With or without vaccines, we are coming to terms with a new reality in which the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the global economy, businesses, and our way of life. While the immediate future and economy look bleak, the pandemic has brought about opportunities for smart cities worldwide to adopt an agile approach in overcoming unprecedented challenges posed by this public health crisis. In retrospect, “smart cities” has long been a fashionable policy research area with multiple cities collaborating with the private sectors to apply the use of technology across public infrastructures. However, the previous self-paced digital transformation pursued as part of the different government and business initiatives has taken on a new turn. In fact, navigating the “new normal” has prompted the acceleration of partnerships between the public and private sectors to co-create innovative solutions powered by technologies. By adopting or reinventing digital platforms, these smart cities are determined to stay one step ahead of the virus. According to a July 2020 Capgemini Research Institute Report entitled “Fast-forward to the future: Defining and winning the post-COVID new normal,” the pandemic “has cemented technology’s role at the heart of transformation, driving new ways of interaction, sharing, engaging, and decision making.” To not only ensure that we survive but thrive in times of pandemic, has since created an ever more urgent impetus for us to rethink our current mode of living while pushing the frontiers of the “smart cities” paradigm.
Unfazed by COVID-19, cities have been actively exploring the possibilities of deploying a plethora of smart city solutions to drive greater urban resilience during critical times like this. In Singapore, the government has recognised the importance to speed up the whole-of-nation level digitalisation across industries. Smart facility management, internet of things (IoT), surveillance, and security are becoming the hallmarks of smart cities as they create technologically advanced, safe, and livable urban environments despite times of pandemic. Now, apart from enhancing residents’ quality of living and performances of public services, these smart city solutions also double up as preventive efforts to curb the contagion.
No doubt, before reaching the year 2030 mark we have already witnessed how connected digital platforms have enabled authorities to manage the community and their data in ways never imagined before. The use of aerial surveillance to monitor movements of suspected COVID-19 cases is one such example. According to the Capgemini Sustainable Business Revolution 2030 Report, smart city development is denoted by a shift in how cities use technology to collect and analyse data. Cities have also demonstrated the value of smart technologies to collect insights on rapidly changing events in real-time. Technology-based smart city initiatives, such as the contract tracing platform, require citizens to volunteer data in order to coordinate responses during emergencies. However, in tandem with the rapid rise of smart city high-tech solutions, we need to think through data governance, especially when data is aggregated from diverse sources within the new urban ecosystem. For instance, Capgemini offers a full suite of privacy-preserving solutions for digital contact tracing as well as data analysis to assess the impact of containment measures. It is imperative for these cities to work alongside compliant service providers that balance the privacy concerns of citizens and the efficacy of smart city initiatives.
The steep digital adoption by smart cities represents a step forward in fortifying urban resilience which will have far-reaching impacts for them coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. While nobody knows how the world will look like after COVID-19, these future ‘smarter and better cities’ anchored by high-tech strategies will ultimately stand them in good stead in the long run.
Senior Business Analyst – People & Change Management