To build a smart city calls for clever think­ing from all sides

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - NI­CHOLAS BROOKE The au­thor is chair­man of the Hong Kong Science & Tech­nol­ogy Parks Cor­po­ra­tion.

The no­tion of a smart city is cer­tainly not new and the con­cept of the city as a com­plex sys­tem dates back to sev­eral decades. How­ever, the mo­ti­va­tion to cre­ate smart cities has only gained real mo­men­tum in re­cent years as as­so­ci­ated tech­nolo­gies have be­come read­ily avail­able, com­ple­ment­ing the vi­sion and mo­ti­va­tion of gov­ern­ments and city plan­ners. While the def­i­ni­tion of a smart city can be rather am­bigu­ous, cen­tral to its devel­op­ment is the ef­fec­tive use of in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies (ICT). Through ICT, re­sources can be more ef­fi­ciently used, lead­ing to cost and en­ergy sav­ings, a re­duced en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact and bet­ter qual­ity of life.

The im­por­tance of ICT has not been lost on the Hong Kong SAR Govern­ment. In 1998, as part of its ef­forts to de­velop a blue­print for ICT devel­op­ment in Hong Kong, the govern­ment re­leased the Dig­i­tal 21 Strat­egy. Fast for­ward to the pre­sent, the fourth Dig­i­tal 21 Strat­egy is now be­ing pre­pared, and will be is­sued in 2014 af­ter the govern­ment com­pletes its con­sul­ta­tion with the pub­lic. From such feed­back, and rec­om­men­da­tions made by a govern­ment­com­mis­sioned con­sul­tant, a more pro­gres­sive and evolv­ing strat­egy is ex­pected. This will take into con­sid­er­a­tion the lat­est tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments, in­clud­ing wire­less and multi-plat­form tech­nolo­gies, cloud com­put­ing and the In­ter­net. Un­der the theme “Smarter Hong Kong, Smarter Liv­ing”, the strat­egy will fo­cus on four key ar­eas, specif­i­cally, the pub­lic, which in­volves the pro­vi­sion of free dig­i­tal ID, as well as Wi-Fi in schools to pro­mote e-learn­ing; the busi­ness com­mu­nity, by de­vel­op­ing plat­forms for com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial use lead­ing to greater R&D ef­forts; the ICT in­dus­try, by as­sist­ing com­pa­nies to tap the main­land and over­seas mar­kets; and the pub­lic ser­vices, by means of de­vel­op­ing an “in­tu­itive, per­son­al­ized multi-plat­form by de­fault ap­proach for e-ser­vices”.

While the lat­est Dig­i­tal 21 Strat­egy is cer­tainly en­cour­ag­ing, and high­lights the govern­ment’s com­mit­ment to de­vel­op­ing ICT as an in­dus­try in it­self, in turn help­ing to trans­form Hong Kong into a smart city, the govern­ment might take into con­sid­er­a­tion the suc­cesses and set­backs of other cities around the world. Dur­ing Smart City Expo World Congress 2013 held in Barcelona in late November, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from ma­jor metropoli­tan cen­ters in­clud­ing Seoul and Rio de Janeiro — Rio win­ning the “Best Smart City 2013” ti­tle at the Expo — of­fered in­sights into smart city devel­op­ment. Among the key mes­sages con­veyed in­cluded the need to not only have the in­fra­struc­ture in place, but also the abil­ity to de­liver the gen­er­ated data to peo­ple from all walks of life so that they can gain per­sonal benefits. More­over, the afore­men­tioned top­down ap­proach where a cen­tral­ized op­er­a­tion mon­i­tors the ac­tiv­i­ties of the pub­lic is an ap­proach that is only half-com­plete. A bot­tom-up method­ol­ogy that reaches out to the pub­lic, draw­ing their feed­back and di­rect in­put is equally im­por­tant. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of smart tech­nolo­gies al­lows such en­gage­ment to be eas­ily achieved while be­ing a cost-ef­fec­tive al­ter­na­tive to in­fra­struc­ture re­forms.

The con­cept of en­gage­ment cer­tainly res­onates with Hong Kong Science and Tech­nol­ogy Parks Cor­po­ra­tion. Ac­tively in­volved in bring­ing to­gether the pub­lic and busi­ness sec­tors, it ap­pre­ci­ates the im­por­tance of di­a­logue as well as pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity. Given that the smart city in­dus­try will be worth an es­ti­mated $400 bil­lion by 2020, the sig­nif­i­cance of such ef­forts can­not be em­pha­sized enough.

Ul­ti­mately, the suc­cess of the ICT in­dus­try and Hong Kong’s con­ver­sion into a smart city de­pend on the in­puts of all cit­i­zens. The ef­fec­tive devel­op­ment and de­ploy­ment of tech­nolo­gies from in­dus­try play­ers; the prag­matic use of smart tech­nolo­gies by society; and the de­ter­mi­na­tion of the govern­ment to es­tab­lish a clear di­rec­tion so that hu­man and fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal are well in­vested, are all called for. Sim­ply put, a smart city calls for smart think­ing from all sides.

Ni­cholas Brooke

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