SMART is now a popular buzzword. It appears in all sorts of phrases, from smart city to smart manufacturing and smart homes.
New technologies, mostly driven by the Internet and digitalisation, have created this interest in making everything intelligent and automatic.
One can see how the word smart can do wonders in attracting participation at conferences and forums. Many are eager to learn more about the smart concept, especially the potential business opportunities that it offers.
Selangor was among the earliest to declare a focus on becoming a “smart state”. This is definitely something that should be supported and encouraged. In fact, all the states should plan to emulate what Selangor has initiated. Indeed, the nation as a whole should already be thinking about managing the country in the “smart” way.
We can think of a host of issues that constantly harass the people that could be better dealt with applying the smart concept.
Recent media reports on pollution in Johor, the water supply disruption in the Klang Valley as a result of river contamination, flash floods, traffic congestion, garbage disposal, snatch thefts and Internet money scams, just to mention a few, illustrate the many difficulties communities nationwide constantly face.
But of all the problems we face, I think the one at the top of the agenda of smart state ambitions should be public safety. Few would disagree that most people aspire to live in safety and security. If the smart state plan can prioritise matters that concern public safety, then everything else will follow.
Take the issue of air and water pollution. Almost on a daily basis we read about such incidents in the media. The pollution is caused by both the public and industry alike.
The public, obviously, needs constant education and awareness programmes. But tackling industries that pollute, often deliberately, is a massive challenge. Illegal factories are the usual culprits, but legal ones can’t be discounted either. Though the laws and regulations are there, enforcing them is difficult. Often times, politics get in the way.
This is where an intelligent system for monitoring the wrong-doers is needed.
The issue of illegal factories impinges on public safety. It has been years since the government introduced the zoning system for industries. Hazardous ones are located at some distance from public activity, while lighter industries have their own safe areas to operate in. But there is apparently a disconnect between the plan and its implementation.
If we take a drive around Ampang and Kuala Lumpur, for instance, we can see evidence of many illegal light industry companies, especially welding works, that operate within housing areas. Obviously, the authorities that approve the siting of such factories incorrectly are oblivious to the plan. A smart state would implement a smart way to monitor such activities.
Another aspect of the smart state is managing the large amounts of household and industrial garbage so they do not pollute the environment.
At the moment, much of the garbage is sent to landfills and dump sites that have become a source of environmental pollution. And with the expansion of housing areas, many of these dumpsites have come too close for comfort to residential areas.
In Germany, the Fraunhofer Research Network which comprises more than 70 research centres, invests substantial sums of money to use smart systems to convert wastes, including garbage and industrial residue, into energy that is useful for the community.
The desire to be a smart state should be lauded. But a clear plan is necessary if the desire is to materialise.
It is also important that the formulation of the plan should involve public scrutiny. After all, the success of such a plan would hinge on strong public cooperation. Otherwise, all such declarations would remain just so much rhetoric.
PROF DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Fellow, Academy of Sciences Malaysia
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