MDEC infotech division vice-president Norhizam Abdul Kadir (left).

KUALA LUMPUR: With technological applications being at the forefront of the smart cities concept and in making cities more liveable, one may wonder about Malaysia’s smart city initiative.

We have heard a lot about partnerships between the private sector and government-linked companies this year, but does this mean Malaysia is moving ahead in its smart cities initiative, such as in the supporting infrastructure?

According to Malaysia Digital Economy Corp (MDEC), Asia has been growing at between five and six per cent since 2010.

And to support this annual growth, improvements in communications, energy, health, education, digital media and transport infrastructure are essential at this juncture.

With other developed nations being at the forefront of smart city initiatives, could Malaysia learn some lessons from their implementations?

MDEC said the government was proactive and ready to invest in smart initiatives that would push the region forward.

“With the proactive awareness on big data, companies can provide customers with the information and control they need to change their behavioural patterns and reduce usage and costs,” MDEC told Business Times recently.

MDEC said one of Malaysia’s success stories was the joint collaboration with the United Kingdom in making urbanisation manageable and, most importantly, sustainable for the future.

“Smart technologies will be essential towards achieving this. Both countries have taken a number of positive steps in rapidly developing relationships around smart cities, to help position each other as a leader in the provision of innovative solutions in Europe and Southeast Asia, respectively,” it said.

MDEC infotech division vice-president Norhizam Abdul Kadir said there were three key initiatives that hade been moved forward by both the government and private sector in driving the formation of smart cities.

He said the Malaysia Technical Standards Forum Bhd had drafted a Smart Cities Framework in Relation to ICT Aspects (MTFSB 004-2016) — currently open for public feedback until December 4.

The second initiative was the partnership between MDEC and Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), where they jointly prepared a smart city framework for Malacca by developing the state’s green city action plan.

Besides that, the country’s first integrated operations centre (IOC) for Internet of Things (IoT) operations of smart city services has been set up by Inneonusa Sdn Bhd, a joint venture between Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM), UEM Sunrise and Iskandar Investment Bhd.

The challenge today is that smart cities might mean different things to different people, said Norhizam.

“What’s important is what cities want to achieve at the end of the day: is it reducing crime, relieving the plight of the poor, attracting talents or ensuring a clean environment?

“Technology is one of the means to get there. In some cases, technology may already be there, but it needed to be integrated with other systems to achieve the desired outcome,” he said.

Norhizam said factors that were holding back this initiative were usually the existing policies or laws, resistance to change, and the silo mentality.

“We all need to think holistically to make smart cities a reality in Malaysia,” he said.

Recently, MIGHT was quoted in a New Straits Times report as saying Malaysia needed to consolidate its current set of disparate initiatives to develop smart cities and form a national smart city alliance to bring all interested parties together.

MIGHT chief executive officer and president Datuk Dr Mohd Yusoff made the call at the Smart Cities Asia 2016 conference and exhibition, here, recently.

“I think we should think about having a smart city alliance where you can deal with national and international inputs and feedbacks and I think this is urgently needed,” said Yusoff, pointing out that the different parties all had their own different ideas of what a smart city should be.

Norhizam said the claim had its own merits.

“For a relatively small country like Malaysia with limited resources, a centrally driven approach can optimise resources and ensure interoperability down the road.

“The challenges are a rapidly changing socio-economic and technology environment, and resistance to change from stakeholders,” he said.

Norhizam said MDEC believed the centrally-driven approach must still be pursued, but with the states or an agglomeration of municipals allowed some degrees of freedom to pursue their own projects.

“This can accelerate the pace of ‘digital transformation’ for cities,” he said.

Having one template that could guide the advancement of technology is needed to help build the nation together.

“At its core, inter-agency collaboration holds the promise of accomplishing something jointly that one agency alone cannot accomplish,” he said.

In terms of investment, Norhizam said the size of investment varied widely, depending on the degree of risk each city was willing to undertake.

“What is more important is to start small, fail fast, and scale. Identify the key pain points that need resolution. Define a problem well, and you would have solved half of it already.

“While an open innovation approach sounds sexy, proper programme and project management skills must be available to ensure implementation is done properly and future-proofed to the best extent,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Norhizam said Malaysia was poised to ride the wave of smart city implementation.

“Comparing our position with other more developed ones, countries like China with a top-down, centrally driven approach appear to be making fast progress.

“In the case of a rapidly evolving environment, being late may have its advantages as we can then leapfrog with newer technologies, while learning from the lessons of others,” he said.

In terms of the supporting infrastructure and IoT, Norhizam said countries like Malaysia had enough of these resources, with data and technology getting more affordable as it continued to evolve.

“Technology today is converging, and no one single vendor can do it all.

“The role of the system integrator is pivotal to drive more implementations, and Malaysia has traditional strengths in systems integration,” he said.

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