Digital DNA of smart cities

How will the effective sharing of key information make a future smart city more liveable? — Image by Freepik

The term smart city gets thrown about a fair bit these days, but have you ever wondered about what needs to be in place before a city becomes, well, smart?

Even though Malaysia is now moving speedily towards a truly connected future, one issue stands in the way of establishing smart cities here.

Currently, every segment of the country’s smart city ecosystem is being built separately due to a lack of funding, shortcomings in existing legislation (or the will to create new ones), or simply because we still lack the necessary components to integrate existing legacy systems.

The result is a siloed approach that beats the main purpose of smart cities in the first place: connectedness.

So, it’s crucial to take a good look at data-sharing policies at a national level and enable a data-sharing future to help urban areas thrive on innovation – especially when it comes to vital aspects like public transportation.

Wong emphasises that the value of a smart city depends on what the people choose to do with the technology, not just how much technology it may have. — QUEENIE WONGWong emphasises that the value of a smart city depends on what the people choose to do with the technology, not just how much technology it may have. — QUEENIE WONG

Queenie Wong, director of customer advisory at the SAS Institute, points out that the overarching mission of a smart city is to optimise city functions and drive economic growth while improving the quality of life for residents using smart technology and data analysis.

“Value is given to the smart city based on what the people choose to do with the technology, not just how much technology they may have,” she says, adding that this is why the collection and effective use of data are essential.

She also feels that the ability to accomplish most, if not all, of one’s daily tasks on pocketable personal devices is another key factor in good smart city logic.

“Since the recent pandemic situation, most Malaysians are using QR codes. Now, many won’t even touch a physical menu anymore but instead scan the code and browse the digitised information through smartphones.

“But even as far back as 2017, small hawkers and stalls in China were already using QR pay because everyone’s on WeChat and Alipay even back then!”

Wong says the situation has changed dramatically in Malaysia as more and more are embracing cashless payment solutions like Maybank’s MAE and Touch n’ Go – even at the warungs and markets.

“This is because the key benefits are just so obvious, and businesses are no longer required to handle cash at the premises during sales transactions.”

Wong hopes now that all the different smart payment solutions will become even more integrated.

“This only happens when, behind the scenes, the ability to support the data of how the transaction is being done, how one validates the transaction, and full system compatibility across all parties involved is enhanced.”

Thus, she feels that it’s important that all involved are given better and more timely access to data so they can decide what they want to do – upsell, cross-sell, or even call out a risk or a suspicious activity.

“It’s all those things done with a degree of difficulty physically in the past. Now, with things being all electronic and digital, it’s a lot easier. More information is in the cloud, not everything just yet, but things are moving that way!”

Wong also points out that Malaysians have to secure all that data properly.

“Users need to be educated on the things that one can and cannot do and how to use the cloud to its fullest advantage.

“In a smart city environment, companies can provide better services to customers because they have all that data at their fingertips, they know what their clients are doing, and they can improve the services they offer to the public based on that data.

“And when we move towards digitisation in a smart city context, consumers will also have very high expectations when it comes to the availability of services.”

But behind the scenes, accounting is happening between banks, vendors and customers. There’s also verification of the identities in the transactions and the actual confirmation of payment.

Yet for the customer, it just happens quickly and smoothly. Such is the power of data analytics and the infrastructure that’s built around it.

“Applying for loans or a credit card, or arranging to do a fixed deposit online – all these services are available because one’s personal data and financial credibility are calibrated through a dataset,” says Wong.

“And this data will tell the banks that based on your financial behaviour and credit rating, you will be good for the loan or service or not. And if you are good for the loan, then what’s the best offer for you?

“All this is happening because banks and businesses are doing things in a smarter way now. So you see, smart cities are not just about advanced infrastructure, it’s more about growing the number of services that are now available to the people living in them!”

Wong also points out that there’s a lot of preparation to be done by companies to have, say, electric or even autonomous cars on our roads, for instance.

“Now there’s a lot of talk and planning about where to position charging stations, how far a typical EV can go on a full battery, and how often their owners drive them.

“All this is just some of the data that we need to collect and process to make the whole EV experience more effective and user- friendly.”

Even so, Wong feels that Kuala Lumpur is already a smarter city even now.

“But the word ‘smart’ always comes with a benchmark, though. Just like the term ‘easy banking’ – what is this really?

“KL’s infrastructure could be better connected, but we are getting there with the wealth of new transportation lines and new transport hubs. And all these have to be more data-driven,” she says.

She claims that Malaysia has a lot of smart infrastructure, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, and Cyberjaya, yet these resources are not fully tapped into.

“What’s the point of having these smart buildings when not many people know about them and experience them properly?

“Then, the ‘smart’ part of these developments doesn’t get to ‘learn’ so that they may improve the services on offer at these addresses.”

In the end, all technology adoption needs to be a two-way street, even for a smart city of the future.

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