Malaysia SMART City: Where We Are Now?

By general definition, SMART city is a settlement area of which data is collected from citizens, buildings, devices and assets using various types of electronic methods and sensors. Insights from such data are then used to manage resources, assets and services accordingly. Such usage extends but not limited to traffic and transportation systems, power plants, utilities, water supply networks, waste, crime detection, information systems, schools, libraries, hospitals, and other community services.

Malaysia is going to said direction as well. Although fairly new to this, it does not mean we are not capable of initializing a full-fledged SMART city with global standard. This intention was echoed in the launching of Malaysia SMART City framework by Ministry of Housing and Local Government back in 2019.

From government perspective, SMART city is defined as cities that use ICT and technological advancement to address urban issues including to improve quality of life, promote economic growth, develop sustainable and safe environment and encourage efficient urban management practices.

The framework underlines 6 components to be met.

1. SMART Digital Infrastructure

2. SMART Living

3. SMART Environment

4. SMART People

5. SMART Mobility

6. SMART Government

Within a glance, it is a promising vision. Still, there are few important concerns that need serious address as to ensure that this vision would not turn into a behemoth of half-baked initiative.

Here are some of the concerns:

a. SMART concept does not lie solely on technological advancement

Technology is only a tool. Whether or not it turns out to be effective, it depends on the wielder. Hence, SMART city must consider community involvement too. A SMART city is not regarded as smart if there is no positive impact towards the community in it. What good would it offer, for instance, if there is a reliable data to project best route for a waste truck if the residents failed to manage their domestic waste properly? Worst, dumping their waste not even in a proper bin.

In essence, SMART city is a result of good combination between human behaviour and technology advancement while minding the environment. As per stated in the fourth component of said framework, the characteristic needed is to have a community with first class mentality and good moral values. This posit a challenge for government.

What is the plan to instil awareness among community members should a SMART city is created?

Human behaviour is hard to mould. Without first paying heed to this crucial factor, SMART city will remain only advanced in sense of its technology. In addition, government need to first ensure that practicality of any asset is proportionate to its presence. There are several times when certain asset is put due to it being technological advanced and will then boost the image of being SMART. Unfortunately, that asset may turn out to be impractical.

Rule of thumb as to avoid wastage is to always focus on how human interact with technology and not how advanced said technology is.   

b. Data overload.

Due to its nature, SMART city relies heavily on data collection activity. All sort of data is collected to ensure consistency, accuracy, and reliability. To contain massive amount of data, it needs a storage facility. Apart from it, it needs significant processing power to analyse data received. This will increase consumption of electricity and will then contribute to higher carbon footprint.

On the other hand, large amounts of data require extensive wireless coverage and fast transfer speeds to operate. In Malaysia, 5G coverage is yet to be rolled out. Even with current bandwidth, there is this issue of inconsistent speed and unreliable network coverage.  To supplement this, it needs hundreds or thousands new cellular tower to guarantee effective network coverage and reliable speed.

c. Digital security

Another important concern is on digital security. Inherent vulnerabilities in IoT devices, which are often connected to public networks and may have unpatched software vulnerabilities, had transformed SMART city asset into appealing targets for cyber attackers. Compromised IoT data can be used for financial gain, or to create civil distress and advance political or hacktivist goals. Cities must protect IoT devices to prevent breaches, and ensure systems are resilient to cyber-attack to avoid disruption of critical services.

Addressing above concerns are pivotal in order to safeguard the vision of having Malaysia’s SMART city. Surely, there are benefits waiting to be attained once the concerns are properly addressed.

If not, this promising vision will just be another executive summary, waiting to collect dust.

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