How do you use technology to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

I am currently the Chief of Staff for Jakarta Smart City, a unit under Communication and Information Agency in Jakarta.

It is a novel initiative by the Jakarta government to increase the use of digital technologies in all agencies by focusing on citizens’ basic needs. In order to improve the quality of services, we gather citizen reports through several platforms such as the Qlue app, social media and LAPOR.

The most interesting platform though is the Governor’s mobile phone number. It might be a more traditional platform, but an effective one nonetheless. The move to spread the Governor’s cell phone number has proven to be practical because it can reach any level of society.

Currently, there are three numbers with different telecommunication providers to make sure the text messages are affordable for everyone. On average, Governor Basuki gets 2,000 text messages a day. They are all replied to manually from his cell phone.

It was a challenge to scale this up, however. It was getting hard to track which reports have been addressed as the number of complaints increased. We also had to ensure that government officials actually took care of the problem, even when the Governor did not direct them personally.

There was a lot of resistance at the time, but we have now digitised it by making a dashboard that monitors all the reports. It is now quicker to respond to each complaint. We are also able to identify trends and unattended issues by the week or month. And we kept the personal touch by ensuring the Governor can still read the messages on his phone.

The Governor has also included these citizen reports into agency heads’ performance indicators to make sure all the agencies respond to the reports. We can track the progress of each report, and the data is used to measure officials’ performance in addressing the complaints.

Moreover, we now use Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithms to identify and prioritise the more urgent reports. We learnt some very sad lessons from unattended emergency reports in the past. For example, a family reported a sick baby who needed emergency treatment but didn’t have social security. Unfortunately, the team read the messages only two days later due to a high volume of reports at the time, and the baby had passed away.

However, with the new prioritisation system with NLP, we are now able to respond to all emergency reports in time and help save lives.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2016?

Jakarta Smart City is building a conducive ecosystem for startup, starting with regulations and facilities.

There is an ongoing project to create a co-working space where the government, startups and tech enthusiasts can connect and interact with each other. We will provide affordable membership for the space, starting from $25 per month.

Furthermore, as part of the government’s commitment to support startup, we will put one-stop service points (BPTSP) for business permits at every co-working space. Startups will be able to consult with them on any questions on regulations and permits.

Personally, this programme is very exciting because I worked in a startup previously. At that time, I felt that the government was ignoring growing startups and might not know the needs of the community as well.

Now we want to work together with interested parties from the startup ecosystem. We hope to create a programme that will take their needs into the government’s decision and regulation making process, including for permits.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2017?

In 2017, the Jakarta provincial government will implement Internet of Things (IOT) and smart sensors to monitor and manage various facilities and human resources.

We can gather real-time data, for example, to monitor the water level at flood gates and check the condition of water pumps. Currently, a lot of data, such as water level, is entered manually, which affects the data’s accuracy and consistency. We can minimise errors using the IOT sensors.

This is crucial because first, we can only have reliable emergency alerts if they are based on accurate data. Second, real time decision-making system can only be made comprehensively if we have legitimate data. Third, this data will be used to predict what issues might arise in the future.

After IOT is established in many vital facilities, we will be able to better predict emergencies such as natural disasters, improve cost-efficiency and sustainability, and have integrated control on traffic lights so that they can better direct traffic.

I am particularly interested in IOT because we can also monitor over 70,000 field staff, such as guards at water pumps, cleaning teams and road management crew. We are now able to analyse the quality, quantity and effectiveness of their work.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2016, what would it be?

The work we do at the Smart City Unit is like playing billiard. Someone once told me that when we want to score, it is not about the position of the cue ball, but moving the other balls on the table to let them score. If the cue ball hits too hard, it would bounce back and not score.

As much as we want to reach our goals, we must remember to balance when to push and when to wait. In Jakarta Smart City, we often pushed new initiatives to the agencies. The most important thing I had learned from this is that you must never forget to involve every stakeholder and ensure your priorities are aligned.

We should also understand their concerns and needs to induce their creativity and develop a plan together. This can help us produce a sustainable project where every stakeholder has a sense of ownership and is willingly involved in building that initiative. If our partner agency does not have the same priority as ours, or simply does not believe in that project, it will not succeed.

Who is your hero and why?

Through the years, our Governor Basuki has become my inspiration while working for a better Jakarta Smart City.

His ideas never stop to push us for the better. He is a big believer in citizen participation and transparency. He is also one of the reasons I wanted to join the public sector because I believe, with his support, Jakarta government can deliver social justice to the citizen.

Technology can be used as a tool to monitor and evaluate public services. But without excellent leadership skills to enforce its use boldly, no one will take it seriously and no outcome will be delivered.

I personally would have never dreamt of joining the government as a double minority, being Indonesian Chinese and Catholic. He makes me believe that anyone, regardless of their background and race, can be the part of government as long as they want to help the city to be better.

And finally, if you could recommend us one place to eat, where would it be?

I would recommend you to visit Blok S in South Jakarta, where we have a dedicated food court for traditional hawkers.

All of the vendors are part of our #kaki5JKT initiatives, where we digitally registered hawkers who have passed hygiene tests. All of these vendors are also available for online delivery via Go-Food services and can be reviewed through Zomato.

My favourite food in Blok S is Bakso Pak Kumis and Es Podeng! The Bakso Pak Kumis is delicious and legendary. The meatballs are huge, but you will want to order at least five portions of it.

There are several Es Podeng vendor in Blok S and they are all great. Es Podeng is a very simple and delicious snack of kopyor ice cream topped with small pieces of bread, jelly, coconut meat, condensed milk, chocolate syrup, nuts, sprinkles, and chopped avocado. My favourite dessert of all time!