What are the connected city challenges facing Singapore and Malaysia today?

Demand Logic discussing the companies's plans
in Southeast Asia at the investor panel

Ten UK companies recently visited Malaysia and Singapore as part of the Connected Cities Trade Mission, organised by Innovate UK and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI). In the second of a 3-part report IoT Now gets their views on smart cities in the region.

Innovate UK’s Niraj Siraf is clear. “The two countries face quite different challenges. Malaysia is one of the region’s fastest developing economies – it grew by 6% in 2014. And with that kind of growth the country is experiencing the challenges of rapid urbanisation such as congestion, pollution and public services that are struggling to keep up, says Jeremy Cowan, editorial director of IoT Now.

These are new, present and real and as a result, most major cities are now implementing Smart Cities programmes making this the perfect time for brilliant companies from the UK to offer their support.”

“Singapore has a different context. It’s a crowded, barren island with no natural resources so they’ve have always had to do things differently, to innovate, in order to survive. And so they continue to do. With their Smart Nation programme they have the ambition to become the world’s first smart country. And the key challenges the Prime Minister has identified are an ageing population, mobility and data, and underpinning that cyber security.

Demand Logic’s chairman, Sonny Masero
Demand Logic’s chairman, Sonny Masero

In January, the PM announced an increase of 18% in research funding, totalling UK£9 billion (US$12.96 billion) over five years, with Urban Solutions and Sustainability, and the Digital Economy amongst the priority themes. It’s also one of the largest venture capital markets in Asia and has strong eco-system for start-ups,” Siraf added.

Demand Logic’s chairman, Sonny Masero sees the greatest regional challenges this way: “For Singapore the priorities are around travel, waste and water supplies – how to make the most of limited resources and avoid congestion as an island city-state. This involves investment in smart infrastructure and engaging citizens, and it requires additional skills in engineering and software development to do this successfully.

“The need to build connected cities skills capacity is the same in Malaysia, if not more pronounced as they attempt to develop several smart green cities,” he continued. “Without these skills the investment in smart infrastructure and the IoT will not deliver the expected return and it will not engage with the citizens of these two nations. Within the ASEAN region Singapore is a leader in the development of connected cities and is investing in new innovation. As this important economic zone comes closer together the opportunities to extend from Singapore into other countries in the region should be significant.”

Sustainable transport

“Enabling sustainable transport and walking infrastructure is a huge challenge in many south east Asian cities,” said Carbon Trust’s Tim Pryce, head of Public Sector, “although some good projects are underway, for example developing walking and cycling infrastructure in Petaling Jaya New Town, who we are working with on city climate planning. Many areas are impossible to walk through, reducing liveability and tourism potential as well as contributing to congestion and pollution. Information on good walking routes from mass transit stations was scarce – this is an easy win for a city like Kuala Lumpur.”

Carbon Trust’s Tim Pryce, head of Public Sector

“Adapting to climate change is another big challenge – there was a heatwave underway while we were there, and temperatures in the region have risen by nearly one degree over the last 50 years. This presents real challenges in a climate that is already hot and humid for most of the year. Problems with flash urban flooding have also been growing in many cities in recent years; there is a need for both good accessible data on flood risk for city planners, and better techniques to flood proof buildings and infrastructure.”

Ordnance Survey ’s Carsten Roensdorf, head of Advisory Services, also had clear views on the greatest connected city challenges facing the two countries. “One particular challenge for Malaysia is the ability to deal with natural disasters, which have become an increasing threat across the country. There is also a challenge around transportation in the heterogeneous geographies that include dense, growing urban centres such as Johor Baru and the metropolitan Kuala Lumpur area with their hinterlands.”

“The challenges I see in Singapore are more about coordinating and connecting the variety of initiatives as part of the Smart Nation space and to provide a framework for data that drives connectivity across different application areas. Standards, policies and data platforms will be necessary to harness the power of information. One of the greatest challenges to achieve this will be to create interoperability between different technical solutions.”

Virtual 3D model

Pryce reported that The Singapore Land Authority has already captured a detailed virtual 3D model of Singapore, which can be used not only to visualise data (for urban planning, scenario planning and environmental analysis, for example), but also to organise and access data across the city state. “It is great to see that the data has been captured using the international CityGML standard for virtual 3D models.

Telensa’s Chris Johnston, business development manager
Telensa’s Chris Johnston, business development manager

This will help government agencies and private businesses in Singapore to leverage the connecting power of the model and further develop and update it as a resource for everyone in the city state. Key next steps are the progression of the current collaboration between government agencies to share 2D and 3D geospatial data together with the integration of big data and IoT sensor feeds,” he maintained.

Telensa’s Chris Johnston, business development manager, put it succinctly. “The global challenge of smart cities also applies here. How to justify the expense of expanding smart city pilots beyond a few downtown streets. How to develop a foundation business case to allow innovative sensor applications to experiment and flourish.”

According to Dean Gifford, CEO of Preliminal, “Malaysia has a technological appetite and a passion to implement it that seems held back by its local politics. Both Singapore and Malaysia have a huge amount of data that is in need of better visualisation in order to make better and more consistent decisions with.”

Aralia’s Eleanor Wright, Marketing and New Product Design, added, “Malaysia has the task of bringing utilities and transportation systems up to the standard of an advanced economy.

“Singapore should find ways of mitigating pressure on resources, such as consumption of fuel and water, and operating public services in an efficient manner, so that the country can employ the citizens in wealth-creating activities.”

The author of this blog is Jeremy Cowan, editorial director of IoT Now

Comment on this article below or via Twitter: @IoTNow_ OR @jcIoTnow

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