In the past year, we have seen how state and local governments adapted digital solutions swiftly and agilely to implement new policies, practices, and initiatives. This movement was borne of active problem solving to deal with the global Covid-19 public health crisis as well as weathering socioeconomic challenges of their constituents in innovative ways.

This race to adopt digital solutions has been unprecedented. Smart Cities in the Asia Pacific have been notably vigorous in acquiring digital solutions for further automation and predictive capabilities, as well as spearheading the next normal of borderless, digital working cultures due to social distancing expectations.

However, while the saying is, “the first step is often the hardest,” IDC has been receiving constant anecdotal feedback from our end-user government customers that ‘digital fatigue’ is real. Changing global socio-political and international trade dynamics; increased burdens on national social and health systems; and the need to sustain economic progress, mean that the accelerated push to digital ecosystems must continue with a sustainably updated strategic technology investment road map that is backed wholly by agile policies and massive cultural changes.

Succinctly, just because the digital infrastructure and tools adopted are leading-edge, it does not mean the processes and people are ready for such changes.

Take the shift to remote working for instance, where transformations are typically within the ‘homes’ of workers. City governments are suddenly expected to reimagine the use, service ecosystems, and norms of using residential, commercial, industrial, and public spaces.

Never have we seen the scale at which city governments balance the need to protect the health and welfare of their constituents and rechannelling city resources, yet providing the right connectivity, infrastructure, and tools for high-touch interaction points, that is sufficiently protected by proper use governance policies, security, and risk management standards.

The evolutionary dynamics of ‘live, learn, work and play’ is in flux. In the Asia Pacific, we note that city governments are struggling to engage their constituents effectively; transform their administrative systems; reimagine use of various city spaces; increase automation and resilience of critical infrastructures services; and aid local enterprises to transition to the new digital economy norms.

With ever increasing urban populations, along with the demand for more digital touch points driven by Covid-19 pandemic, Smart Cities across the Asia Pacific are set to get more interconnected. Citizen digital ID, real-time streets surveillance and facial recognition are some of the technological trends gaining momentum harnessing the power of IoT, AI and AR/VR. This year, IDC predicted that by 2025, 30 per cent of cities will leverage automation via IoT, AI, and digital twins, to blend the physical.

Nonetheless, IDC’s take on the themes of past years remain unchanged. Most towns, cities, counties, and states have taken the first step in moving from a strategic and technical awareness of the possibilities offered by Smart City technologies to testing and implementing solutions.

The road ahead for Asia Pacific Smart Cities is to scale pilots or small-scale applications across domains, and to work to integrate newer innovations such as AI, IoT, and remote services and network management. This means that Asia Pacific Smart Cities should look thoroughly into adopting widespread cloud technologies with high-speed connectivity; enact digital trust and data protection policies; embrace new security and privacy norms build efficient knowledge management practices; as well as address public sector bureaucracy challenges like adopting more agile procurement models, streamlining cumbersome processes, and sustaining efforts at workforce skills development.

Optimistically, with the Smart City Asia Pacific Awards or SCAPA that we run annually since FY2014, we’ve seen an increase in senior local government planners taking a more holistic and strategic approach to Smart City investments. These consider not just near-term demands, but also longer-term “live, learn, work, and play” future needs — future civic demands, future scalability options, and future disruption goals.

The relevance and growth of Smart Cities will only continue to grow exponentially as local governments play stronger roles in shaping their cities and communities in the coming years.

Gerald Wang is the Head of IDC Asia Pacific Public Sector for IDC Government Insights and IDC Health Insights. In this role, Gerald draws on more than 15 years of research and industry experiences in enterprise IT market research, agile change management and innovation-based consultancy, as well as public speaking experiences across several public sector events. His specialties include managing digital government research and strategy advisories, driving industry-partnerships and knowledge ecosystems, as well as advocating for digital transformation innovations.