Cities must look at user experience or business process before the technology when it comes to smart city solutions, says IoT expert Charles Reed Anderson.
Charles Reed Anderson was in town to speak at the IoT Asia 2017 and shared some insights on Singapore's developments in IoT. (Photo credit: Charles Reed Anderson and Associates)
By Francis Kan
As Singapore's vision to be the world's first Smart Nation hurtles along, the city-state is tackling the complexities of building a truly connected city using Internet of Things (IoT) solutions.
IoT is an important aspect of Singapore’s efforts to transform itself into a Digital Economy and remain competitive globally.
IMpact spoke to Charles Reed Anderson, founder of IoT advisory services company Charles Reed Anderson and Associates, about Singapore’s digital thrusts.
In his work, Charles has traveled the world speaking to government officials and business leaders on their own smart city initiatives. He was recently in town to speak at IoT Asia 2017, held in March.
What challenges are cities facing in implementing smart city solutions using IoT?
We have the technology to deliver the services that people want, but the ecosystem is still fragmented between different devices and services. There needs to be a centralised approach to manage the complexity of building a smart city that may have hundreds or thousands of different initiatives. What the Singapore government is doing to pull all Smart Nation initiatives together nationally is the right way to go.
Financing is another issue. Many cities are not doing a lot of the citizen-centric stuff yet because the business case is not there for many of these projects and governments tend not to write blank cheques – but Singapore is doing a lot of right things in terms of planning early for the future.
Where is the next place IoT is going to have a big impact?
Smart buildings will be the next big wave because there is a good ROI (return on investment) using solutions that can save you money, such as predictive maintenance.
It is not about new solutions, but getting all the data a building is capturing and putting intelligence on top of it. A high-rise commercial building can have 12 to 15 management systems with over 100,000 sensors from different vendors.
If you can put an overlay over all these systems, or an IoT over-the-top (OTT) software service that aggregates all the information from these systems, you will be able to quickly see where the problems are. This can help to drive costs down and extend the life of a building. You can get an ROI in a matter of two to three months, and because it is all SaaS (service as a software), you can pull it out easily if it doesn't work.
How does Singapore fare in terms of IoT development? What more does it need to do to encourage its use?
When I look at other cities, I don't see any place ahead of Singapore and Taipei.
Singapore is doing a lot of the right things, and they are just starting to market themselves as a smart city. There are a lot of platforms in place here, but now it needs the connectivity. There are going to be thousands of apps that make up a smart city and you need to connect these things using low-power wide area networks (WANs).
Current mobile networks can't handle the type of connections we are talking about, so we are now seeing a variety of these low-power WANs, which can send small amounts of data for things such as tagging items for the supply chain or tracking smart metres. They can connect a lot more things.
Singapore is keen on low-power WANs, and if you want to create a smart city you need a platform that has thousands of different solutions running on it, but to do that you need these networks that connect a lot of things, whether it’s a pet or a parcel.
What more can Singapore do to encourage the technology?
We need more engineers and developers, but more than that we need people who can cross over between the business people and the tech people. At universities, they are taught to build solutions, but the techies should be working with the non-techies to learn about how these solutions impact a business.
We also have to look at smart city solutions first not as a technology process but as a business process or a customer experience, and then backfill that with technology.
You also need to bring citizens along on the journey by showing them where the value is for them. One way is to show them what a day in the life of a Singaporean in a Smart Nation would be like.
Are there any standout Singapore companies you think are doing something exciting in IoT?
Anacle, an energy management solutions provider for buildings, is one Singapore company that is on the right track. They are doing well and winning business in the region. They have become a sort of poster boy for Singapore in IoT.
In the OTT space, G Element's platform for smart buildings is going take a few years as there are too many platforms in a building right now that don't “talk” to each other. An overlay over these platforms will help solve a lot of these problems.
But I also see many Singapore companies coming into IoT and fintech and doing tech for tech's sake. They are connecting to something just because they can. For example, there are too many companies providing payments solutions. You have to find a real gap in the market and build a solution that fills it.
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