Southeast Asia at the Forefront of the Smart City Wave. But there’s an urgent need to ramp up the region’s data centre infrastructure.

Smart City

City living has always been a bit of a conundrum for many of us in the major capitals of Southeast Asia. While we enjoy the conveniences of the big city – a good concentration of jobs, wide variety of transit options, modern shopping malls and an endless array of food and entertainment options, this has often come at the cost of frequent traffic congestion, heavily-polluted air, and general frustration with overcrowded, oversubscribed public services.

ASEAN cities are getting smarter

Governments in the region have taken notice and are leading the Smart City wave with its promise of sustainable living aided by the latest in technology. According to IDC, the Asia/Pacific region (including China and Japan) will account for 42 percent of global smart city spending in 2018, leading every other region of the world.

The launch of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network earlier this year, in which 26 cities across the region were earmarked for pilot ‘smart’ programmes, further highlights the region’s commitment to the vision.

Data Centres are the backbone to growth of Smart Cities

Smart City projects often combine the latest in IoT technology, AI, analytics with on-the-ground cameras and sensors with the aim of implementing smarter traffic management, facilitating law enforcement, or improving overall efficiency of public services, and a robust IT and data centre infrastructure is required.

While we have seen some successful pilot projects such as Singapore’s “Smart Elderly Alert System” to promote safer independent living for seniors as well as “Open Data and Analytics for Urban Transportation” which managed to reduce the problem of overcrowding and wait times for public buses, many of these projects remain in their infancy and have yet to be implemented on a wider, nation-wide scale.

It remains to be seen if the digital infrastructure currently in place can support wider implementation of “smart” projects on a large-scale. With the region’s internet users surpassing the 350 million mark in 2018 and continuing to grow, plus the expected onslaught of millions of connected devices as we welcome the new 5G network and Industry 4.0, as well as continued digital transformation which will lead to an exponential increase in demand for cloud capacity, there is an urgent need to plan for and develop high-quality data centre infrastructure to meet future demand and support this growth.

Wider SEA region is underserved by data centres

IT and data centre infrastructure development across the Southeast Asia region is not homogenous. Whereas mature markets like Singapore are already well-served and hold about 54 percent of total capacity in the region, nascent and developing markets such as Indonesia and Thailand have far larger populations and only a fraction of the capacity.

With that said, developing markets in the region present a huge opportunity for operators to develop quality data centre infrastructure over the coming years. In Thailand, with the government’s focus on its Thailand 4.0 initiative, and the National Digital Economy Masterplan, the digital economy is expected to see robust growth and contribute up to 25 percent of Thailand’s GDP by 2027. Factors such as surge in local data consumption, continued digital transformation, and data sovereignty regulations will continue to drive local data centre demand. All these require a concomitant increase in data centre capacity.

CIOs play a critical role in supporting Smart City growth

CIOs of both public and private organizations have an important role to play in all of this. Not only do they have to understand the latest development trends in data centres such as the shift towards hyperscale, but they also need to implement a “smart” data centre strategy.

CIOs need to consider their business objectives and operational requirements for the various smart city applications. IoT platforms, such as those targeting smart traffic monitoring and management or autonomous vehicles, will need to have data centres on the edge, near where data is collected and analysed. Real-time financial or trading applications, in contrast, will need to be situated close to the stock exchange or city centres for as close to zero latency as possible. These factors need to be constantly evaluated in order to have the most optimal data centre deployment strategy for their organization.

Roadmap towards Smarter Cities

In order to realize the Smart City vision, governments in the region need to start establishing clear roadmaps and plan for IT and data centre infrastructure well in advance. They need to work with industry players to identify key areas of investment required – whether it is better mobile broadband and internet connectivity, more data centre capacity, or ageing infrastructure that needs to be refurbished and upgraded.

ICT talent also needs to be nurtured ahead of time – innovators and developers adept at the latest digital technologies needed to continue the innovation drive, and engineers and technicians needed to run all of these up-and-coming Smart City projects.

Governments that manage to establish a clear, strategic overview of a digital roadmap towards achieving Smart Cities and Nations will be able to not only improve their urban living environments, but also ultimately succeed in capturing the opportunities offered by the new digital economy.

As published by APAC CIOoutlook