Smart cities in ASEAN: Powering good amidst tough times | Inquirer Business

Smart cities in ASEAN: Powering good amidst tough times

/ 12:39 PM February 22, 2021

Last March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic, naming Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19, as the disease that’s responsible for the outbreak. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the majority of nations to go on emergency lockdowns, thereby bringing global economies at an almost standstill and severely disrupting many supply chains, businesses, and even lives. Because of the intense economic impact of COVID-19, it hastened many governments’ move to digital transformation, as well as spurred the incessant search for new technological tools and urban solutions that can address the current crisis and hopefully drive the next stage of economic growth.

A common response among many governments across the world to the COVID-19 pandemic has been to fast-track the development of their smart cities with the technological and urban innovations associated with the smart city seen as powerful tools for crisis management and, perhaps more importantly, a source of growth and income in the post-COVID-19 global economy.

In a report released by the McKinsey Global Institute, smart cities are expected to create 1.2 million – 1.5 million new jobs, prevent 260,000 – 270,000 kilotons of greenhouse gas emissions, and give rise to US$9 billion – US$16 billion savings on cost of living across ASEAN.


By addressing these urgent economic and environmental challenges, digital services and technologies can help future-proof smart cities against future crises and challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic has in fact laid bare the importance of smart cities, with the digital technologies that have facilitated telecommuting and global financial transactions proving to be crucial in the continued functioning of many urban economies.

ASEAN Smart Cities Network

In Southeast Asia, smart cities will play an increasingly important role in generating economic growth and solving complex urban challenges.

Faced with rapid urbanisation, Southeast Asia is expected to see around 100 million people migrate from rural regions to cities. This is complicated by rapid population ageing in countries such as Singapore and Thailand and the emergence of a middle class in other countries such as Vietnam and Myanmar.

Despite the diversity of their populations and their different stages of economic development, ASEAN member-states are increasingly united by their belief that smart cities may hold the key to the urban and socio-economic challenges that they face.

From the Digital Philippines initiative to Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative, governments across Southeast Asia are driving digitalization and smart city transformations. These transformations will have a significant impact on economic development and crisis mitigation across the region.

During the 36th ASEAN summit that was held recently, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong argued that ASEAN can “use the ASEAN Smart Cities Network to exchange ideas and experiences on using technology to fight COVID-19. For example, technology to enhance contact tracing”.

Established on 28 April 2018, the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) aims to encourage greater cooperation among the 10 ASEAN member-states to foster smart and sustainable urban development. Central to the work of the ASCN is a focus on improving the lives of ASEAN citizens through technology.

Driving Technological Innovation

With its extensive experience in building public infrastructure such as electric power, water, sewage and industrial systems, Hitachi has long been involved in developing the urban infrastructure of cities across Asia.

In the spirit of co-creation, Hitachi has actively engaged industry actors with the aim of developing a deeper understanding of the data and business needs of emerging smart cities in the region.

“Driving Digitalisation Ecosystems in ASEAN” was a themed online forum recently co-hosted by Mr Van Tang, Director and Head of Business Development & International Partnerships – APAC at Hitachi. This forum involved discussions with industry leaders on data collaboration in the real estate and retail industries. Industry engagement forums like these help with uncovering insights that lead to better planning and enhancement of urban solutions.

Such collaborative efforts are crucial for developing the urban and technological infrastructure of a smart city. This infrastructure includes hardware components such as sensors, cameras and smart grids as well as software elements such as data analytics, artificial intelligence and a smart city ‘dashboard’.

While the embedding of sensors and smart grids in the urban infrastructure will allow governments to continuously collect data to design and run more efficient cities, cutting-edge software will allow for the rapid analysis of data, allowing both governments and businesses to gain a better understanding of citizen and consumer preferences.

With 110 years of experience in operational technology and 60 years of experience in the information technology industry, Hitachi has developed an extensive network of global partners that is focused on co-developing technological solutions to address emerging economic and societal needs.

In the Philippines, Hitachi is exploring how it can provide smart urban solutions to its emerging smart cities. This is achieved through Integrated Infrastructure as a Service (IIaaS), which involves providing consultancy services to real estate developers and co-developing smart city solutions with these developers.

This represents a ground-up approach that focuses on the integration of various technologies into a smart city project. Through IIaaS, Hitachi has been involved in the implementation of smart city solutions in various smart city pilot projects. Some of these solutions include a water supply and sewage monitoring and control system, AI-driven customer and sentiment analysis for marketers, the optimization of supply chain and delivery operations through AI and IoT solutions, as well as integrated life-care solutions such as elderly-monitoring systems and cloud-based medication administration services, among many others.

Hitachi Social Innovation is POWERING GOOD

A successful smart city should ideally ensure the happiness of its citizens and enhance their quality of life, as well as provide opportunities for personal and community growth that can enhance citizens’ social, economic and environmental values. Thankfully, we now possess the technological possibilities for building smart, sustainable, and liveable cities of tomorrow.

By focusing on powering good, Hitachi’s role in smart city development has very much been focused on enhancing and improving the lives of people through social innovation. Hitachi seeks to study the real problems faced and solve them via technology, providing effective overall solutions to make lives better and to make the world a better and happier place to live in.

From enhancing public safety through smart surveillance and video analytics to optimising energy use with smart energy management systems and developing greater connectivity through efficient and reliable transport networks, there is great potential in combining Hitachi’s urban solutions and technologies with the built environment.

A smart city is more than its digital and urban infrastructure. Smart city technologies and social innovations can contribute towards the happiness and well-being of citizens. For instance, governments can collect public feedback and data through advanced data analytics platforms and apply these insights to perform more ‘people-centric’ city planning.

A good example of this is Hitachi’s efforts to use data and people-flow analysis to understand human flow within the city to ensure more effective location of public amenities such as parks and childcare centres. This will greatly enhance citizens’ quality of life and contribute to greater collective happiness.

Find out more about Hitachi’s social innovation business.

Dr.Woo Jun Jie is a policy researcher with expertise in economic governance, urban policy and resilience.


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