2020 was to be the year Indonesia replaced its top civil servants with AI.

President Joko Widodo’s agenda has no doubt been commandeered by Covid-19, but the country is pressing ahead with its AI vision. Last year, it published a national strategy that will chart the path for AI implementation until 2045.

Jakarta Smart City is one of the key agencies anchoring the country’s AI development. GovInsider spoke to its Head of Data Analytics, Juan Kanggrawan to learn its upcoming AI ventures and how it is building talent.

Jakarta’s AI

Machine learning tools came in handy last year to specifically address the challenges of Covid-19. As citizens emerge from lockdown, these are helping citizens navigate and secure the new normal.

For instance, image recognition and visual analytics in public areas can monitor social distancing in busy areas such as markets, stalls and stations. Heat monitoring can also gauge individual body temperatures and identify at risk members of a crowd, Juan says.

This comprehensive collection of data allows authorities to take preventive action in a timely fashion to reduce spread and save lives. These include crowd separation, prohibiting entry to busy spaces such as train stations and airport terminals, provision of masks for immediate use, and giving sanctions to those who don’t comply with health and safety measures.

Yet, machine learning is not only critical in reactive risk monitoring. It is also a key part of proactive risk assessment. Smart Cities Jakarta’s Corona Likelihood Metric applies machine learning algorithms to calculate Covid-19 risk, based on data such as demographic data, symptoms over the last 14 days, and patient history. Each individual is then given a three level risk rating.

A national AI strategy

Jakarta Smart City is one of the “key contributors” in developing and realising Indonesia’s national AI strategy, Juan says. It has rolled out five major projects so far. These include traffic and rainfall prediction; video analytics for transportation safety and vehicle tax revenue estimation; automatic categorisations of citizen feedback; a chatbot feature on the citizen feedback app JAKI; and video analytics for Covid-19 crowd detection in public spaces.

The agency plans to expand its AI projects “in a more aggressive and rigorous manner” over the next two years, he shares. It is looking into AI-based online learning; analytics to predict crime and allocate police manpower; and a pilot for autonomous electric vehicles.

Dynamic skills demand: evolving needs of digital talents

Jakarta Smart City’s primary role was to monitor and respond to citizen feedback, and serve other internal government agencies, notes Juan. Now, it is coming into its own. “There is a [strong] need to build a vibrant digital ecosystem and engage with industry, universities, research institutions and NGOs,” he says.

The expected benefit is highly promising, and development is rapid and dynamic. To keep up with the pace of digital transformation, Juan believes it is critical for governments to ensure a proper strategic fit in adopting AI technology to ensure it benefits citizens. And, he adds, “Ultimately, we need solid and capable digital talents”.

Five years ago, it was sufficient to hire software engineers, field operation analysts and data analysts. For now, it is the norm for Jakarta Smart City to hire data scientists, digital product managers and machine learning engineers, whose skills are more aligned to the agency’s recent advances in AI projects.

Building and nurturing new talents for the new normal

It is not always easy to hire and build a digital talents team. Competition from tech companies and unicorns is “really fierce” and as a government agency, Jakarta Smart City needs a strong arsenal to hold their own in this talent war. “We need to explore all possibilities to attract and retain the best,” Juan explains.

He outlines an approach his department has adopted, starting with campus and university engagement, and moving through open volunteer and research partnerships, to organising Jakarta Smart City talks and internal cross-team training programs.

To enable team members to learn the latest technologies, the agency is also working with notable global tech companies for solutions research and exploration. “We want to ensure our talents are always updated with the latest tools, solutions and approaches,” Juan explains.

Setting standards for digital talent

Last but not least, it is important that the digital talents and skill sets are benchmarked against recognised industry standards, especially with AI and advanced analytics skillsets.

For their data team, Jakarta Smart City has developed a skills-matrix and learning path for each team member. This, Juan explains, will be an important compass to leverage all learning possibilities. “We want to ensure that our team is continuously growing in their skill-set and depth of expertise,” he confirms.

In a hyperconnected era, connections help share knowledge. Juan explains that team members are encouraged to provide mentoring to wider audiences such as university students, digital communities, and other government agencies. “Through teaching, mentoring and sharing, it will strengthen and sharpen their own knowledge,” he says.

In an uncertain new AI-enabled Asia, the biggest question mark is not over the sophistication of the technologies, but the skills of those operating them. Some of Jakarta’s Smart and savvy experts are hoping to provide the answers.

The region’s leading AI innovation forum AI x GOV, powered by GovInsider, is happening on 27 July. Register here.