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December 11, 2018 / 7:29 AM / in a month

The Digital Transformation of Infrastructure

Southeast Asia is one of the world’s fastest growing regions, and its cities are at the heart of this growth. Yet while urbanisation is fuelling progress, rapid expansion can strain a city’s infrastructure. 

Despite containing one-third of its population, the region’s cities drive more than two-thirds of its economic growth.(1) As their metropolitan society develops greater digital literacy and smartphone penetration, "smarter" solutions are necessary to coping with the rapid growth and urban demands of its residents.

“Smart cities are where infrastructure and technology come together,” says Sharad Somani, Partner & Head, Infrastructure Advisory at KPMG. “It’s about how to make infrastructure smarter so that it adapts to the needs of the citizens in a fashion that enhances their quality of life.” 

Formed in 2018, the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN), is a collaborative platform where cities from the ten member states work towards building smart and sustainable urban development. The ASCN also aims to catalyse bankable projects with the private sector and secure funding and support from external partners, including multilateral financial institutions. 

While the ten ASEAN countries are working together to achieve smart city goals, each city has its unique characteristics with different legacy infrastructure systems and diverse levels of technological maturity. 

City operations in Bandung, Indonesia’s third-largest city, have been enhanced thanks to an IBM command centre. Video analytics automatically notify security personnel if irregular activities are detected on the city’s CCTV systems. The city also uses a GPS tracking system to monitor traffic or track assets such as public buses, ambulances or fire trucks.(2)

 

Indonesia’s State-owned Enterprises Minister, Rini Soemarno (L), along with China Railway Corporation (CRC) General Manager, Lu Dongfu (2nd L), receive a briefing on the progress of the Jakarta-Bandung (KCJB) Fast Train project in Jakarta, Indonesia May 2, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto.

And in Vietnam, the World Bank has approved the Ho Chi Minh Green City Transport Development Project, which is expected to improve traffic management and introduce smart cards for public transport.(3) Separately, the city’s transport department has launched a digital traffic app aimed at informing commuters of traffic congestion.(4) 

Smart solutions address almost every facet of a city dweller’s life including infrastructure, energy, security, environment, healthcare, and transport. 

In terms of infrastructure, Singapore houses the world’s largest underground district cooling network at Marina Bay. The system pipes chilled water from a centralized location to buildings for air-conditioning, which reduces energy consumption by 40% and is equivalent to removing 10,000 cars from the city’s roads each year. 

Singapore’s electricity supply grids run through a network of underground tunnels protected by sensors that detect water seepages and fires. Autonomous inspection vehicles are also used to detect any maintenance needs or mishaps. 

 

A passenger passes through an automated immigration control gate at Changi airport's Terminal 4 in Singapore April 30, 2018. The automated gates ease lines and enhance the customer experience. REUTERS/Thomas White

These projects are an example of infrastructure innovation borne out of necessity in a country where land is scarce. As Cindy Lim, Managing Director of Keppel Urban Solutions points out, “The first challenge in building smart cities is the accessibility to land.”  

“Even if we have the best solutions – without land, as well as supporting policies to develop, to plan and to bear the design vision - ultimately, it just exists on a laptop.” Keppel Urban Solutions, formed in October last year, aims to be an end-to-end integrated master developer of smart, sustainable precincts in Asia-Pacific.

In the realm of security, smart city innovations will monitor and coordinate infrastructure and services to protect residents from external and internal threats. Through the use of sensors, cameras and drones, governments can direct crowds to safety or even predict and mitigate the effects of natural disasters. 

ZWEEC is an example of a company that is leveraging smart solutions to safeguard Singapore’s water security. 

By using fish as a bio-indicator, video imaging and analytics of the fishes’ behaviour are used to detect any contaminants in the water, with the company’s technology already exported in China, Australia, Abu Dhabi and Taiwan.  

“Smart cities of the future need to have an added layer of security to safeguard the city and its water,” says Cecilia Chow, Deputy CEO and co-founder of ZWEEC. “Data analytics can provide an early warning for any potential contamination spread in the network, and enable better and more informed decisions to be made for a safer and more secured city.” 

In order to achieve inventive approaches to manage a city’s growth sustainably, the private sector needs to play their part as well, as evidenced by companies such as Keppel Urban Solutions and ZWEEC.

Hence, governments need to create environments where different players are encouraged to use innovation to grapple with public issues. 

“Companies like Grab and Uber are so successful because they addressed shortcomings in transport at the right place, right time, for the right fee,” says KPMG’s Somani. “At the same time, this unlocks potential resources that were unused.”

 

A heatmap showing the demand for Grab services in Southeast Asia is displayed during Grab's fifth anniversary news conference in Singapore June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su

For many Southeast Asian countries, this critical turning point to embrace "smarter" solutions needs to be now, says the McKinsey Global Institute in its report Smart cities in Southeast Asia. "If growth is well managed, it can be a force for progress in human development," reads the report.(5) "But if it is not, many social ills may take root, diminishing the quality of life and the environment along with it."

As a heterogeneous region comprising ten countries, Southeast Asia is the hallmark of diversity, where each country can extract lessons from each other’s developments. Smart city solutions have the ability to build more sustainable and greener paths, and the time for the region to grasp these opportunities is now. 

This piece of content is brought to you by Enterprise Singapore and Infrastructure Asia

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(1) “Smart cities in Southeast Asia”, McKinsey Global Institute, July 2018, www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Industries/Capital%20Projects%20and%20Infrastructure/Our%20Insights/Smart%20cities%20in%20Southeast%20Asia/MGI-Smart-Cities-in-SouthEast-Asia.ashx 
(2)“The business of creating Asia’s smart cities”, EDB, Oct. 2018, https://www.edb.gov.sg/en/news-and-resources/insights/innovation/the-business-of-creating-asia-s-smart-cities.html
(3)“Startup My City – Smart and Sustainable Cities in Asia”, The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2016, http://www.social-innovation.hitachi/ph/about/startupmycity/pdf/EIU-Startup-My-City-Briefing-Paper.pdf
(4)"HCM City Launches Digital Traffic App”, Vietnamnet, Jan 2017. http://www.english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/society/171646/hcm-city-launches-digital-traffic-app.html
(5)“Smart cities in Southeast Asia”, McKinsey Global Institute, July 2018, www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Industries/Capital%20Projects%20and%20Infrastructure/Our%20Insights/Smart%20cities%20in%20Southeast%20Asia/MGI-Smart-Cities-in-SouthEast-Asia.ashx

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