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Social Innovation


Smart Cities in ASEAN:
Powering good Amidst Tough Times




The Covid-19 pandemic has severely disrupted lives and economies across the globe. At the same time, it has also spurred governments to seek out new technological tools and urban solutions that can address the current crisis as well as drive the next stage of economic growth.

A common response among many governments across the world to the Covid-19 pandemic has been to hasten the development of their smart cities and explore the ways in which smart city technologies can be applied to crisis management and economic development.

According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, smart cities are expected to create 1.2 million - 1.5 million new jobs, prevent 260,000 – 270,000 Kilotrons of greenhouse gas emissions, and give rise to US$9 billion – US$16 billion savings on cost of living across ASEAN.

By addressing these urgent economic and environmental challenges, digital services and technologies can help future-proof smart cities against future crises and challenges.

The Covid-19 pandemic has in fact laid bare the importance of smart cities, with the digital technologies that have facilitated telecommuting and global financial transactions proving to be crucial in the continued functioning of many urban economies.



In Southeast Asia, smart cities will play an increasingly important role in generating economic growth and solving complex urban challenges.

Faced with rapid urbanisation, Southeast Asia is expected to see around 100 million people migrate from rural regions to cities . This is complicated by rapidly population ageing in countries such as Singapore and Thailand and the emergence of a middle class in other countries such as Vietnam and Myanmar.

Despite the diversity of their populations and their different stages of economic development, ASEAN member-states are increasingly united by their belief that smart cities may hold the key to the urban and socio-economic challenges that they face.

From Thailand 4.0 plan to Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative, governments across Southeast Asia are driving smart city transformations. These transformations will have significant impacts for economic development and crisis mitigation across the region.

During the 36th ASEAN summit that was held recently, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong argued that ASEAN can “use the ASEAN Smart Cities Network to exchange ideas and experiences on using technology to fight COVID-19. For example, technology to enhance contact tracing” .

Established on 28 April 2018, the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) aims to encourage greater cooperation among the 10 ASEAN member-states to foster smart and sustainable urban development. Central to the work of the ASCN is a focus on improving the lives of ASEAN citizens through technology.

Having been appointed ASEAN Chairman for 2020, Vietnam will play a crucial role in leading the ASCN and driving smart city development across Southeast Asia.

While the embedding of sensors and smart grids in the urban infrastructure will allow governments to continuously collect data to achieve greater efficiency in running cities, cutting-edge software will allow for the rapid analysis of data, allowing both governments and businesses to gain a better understanding of citizen and consumer preferences.

With 110 years of experience in operational technology and 60 years of experience in the information technology industry, Hitachi has developed an extensive network of global partners that is focused on co-developing technological solutions to address emerging economic and societal needs.

In the past two years, Hitachi Vantara Vietnam has been engaged in several consultancy projects for smart city development. This includes large-scale projects with sizes of over 1,000 hectares in complex structure, including residential areas, resort complexes, entertainment and convention centers.

Hitachi’s smart city solutions aim to address concerns like public safety and security via CCTV and integrated access control systems, and energy optimization through smart energy usage and operation management. Traffic monitoring can also be done through a Smart Traffic Control Platform Solution, developed with artificial intelligence and machine learning technology, which can detect traffic violations. Apart from such smart spaces, solutions that enhance consumer experience are also available, like being able to access several services using e-wallet apps.

Vietnam is emerging as one of Southeast Asia’s leading FinTech hubs. As of end-2019, it is host to 154 FinTech companies and has been described as the ‘FinTech model for Southeast Asia’ . This represents a 285% increase from 2016, when there were only 40 FinTech companies in Vietnam.

In Vietnam, Hitachi has worked on developing an electronic payment (E-Money) system for pensioners. Utilizing these electronic cards, pensioners are able to receive their pension payments at the post office.

Pensioners are now able to withdraw their pension payments in a more convenient manner, while public agencies can reduce the manpower costs involved in issuing pension payments. This presents a win-win situation for both policymakers and the locals.

Plans are also afoot to explore how cashless payments systems can be implemented in Vietnam’s city usage (e.g. Shop, Bus, Gas station etc.)

Aside from cashless payments, Hitachi has also initiated a pilot project with a local finance company to provide new financial services using digital technology such as artificial intelligence. The proof-of-concept (POC) phase is driven by Hitachi’s AI Technology/Prediction of Rare Cases (AT/PRC) technology, which allows for the accurate prediction of low-frequency events to accurately identify financial risks. The AT/PRC technology has been used for mortgage screening by financial institutes in Japan.

By driving the development of cashless payments systems and AI-driven financial services, Hitachi aims to play a leading role in supporting Vietnam’s emergence as a leading FinTech hub in ASEAN.


Hitachi Social Innovation is POWERING GOOD

A successful smart city should ideally ensure the happiness of its citizens and enhance their quality of life, as well as provide opportunities for personal and community growth that can enhance citizens’ social, economic and environmental values.

Thankfully, we now possess the technological possibilities for building smart, sustainable, and liveable cities of tomorrow.

By focusing on social innovation and powering good, Hitachi’s aims to improve the lives of citizens through its technologies. Good Social Innovation requires first acquiring a sound understanding of the problems that people face in their daily lives, followed by developing the technological solutions that can help solve these problems and anticipate future challenges.

In ASEAN, Hitachi has been combining IoT, artificial intelligence and data analytics to create ‘smart spaces’ in cities. Through the introduction of cashless payment systems and FinTech services, such smart urban spaces can hopefully bring about greater convenience and a wider range of business opportunities for firms and businesses.

A smart city is more than its digital and urban infrastructure. Smart city technologies and social innovations can contribute towards the happiness and well-being of citizens. For instance, governments can collect public feedback and data through advanced data analytics platforms and apply these insights to perform more ‘people-centric’ city planning.

A good example of this is Hitachi’s efforts to use data and people-flow analysis to understand human flow within the city to ensure more effective location of public amenities such as parks and childcare centres. This will greatly enhance citizens’ quality of life and contribute to greater collective happiness.


This advertorial was written in collaboration with Dr Woo Jun Jie, Policy Researcher at an independent think-tank in Singapore.



Date of Release: March 2021