaboration includes several initiatives that are planned and will be implemented:

1) Smart Traffic Management with Analytics Services (STARS)

One of the most remarkable achievements is the implementation of smart traffic lights. TM One’s STARS leverages AI-enabled sensors at intersections to measure the average waiting time and identify vehicle motions, thereby adjusting green light duration based on real-time congestion, and improve the journey time. This solution also help to reduce the carbon emitted by the vehicle that is using the junction and this is in line with Ipoh Green City Vision to achieve low carbon city. Additional to the benefits, STARS is a single monitoring platform that provides relevant personnel with a centralised viewing of road conditions and equipped with real-time fault notification that triggers alarms through the Telegram chat application. This will allow the relevant personnel to take swift actions and dispatching manpower on-site when needed.

As a result, the smart traffic light solution has improved traffic flow in one of the busiest streets, Jalan Sultan Idris, by 51%. This solution also has led to a 7,500 kg decrease in carbon dioxide emissions in a month – in line with Ipoh’s goal to be a Low Carbon City by 2030.

2) TM One Mobile Field Workforce (FORCE)

FORCE satisfies the need for a fluid system to connect the call centre agents, dispatchers and service technicians to attend to citizens’ complaints and inquiries for better communication and coordination. It allows the teams to promptly respond to public complaints and emergencies by accessing real-time ticket statuses. Also, the all-in-one platform automates task scheduling and team management, tracks real-time progress of on-site maintenance and provides access to customer profiles on the go – modernizing the city’s field service solution. FORCE is envisioned to be the system support for MBI’s existing myAduan@MBI citizen app to improve its customer experience, better cost management, and internal resource management.

3) Call Centre

The Ipoh City Council aspires to establish its first digital call centre via outsourcing. The digital call centre aims to solve the challenges of  handling multilingual support requests and reduce abandoned call rates, while elevating critical issues to relevant parties when necessary. Consequently, the city can free up resources and optimise costs, while ensuring the best customer service for the people of Ipoh.

TM One Business Services (BPO) with more than 15 years of contact centre experience in Malaysia, leveraging on our Center of Expertise will be sharing the best practice; which aligned to the Industry Standards and Best Practices to help Ipoh City Council to establish the citizen engagement centre and ultimately elevate the citizen experience to the higher level.

Ipoh aims to be one of the first cities in Malaysia to enable 5G, and TM One plans to support this vision with the provision of free 5G wifi in selected areas. Additionally, a digital fibre connectivity superhighway and smart surveillance systems is being planned for Ipoh citizens.

Smart technologies help Ipoh save cost, shorten commutes, reduce carbon emission rates, and most importantly boost the quality of life for the people of Ipoh. In the long term, smart cities will spur higher citizen and government engagement as they begin to remove the communication barriers and increase the trust between citizens and officials. With the great synergy between both parties, Dato’ Rumaizi aspires to achieve more milestones in collaboration with TM One.

“My hope is that together with TM One, we will explore even more opportunities and smart technologies towards enhancing lives for the people of Ipoh.” – Dato’ Rumaizi bin Baharin, Ipoh Mayor.

Demystifying Technology: The DNA of a Smart City

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Beyond smart cities and their incredible benefits, a solid foundation should equally uphold the successful deployment of smart city technology. Find out more about how infrastructure readiness, cyber security, data analytics, and AI contribute to a successful smart city!

Smart cities are like the humans who live in them, behaving like complex creatures, constantly collecting and transporting information to make better sense of the world. In other words, they are alive.

And like all living things, smart cities possess DNA. In its conventional definition, DNA is biological, but in this context, the DNA of a smart city is entirely different. The engine that drives the ideal smart city lies in its’ usage of technology, designed to support and enhance the lives of the human beings living in them. Each city requires a unique arsenal of technological solutions, chosen to fulfil the specific needs of its citizens, economy and environment that contributes to the success of each smart city

While certain cities thrive on an abundance of Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices, intelligent kiosks and computers, others may prefer more minimalistic, hardware-lite designs. For devices to deliver life-improving benefits for their citizens, smart cities must have high-speed connectivity and IoT networks with sufficient coverage to penetrate all parts of the cities, including in-building areas. Also, successful smart cities usually have a platform and application layer that can conduct analytics to transform data into meaningful information, viewed in a command centre.

Enhancing the smart city DNA

Similar to how human abilities can be enhanced through natural growth, self-actualisation or technological aids, smart cities have ways to boost their capabilities as well. Here are a few good places to start:

Infrastructure Readiness

A hyper connected systems need to be in place for a smart city to meet efficiency, sustainability, productivity, and safety objectives. Reliable, high coverage, high speed and low latency connectivity networks form the foundation for almost all smart city systems and are things all smart cities need.

For example, a smart city should have a tech-based delivery infrastructure for public utilities such as water, electricity, waste, sanitation, sewerage and government services built on real-time connectivity. Connected technologies and IoT solutions that can constantly match the changing supply-demand gaps can rapidly improve living standards when integrated with existing infrastructure.

Local councils need to identify and prioritise the fundamental locations, facilities and infrastructure where they would deploy the millions of sensors and IoT devices and solutions in phases towards developing and building an action focused infrastructure framework masterplan or blueprint that would yield meaningful life impacting living and social environment to the towns and cities.

Cyber Security

As digital and physical infrastructures increasingly converge, integrate, and interoperate, smart cities must embed the proper cybersecurity and privacy measures in each stage of development. Local councils must also sync cybersecurity strategies across smart city networks and design appropriate security and governance structures to protect their citizens.

The thousands of smart devices are double-edged swords. While they collect and feed helpful information into smart applications, they open up vulnerabilities in the more extensive IoT network. Physical tampering with smart devices can lead to backdoors and malicious implants that can potentially give unauthorised access to black-hat hackers and cyber terrorists.

In short, smart cities that thrive on the abundance of data collected by the network of sensors need to be mindful of data security. While it helps authorities monitor the health of its city, the possibility of a data breach needs mitigation to avoid crippling of city operations. Therefore, robust security policies and management is needed to ensure that governance over sensitive and personal data is practised and automatically managed across the digital, smart services and IoT solutions and systems deployed.

Data Analytics

Even though data can be tough to handle, smart cities are valuable reservoirs of data. Effective data sharing and access to this data can unleash new opportunities to innovate and generate social and economic benefits. This practice is estimated to create the above benefits worth between 0.1% to 4.0% of GDP.

All data from devices, people, systems, and the environment go through a transformation process involving data management, integration, machine learning, and advanced analytics to become information that addresses real-time incidents and assists city planning.

One key area that benefits data analytics is the smart government component. For example, conventional government censuses are expensive to implement and often collect inaccurate data, leading to the low effectiveness of newly designed policies and initiatives. With accurate and reliable data, governments can better understand the problems, and improve policy-making abilities by solving the root causes.

Other areas of benefit include financial health, improved outcomes, operational efficiency, public engagement, crisis management and others.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the piece of the puzzle that puts the word ‘smart’ into smart cities. By combining modern machine-learning, natural language processing (NLP), and computer vision with huge data lakes, AI is primed to drive efficiency and solve most problems local councils face.

As AI systems are fed with tons of data, the technology can identify areas of improvement and recommend an effective solution. For instance, AI-intelligent surveillance systems can provide continuous protection for citizens and effective system operations of the cities. This system uses facial and object recognition, behavioural and movement analysis algorithms and objective-detection programs to analyse live video feeds and identify potential risks or threats.

Therefore, gaining extra insights into niche aspects of a city by using AI is the natural step in the evolution of modern-day smart cities.

Imagining Malaysia’s smart city future

In Malaysia, many States have already started implementing smart city projects with the federal guidelines of Malaysia Smart City Framework, MSCF. These plans mainly revolve around transportation and cashless payments – two crucial focus in society.

Moving forward, smart city planners must adopt a systems approach, meaning that authorities need to compartmentalise the goals of adopting a smart city.

At TM One we applaud the commitments and efforts of various local smart city initiatives and we understands the enormous tasks and planning required. Our talents, partners and solutions are ready to help local governments turn their blueprints into citizen-focused action plans that will move the needle in terms of turning Malaysia into a digital-first, smart-city nation.

Trends & Digital Strategy: 6 Key Factors in Building a Successful Smart City

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Smart cities are the way of the future and Malaysia has the means to evolve into a prosperous city. However, what are the necessary steps for us to get there? This article discusses the important factors in developing Malaysia as a smart city.

Five years ago, the conversation surrounding smart cities was in its infancy, with most topics revolving around demystifying the technology behind them. Today, cities around the world have moved past demystification and are taking great strides in implementation. Globally, there are several shining examples we can turn to for inspiration;

  • Vancouver’s initiative in setting up accessible Wi-Fi in 755 public spaces, along with wired bike-sharing and video feeds,
  • Hong Kong’s enhancement of digital security with biometric measures employing face and voice recognition across the city,
  • Seoul’s installation of 50,000 sensors supporting the IoT (Internet of Things) to transfer urban life data into big data analytics.

While we are witnessing the transformation of several cities worldwide, what are the required factors that make a city ‘smart’?

6 key success factors of a smart city

1) Excellent vision

Developing a smart city is not a task that can be sustained with an ad-hoc approach. Instead, a holistic vision is required to steer decision-making and guide action plans toward implementing realistic solutions that deliver tangible results that can enhance the lifestyles and living quality of all citizens within the city.

The Malaysia Smart City Framework (MSCF) has offered several initiatives such as MyDigital, GTMP and JENDELA as official ‘textbook approaches’ or suggested priorities. Local councils or Pihak Berkuasa Tempatan (PBTs) can refer to these initiatives in developing the smart city vision that best fits their cities.

2) Solutions that realistically solve pain points of citizens

Behind the development of a successful smart city, lies an excellent core vision that is developed based on the citizens’ real-life experiences. The application of technology is moot if it does not bring tangible benefit to its end users.

The common occurrence of pilot projects being abandoned, with selected technologies being seriously under-utilised, is a result of decision-making without a clear understanding of the real-life pain points experienced by the end-user, the citizens themselves. For a smart city to truly elevate our lifestyles and quality of living, the solutions we choose must be people-centric and based on actual needs.

3) Sufficient funding

Critically, PBTs will require sufficient funding to set the ‘smart city’ ball rolling smoothly. However, based on a survey conducted during the previous TM One City Leap Summit 2020, only 2.6% of PBTs surveyed indicated that they have sufficient funds, while 42% of them responded that they required funding assistance.

While procuring sufficient funds may be an issue, we can look to Indonesia to overcome the same challenge. Under West Java’s Digital Villages Theme, the West Java Provincial Government started their digital transformation of rural fisheries by installing basic smart auto-feeders in 4289 ponds across West Java. Instead of immediately using high-end tech solutions, the deployment of basic technology allowed the fishermen to empower their own productivity, resulting in a 30 to 100% increase in earnings and effectively generating their own initial capital for more cutting-edge solutions. On top of that, there was the added benefit of increasing digital literacy among the fishermen to be more receptive to newer technological solutions.

4) A great project management office

With a vision outlined and action plans identified against the available funding, the next key factor in creating a successful smart city lies in the capabilities of the project management office to turn the vision into reality. Key traits of a great project management office are:

  1. A strong “citizens-come-first” mindset: PBTs need to commit to continually steer the smart city vision toward solving the needs of citizens.
  2. A spirit of partnership & collaboration: PBTs will need the support, guidance and inputs from several parties such as academics, urban planners and tech experts to fully execute their vision.
  3. A definitive but flexible blueprint: Smart cities aren’t built in a day. A project management office needs definitive roles, regular review processes and transparent policies to ensure that its smart city development journey is sustainable and future-proof.  

5) Buy-in from all stakeholders

It takes more than a day and more than just a single person to build a smart city. In fact, stakeholder management is critical in garnering support and alignment toward the outlined vision of smart city development. Effective stakeholder management requires a deep understanding of all parties who will benefit from implementing smart cities. These benefits include more efficient public services for citizens, data-driven disaster mitigation strategies for local governments, and more diverse revenue streams for investors.

Communication and outreach are vital in building the required understanding among stakeholders. Examples of campaigns designed to encourage stakeholder involvement include PLANMalaysia’s Libat Urus Pemegang Taruh involving government agencies, stakeholders and research teams for cities such as Ipoh, Johor Bahru and the Federal Territories.

Learning from our Indonesian neighbours again, the West Java Provincial Government has taken on a ‘Pentahelix Collaboration’ model, with initiatives geared towards encouraging collaboration and participation from authoritative bodies, media bodies, businesses, academics and local communities.

6) Good governance

Good governance is the final thread capable of tying all of the above factors together. Implementing strong top-down leadership and transparent policies can crystallise each PBTs smart city vision. Good governance can also help develop sustainable funding schemes according to each PBTs needs while delivering the talent required to project management offices. It will also support communications campaigns to encourage the stakeholder buy-in needed for successful execution.

After several years of conversation, the time is ripe for Malaysia to transform its cities. The rakyat already stands to gain much more from a smart city transformation. With the effects of climate change already rearing its ugly head at our mobility, agricultural production and air quality, Malaysia is ready to accept solutions that promise to solve day-to-day difficulties. However, the advancement of smart city technologies stands to take us even further beyond problem-fixing – smart city technology now can elevate Malaysia towards a cleaner, safer, more sustainable, higher-quality way of living.

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