So Hong Kong has a smart-city blueprint. What’s the play?


There is a resort town in southeastern France that has something in common with Hong Kong. It’s a tourist destination by the sea, visited and beloved by millions of merrymakers. But it had a problem. Its water-supply infrastructure was not as reliable as it should have been.

At an inflection point, technology came into play and helped it make things better.

The City of Antibes worked with a few technology partners to develop a system that monitored the water-distribution infrastructure through sensors, securely transmitted the mountains of data collected to a cloud platform and analyzed it using a digital innovation system that was embedded with technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning and predictive analysis. The results: breakdowns avoided, maintenance schedules optimized, and costs saved.

There is a lesson here for that lovely, vibrant city called Hong Kong to learn.

Cities worldwide are partnering with academia, global high-tech companies and local startups, utilities, transportation service providers and many other industries to revolutionize the way they deliver services, to make cities “greener, cleaner, more livable, sustainable, resilient and competitive,” as the Hong Kong government advocates in its Smart City Blueprint.

But, of course, it is easier said than done. What the government can consider at this point is to find value through innovation in three key areas: boost the ecosystem between the public and private sectors, fix the processes to break down silos, and use data to spur service efficiency.

Cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Boston, Copenhagen, Dubai, Helsinki, London, Melbourne, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Seoul, Singapore, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver, Vienna and Zurich are leading the way today, according to global rankings. Other cities are being built from scratch with digital technologies embedded in their urban infrastructure.

Many are struggling to reinvent themselves, because of shrinking government budgets and limited skills due to looming retirement of many civil servants, siloed approaches to tackling problems at the departmental level with a focus on technology, and immaturity of business models. No matter what the starting point is, a lot remains to be done to realize fully the benefits of innovation and technology.

Hong Kong can be listed among the forerunners. In fact, in 2018, it ranks No 3 in the Global Financial Services Index and No 5 in the AT Kerney Global Cities Index; in 2017 it ranked No 9 in the Mori Foundation’s Global Power City Index.

Hong Kong’s decades of investment in modernization materialized in a world-leading urban transportation system that accommodates more than 12 million trips by public transport per day, the world’s busiest air-freight hub, with cargo throughput of 4.94 million tons in 2017, excellent health-care services, and one of the world’s leading financial-services hubs. However, more investment in innovation and technology could be made to ensure that Hong Kong will master all the challenges and opportunities of the next 30 years.

Hong Kong’s Smart City Blueprint tackles these heads-on. For example, it states that the city shall “consume fewer resources and make Hong Kong more environmental friendly, while maintaining its vibrancy, efficiency and livability” (Hong Kong ranks No 71 in the Mercer Quality of Living Ranking), and that it should enable business “to capitalize on Hong Kong’s renowned business-friendly environment to foster innovation, transform the city into a living lab and test bed for development” (Hong Kong ranks No 35 in the 2ThinkNow Innovation Cities Index).

For Hong Kong to realize the benefits of innovation and technology investment across the six key pillars of its Smart City BluePrint – Smart Mobility, Smart Living, Smart Environment, Smart People, Smart Government, Smart Economy – the government should go beyond point-to-point technology-centric solutions. It should drive value in three key areas...

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