A smart city is a city where humans, trees, birds and other animals can grow with all their glories, imperfections, freedom, and creativity. They are not just cities of technology but cities of love, life, beauty, dignity, freedom and equality.
– Amit Ray, Indian author

There has been a lot said about smart cities in the media over the last few years. Nowadays these ‘Smart’ words keep cropping up more frequently.

It all sounds very catchy and appealing. The best part is some of us common folk are also beginning to use it in everyday communication. However, sometimes I wonder if many of us fully understand and know what the words ‘Smart Cities’ actually means?

I certainly did not know until I started reading about it in the press. Over some time, I have gleaned more details and acquired a basic understanding of its precepts and concepts.

So, what exactly is a smart city and in what way is it different from a normal city? Apparently, it relates to cities that utilise various aspects information technology and artificial intelligence software as the means of managing many aspects of managing and administering the whole city or at least aspects of it, such as communications, transport and facilities.

IBM summarises it well with their definition of a smart city as, where technology is used to create systems that are “instrumented, interconnected and intelligent”.

Due to priorities, budgets or otherwise, every city usually plans, implements or adapts the technology to their own requirements.

It would be good if all Sarawkians can start having a better basic understanding of the smart city concept. This would enable us to have a good start so that we can all in one way or another, no matter small or big, contribute towards achieving it.

There are various characteristics of a smart city. The following are just some brief examples with outlines.

One such smart city concept relates to smart data. Most cities compile huge volumes of data. However, due to the lack of analytical tools we are not able to utilise the data as useful information. With the implementation of information technology and artificial intelligence tools, a smart city can analyse a large amount of data quickly and provide useful information to the authorities or its people.

It is nowadays used for predictive analysis to improve decision making and identify the viability of future projects such as road networks, schools, hospitals etc. The possibilities are limitless.

Yet another aspect is ‘smart energy’. This can be applied to buildings, either residential or commercial. These systems can help analyse the use of energy to ensure cost-effectiveness. The Miri City hall currently under construction will have elements of this incorporated into its construction.

Smart streetlights are also part of a smart city. Networked LED street lights can help a city drastically cut its electric bills. Smart meters can also be installed in homes.

The connectivity of IoT devices to integrate sensors to compile and analyse data is a key part of a smart city as well. This allows the quick use of information between multiple systems in real-time and can lead to the minimisation of unintended incidences. The key here is having reliable systems with reliable people.

In Sarawak, for the first time, we have a fully-fledged Ministry of Transport. This is a good time to introduce smart transport. I am sure the newly minted minister will be looking into introducing systems that reduce vehicle traffic jams and facilitates the transport of goods and people. Implementation of a smart transport system can lead to reduced road accidents.

Other benefits would be the reduction of pollution levels due to lack of congestions and faster transportation routes.

The above are just a small flavour of ‘smart’ concepts. However, with all these smart initiatives it is important that all the people involved along the entire process chain are also smart. This is to ensure effective implementation of these exciting and important plans for Sarawak.

Total commitment, dedication, hard work and focus would be required. Otherwise, all the efforts of all smart government initiatives, high-performance teams and grand designs will have a minimum impact and worse still, none or only a few might see the benefits.

Ultimately, however, in the drive towards the introduction of all these ‘smart’ concepts, if our rubbish collection, drains and grass cutting does not improve, it all comes to nought.

Let’s make sure the irritating details that infuriate people are also attended to. Perhaps these smart concepts should be utilised in these areas first. This will go a very long way to make for a happy society.

But back to the ‘smart city’. These opportunities and platforms that our Chief Minister has stressed many times should be understood and taken up by individuals and the private sector and maximised to the full.

Ultimately if all the stakeholders work together, we all in Sarawak will gain from the fruits of these ‘smart’ initiatives.