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Unlocking citizen-centric smart cities in Southeast Asia

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Southeast Asia could add almost 1.5 million jobs by creating more efficient and productive business and hiring environments. Smart solutions cloud also save residents up to $16 billion per year thanks to better housing options and lower energy bills.

Asia’s city leaders are among the world’s most forward-thinking when it comes to smart cities. In fact, the Asia-Pacific region is set to account for 40% of the global smart city spending, or $800 billion by 2025 and 80% of all economic activities is expected to shift to cities in the years to come.

Rapid urbanization, demographic shifts, climate change and advancements in technology have all been drivers for disruption for a need for smarter cities. This transformationhas beenfurtheraccelerated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which revealed vulnerabilities, but also prompted cities to seek out new technologies to help them deal with COVID-related disruptions.


Sook Hoon Cheah, General Manager, Southeast Asia New Markets, Microsoft Asia Pacific

During theWorld Cities Summit 2021, where government representatives and industry experts discussed livable and sustainable city challenges, Randeep Sudan, former World Bank executiveand Board Advisor of analyst firm, Ecosystm,shared about howcity leaders need to“think ahead, think across, and think again to build resilient and sustainable cities of tomorrow”.This includes having strategic foresight to plan and think ahead, thinking across projects to leverage synergies, and thinking again to stay innovative.

Microsoft has been a trusted ally for many of these cities in their pandemic response, especially in helping them think differently to overcome challenges and drive business continuity. We signed a memorandum of understanding in the heart of Colombo with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Education to advance remote pedagogy.Microsoft Office 365 tools, such as OneNote, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Microsoft Teams, across PCs, tablets, and smartphones now compliment a “distance learning” initiative for students and teachers in city of Colombo and across the island.

Also in Bhutan, the Ministry of Education signed an agreement with Microsoft to implement coding education in K-12 grades and set up computer labs across 571 schools over the next two years.

In Maldives, we are working with the Government of Maldives to help them be more efficient and be better positioned to deliver on their mission service to their citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new shift in cloud-powered technologies is enabling their government agencies to collaborate and provide vital services in new and innovative ways. Applications like Microsoft 365 and Power BI are helping government employees — from the President’s Office, 18 Ministries, and 810 Government Institutes — to do their best work when mobile, increasing productivity and team collaboration without sacrificing security and compliance.

For the public transportation industry specifically, the need to “think differently” could not be more apparent — people avoided mass transport options and public places almost overnight, following necessary lockdowns imposed in the early months to contain the virus spread. Did you know that with more people opting to travel in their own vehicles, public transport ridership has fallen by an average of 62% since the start of COVID-19? Some cities in Southeast Asia are seeing a more severe drop, like Kuala Lumpur (76.1%).

To drive business continuity while ensuring public safety amid more crunched budgets,Kuala Lumpur’s Mass Rapid Transit Corporationwas able to continuebuilding massive rail line extension through the pandemic with Bentley software hosted on Azure. This has enabledmore than 1,500 users to collaborate, while reduced errors and design conflicts, improving collaboration efficiency by 35 percent, while ensuring the completion of the project on time and within budget.

City leaders need to do more than think differently, but also think across, think ahead, and think again.

This means working toward a more sustainable future and reconsidering current processes and infrastructure. For instance anIndia-based startup,SUN Mobility acceleratesmass electric vehicle usage with cost-efficient, cloud-connected swappable batteries, in New Delhi and beyond.

The road ahead

Wesee a rise of a new economy that is powered by intelligent data and real time insights for policy development and decision modelling. The generation, distribution and consumption of such data over the past few years have resulted in massive technological advancements in AI and ML models – thatcities leverage not only to deploy connected and autonomous electric vehicles, but also to provide safe livingenvironments, create smart energy and utilities options and deliver micro health and other welfare services. Thisdata economy will hence help foster innovation, create jobs, and build new industry paths to accelerate growth in these cities.

Microsoft expects to be involved in 20 new collaborations built around shared data by 2022, including initiatives in our region.Many of the collaborations already underway focus on fostering data collaborations at the city level, from monitoring air quality in London, to improving accessibility of sidewalks, to improving local data on policing in the United States. The Open Data Policy Lab—an initiative by The GovLab and Microsoft—has recently established the City Incubator, a first-of-its-kind program to support data innovations in cities.

As per UN, cities consume 70 percent of natural resources produce 50 percent of global waste and emit 80 percent of global greenhouse gases every day.With nations committing to climatecontroland UN’ ssustainability development goals, governments will have to take decisive actions and drive strategies to significantly reduce their dirty energy footprint in their cities.Microsoft’s platforms such as digital twins havehelped modelusage data of buildings, factories, energy networks, IoT data in a live environment to generate quick efficiencies towards achieving some ofthese goals.

Finally, it is important that we never forget to put people first. The success of new technologies will not solely be measured by theirlevel of innovation, but also by their ability to make a difference in the lives of the people they serve.

After all, what makes a solutionresilient isn’t just the technology itself. Rather, it is the degree to which the technology gives citizensbetter lives, helps businesses thrive, and governments provide great services. Keeping all this in mind,we look forward to unlockingresilient and citizen-centric smart cities of tomorrow.

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