Water was the success and downfall of the ancient city of Angkor. Its extensive water management network helped it build an empire that lasted centuries, but a series of floods eventually overwhelmed it and led to its fall in the 15th century.

Modern cities face similar challenges to Angkor. Their infrastructure must be resilient enough to meet their citizens’ basic needs, like water, food and safety, for generations to come. Covid-19 has accelerated the need to secure the future and for government agencies to deliver services quicker than ever before.

We look at how 21st century digital innovations and robust tech infrastructure could help cities be more resilient.

Be bold with technology

“City managers should not shy away from technology, allowing communities to come up with innovative solutions and taking bold steps to be resilient,” Dato’ Maimunah Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, the United Nations’ urban development agency told GovInsider.

Digital tools have become core to the agency’s work. “We use the computer game Minecraft to get local communities involved in planning public spaces, like parks and streets,” she said. In Kenya, the agency is using an infrastructure mapping app to identify informal settlements at greatest risk from Covid-19.

In Singapore, tech has been integral to the city’s response at every stage of the pandemic, from communications to quarantine. “We’ve deployed a whole suite of digital tools and technologies to help with the Covid-19 fight,” GovTech Minister Janil Puthucheary told GovInsider this month.

Agencies are drawing on sensor data to identify overcrowding in malls and other public spaces. It has set up digital platforms pulling together financial support for businesses from across agencies. They can check their eligibility and apply for grants, or special operating licenses all in one place.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is supporting tech initiatives across the region to build greater resilience. “AWS has been at the forefront of helping governments, education institutions, healthcare organisations, and not-for-profits drive their missions through innovating with cloud technology,” said Vincent Quah, the company’s Worldwide Public Sector Regional Head of Education, Research, Healthcare, and Not-For-Profit in Asia Pacific and Japan.

Remote learning in Indonesia

In Indonesia, Simak Online is a fast-growing company that helps schools run remote learning. “They have been able to onboard more than 500 schools into a virtual platform completely, when the schools are closed, and they have delivered more than 3 million examinations,” says Quah. Hundreds more have joined since schools transitioned to online learning during the pandemic.

Their platform allows schools to arrange learning routines, and monitor student and teachers’ attendance. Parents can track their children’s progress online and get updates directly from teachers.

Simak use AWS to provide an online exam platform where teachers can customise examination questions according to each student’s competencies to facilitate more efficient learning. It has been able to scale quickly and reliably during Covid-19 by leveraging the cloud, generating more than 600,000 exam questions for Indonesia schools with 2.1 million homework tasks completed by students.

Disaster-resilient rice in the Philippines

In the Philippines, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) develops rice varieties resilient to droughts, diseases, and floods . It previously used on-premise systems in its offices across Asia to store data, making collaboration across the organisation and with research partners in other institutes difficult.

“IRRI has offices in 18 countries, with 150 staff in Bangladesh, and 120 in India. Our staff needed access to update financial, human resources, and project management systems to allow us to operate efficiently,” Marco van den Berg, the institute’s Chief Information Officer.

It switched to a common platform and dashboard on the cloud, allowing researchers to combine important research and statistics from around the world. AWS Cloud cut 30 per cent of the institute’s tech infrastructure costs, freeing up funds to use on critical research like genomic analysis of over 3,000 rice varieties.

It has made rice genome data from over 80 countries freely available as a public dataset. It allows anyone to use AWS’ on-demand resources to analyse and conduct further research on the data, without extra costs of storing it. This research is crucial to secure the resilience and security of food supply. Rice is a staple for over half of the world, and 90 per cent of that is produced and consumed in Asia.

Selangor’s tech ambition

In Malaysia, AWS is working with the local government of Selangor to build up the state’s digital infrastructure and serve four million Malaysians.

The Smart Selangor Delivery Unit’s payments platform is central to this vision. Citizens will be able to make all state government payments online and will also provide e-wallet services to drive a cashless economy.

This has become critical as Covid-19 shuts government offices and disrupts brick-and-mortar businesses. Selangor’s digital infrastructure ensures it can continue to serve its residents.

“Being on the cloud is crucial for us to ensure that the services available and reliable and scalable at the same time,” said Dr. Fahmi Ngah, the unit’s Managing Director . “To me, that’s the biggest metric, and the biggest result that we’ve achieved throughout this journey with AWS Cloud.”

The state’s ambition for 2025 is to become a regional digital hub in ASEAN. It has worked with AWS to help local businesses adopt cloud computing, providing financial and technical assistance.

Canals were Angkor’s best available tech to counter its crisis. Cities today are armed with the reliability, scalability, and security of the cloud to build resilience for the future.

For more smart cities case studies and tips from governments across the ASEAN region, download the latest Innovation for Life: Cities Powered by the Cloud eBook from AWS.

Image by TakeawayCC BY-SA 4.0.