We are nurturing a balance between community growth and needs, technology and infrastructure, and environmentally sustainable development. This is what a digital ecosystem is to us.
Irvan Yasni, chief technology officer, Sinarmas Land.

As the world’s population grows bigger, its cities are becoming more populous, too. Today, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2050, this figure is expected to increase to as much as 66 per cent – that’s almost six billion people, all just trying to get the best out of themselves and their environment.

How do city planners and service providers keep on top of the needs of modern, technology savvy citizens? And how do city dwellers – busy, career-driven people – balance the demands of work, life and home in a world where the services and different aspects of daily life are starkly fragmented?

Increasingly, technology is the answer.

Making cities smarter

The cities of the world aren't just absorbing more people – they’re getting smarter, too. Visionary city leaders are harnessing the power of technology to digitalise and connect their services, and improve city living in the process.

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Until now, one authority has governed the train system that impacts your commute to work; another has managed the garbage disposal that determines when you must remember to put out your trash; another has overseen where and for how long you can park your car. These services are co-ordinated from operational and data silos and they don’t always go smoothly.

The digitalisation, connection and automation being rapidly ushered in by the fourth industrial revolution have given rise to the growth of the ‘smart city,’ where the fragmented aspects of modern living are being reconsidered, disrupted and redesigned into a seamless and integrated whole. And they’re happening all over the world.

An urban evolution with a digital heart: Singapore

For some established cities, such as the sovereign city-state of Singapore in South-east Asia, becoming a smart city is about transforming and evolving what it already has.

Singapore’s populous of 5.35 million people is arguably one of the most digitalised in the world. Eighty-eight per cent of households have internet access. There are 10.7 million wireless subscriptions, and figures for mobile phone penetration (the number of devices per person) sit at 149 per cent. 

In October 2016, the Singapore government established the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) to deliver a Smart Nation strategy.

“GovTech is building common infrastructure, data and video analytics platforms to support data collection and processing via a nationwide sensor network. In building this nationwide network, GovTech will help public agencies optimise their sensor deployment needs, enable sharing of data collected and use data analytics to support needs like urban planning and incident response,” says Jacqueline Poh, GovTech’s chief executive.

It will touch upon almost every aspect of modern everyday living, from streamlined utility bills and public transport to real-time municipal events information and emergency alerts. And smartphone apps are often the medium for the message.

One transport app, MyTransport.SG, helps users plan their commute more effectively with access to real-time bus arrival times, traffic news and journey planners. Another, OneService, channels reporting on municipal issues across Municipal Services Office (MSO) partner agencies through one common platform. Another, SGSecure enables users to report suspicious sightings and receive emergency alerts. It also contains an e-learning package helping users prepare for emergencies.

Fusing digital technology and intelligent design

Cities such as Singapore and Bumi Serpong Damai City (BSD), in the Republic of Indonesia, are fusing intelligent design with technology to optimise livability, workability and sustainability.

They share a common desire to make life as easy, integrated and as successful as possible for its citizens. They also have in common their choice of technology partner for the journey: global telecommunications leader Cisco.

Cisco’s Smart+Connected Communities initiative is Cisco’s answer to using intelligent networking capabilities to weave together people, services, community assets and information into a single pervasive solution. The company acknowledges the network as the essential platform to help transform physical communities to connected cities. It also encapsulates a new way of thinking about how cities are designed, built, managed and renewed to achieve social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

Growing a digital ecosystem: Sinarmas Land in Indonesia

For other new developments, such as BSD City, in the Republic of Indonesia, being a smart city is about designing and growing a future city from the ground up, in a fundamentally organic yet digital way.

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This 6000-hectare business and residential development has its own offices, schools, universities and shopping, lifestyle and entertainment facilities. A digital hub spanning more than 25 hectares that is thought of as the “Silicon Valley of Indonesia” is at its business heart. It already has 160,000 residents, a and another 140,000 students studying at its educational institutions.

BSD City is modern and organised, but also lush and green, and prettily cradled on its eastern side by the Cisadane River. Its architecture is curved and organically inspired, and its energy comes from renewable sources. It’s the perfect place to grow a digital ecosystem – and that’s exactly what its creators, property developers Sinarmas Land, aim to do.

“Our approach to technology and development with BSD City is not just about building and providing infrastructure services. We are also nurturing a balance between community growth and needs, technology and infrastructure, and environmentally sustainable development. This is what a digital ecosystem is to us,” says Irvan Yasni, chief technology officer, Sinarmas Land.

For BSD City, Cisco’s smart city development team ensured a free high-speed public wi-fi service is available to all. It means digital workers can work anytime, anywhere, but still be connected. It also means there is no need for companies to build private data centres; BSD City’s public cloud service can meet their needs.

IT that improves urban living

“Today’s cities face a variety of challenges, including job creation, economic growth, environmental sustainability and social resilience and technology can be a powerful tool to start addressing these challenges” says Shashank Luthra, Director, Digital Transformation Office, ASEAN for Cisco.

Over the past few years, the definition of “Smart Cities” has evolved to mean many things to many people. Yet, one thing remains constant: part of being “smart” is utilising information and communications technology (ICT) and the internet to address urban challenges.

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