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