Smarter and Greener: Transforming through Technology
A session at the WCS 2021 Preview on 29 January 2021, 4:30pm Singapore Time (GMT +8)
Amidst global threats and disruptions, how can we unleash the potential of technology for smarter and greener cities? Our speakers shed light on how cities can lead the global technology development process through identifying its greatest challenges, establishing trust with the industry, and facilitating an agile procurement framework.
- Dr Mike Short CBE (Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for International Trade, United Kingdom)
- Dr Duong Anh Duc (Vice-Chairman, Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee)
- Mr Chew Men Leong (President, Urban Solutions, ST Engineering)
- Mr David Wallerstein (Chief Exploration Officer, Tencent Group)
- Ms Hwang Yu-Ning (Chief Planner & Deputy CEO, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore)
Cities, Be Pro-Active in the Global Technology Development Process
Amidst global threats and disruptions, how can we unleash the potential of technology for smarter and greener cities? A WCS 2021 Preview webinar sheds light on how cities can lead the global technology development process through identifying its greatest challenges, establishing trust with the industry, and facilitating an agile procurement framework.
Technology: A Gamechanger for Smart and Green Cities
Mr Chew Men Leong observed that smart technologies are a gamechanger as they bring connectivity, resilience and sustainability for smarter and greener cities, and yet will “not cost us the Earth”. For instance, district cooling systems, on-demand street lighting and smart energy meters can enhance resource usage efficiency and enable citizens to be more conscious of their energy consumption. Dr Mike Short shared how the United Kingdom uses remote healthcare consulting and crowd monitoring to control the Covid-19 situation and deploys IoT pollution sensors to tackle climate change. In Ho Chi Minh City, Dr Duong Anh Duc shared how technology has improved the quality of forecasting and provided smart utilities to serve its people and businesses.
Cities Need to Lead the Global Technology Development Process
Despite this, Mr Wallerstein observed that the technologies being developed often do not address the complex, evolving needs of cities. As Ms Hwang Yu-Ning put it, technology holds a lot of promises but unlocking them continues to be a challenge, and cities should not chase technology without clarity. Dr Short noted that a good local governance structure is needed to set clear visions and measurable targets. Mr Wallerstein challenged cities to play a pro-active role in developing technologies by making it a priority to think long term about the challenges looming in the horizon. “The end goal should not just be a smart city,” he advised, “the end goal is to make sure that you are addressing your greatest challenges, your highest priorities, the issues that you must solve.”
Let the Industry be your Partner
Conveying the city’s challenges to the industry is just as important as identifying and defining the challenges. Dr Short shared how the UK government intends to invest around 22 billion pounds in R&D to support their Clean Growth strategy globally by 2024, focusing on low-carbon innovations such as cleaner vehicles.
However, Mr David Wallerstein warned that cities have not done enough in guiding the industry to develop the technology for their needs. Mr Chew agreed, urging city governments to engage the industry as partners. Ms Hwang suggested that the government could bring in incubators to co- create solutions and co-develop capabilities, to which Mr Chew noted that this could quickly prove the potential of technologies, and if so, enable quick scaling from the regulatory sandbox to actual deployment. Dr Short also added that if cities clearly defined their intentions, investors would be willing to invest significant funds to prove the potential of new technologies.
Agile Procurement Framework for Agile Technology Deployment
Procurement is also part of the innovation ecosystem. Mr Chew suggested that governments adopt an agile procurement framework with a proof-of-concept tender. This will encourage industry to innovate technologies while giving governments the flexibility of adopting the most feasible solution. Mr Wallerstein also highlighted that start-ups have been struggling because they need to move fast given their small scale, but current procurement processes move at a much slower pace. A fast-track tendering process with pilot contracts could significantly improve collaboration between governments and start-ups and stimulate the innovation economy.
Smart Cities are Integrated Ecosystems
Dr Short stressed that smart city is not a smart city unless elements such as technological tools and stakeholders are brought together into an ecosystem. He illustrated the strong smart city ecosystem in UK, formed by the close collaboration between technological companies and universities to develop sensing technologies and innovations. Dr Duong shared how Ho Chi Minh City’s multi- pronged approach brings together various initiatives into a concerted action plan, such as educating its people and businesses on the purpose of a smart city; building up a shared data warehouse to support the Intelligent Operation Centre for provision of digital services; fostering research to achieve an Artificial Intelligence (AI) ecosystem; and training human resources in the ICT industry.
Trusted Approach for an Integrated Ecosystem
In turn, transparent and socially-just governance of data is key to an integrated ecosystem. Dr Short highlighted, “unless data is better shared, some of the technological tools may not be so effective.” Sharing how mobile data was used to analyse the success of London’s lockdown, Dr Short outlined the need for a trusted approach where data contributors “know the benefits and potential outcomes of data sharing” and “strong data governance to ensure no data leakage or inappropriate data usage.” Mr Wallerstein added that sharing data insights with the population and letting them know that any risks are being addressed can also help to strengthen trust. Ms Hwang concluded, “a lot needs to be done to tighten the collaboration, ensure that the governance structure is in place and make sure that we are working together as trusted partners.”