Six people in Jakarta have been tasked with finding new ways to solve the city’s toughest problems – corruption, traffic, pollution, liveability and economic growth.

This is the Jakarta Government’s new Smart City Unit, and it is headed by Setiaji. It was set up in January to find solutions for the city through technology. The team sits in the Information and Communications Agency and has a direct channel to the Governor to speed things up. “We have a special task from the Governor, so we can communicate directly”, Setiaji says.

Despite this, agencies initially resisted to sharing data with the team: “Many agencies didn’t want to give us data”, he says. But the mood at City Hall has since changed – heads of seven agencies, including one-stop services, transport, water, sanitation and parks, were moved from their jobs into lower-ranking positions on 3 July. Now agencies are sharing their data directly with the team, Setiaji says.

The unit has three priorities this year – cut graft, improve transport and track government benefits for the poor.

Weeding out corruption

Tackling corruption is the Smart City Unit’s top priority this year. Corruption is widespread at government service centres, according to Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. “If you don’t bribe them [officials], they are very slow, and you don’t know when everything is accomplished,” he said at a conference earlier this year (see video below).

The city plans to monitor staff performance with video analytics on CCTV cameras placed in the service centres from next year, Setiaji said. The cameras are already set up, but manually monitoring the videos is time consuming. “The next programme [is that] we must put analytics – for example, for crowd detection and facial recognition”, he says.

The government is also monitoring staff location to make sure they do their jobs on time. Setiaji’s team launched a mobile app that frontline officials must install on their phones to constantly report their location to an operations centre. “This is important for us to know our employees, [whether] they work or not,” he says.

Troubleshooting transport

The second priority is easing Jakarta’s traffic congestion. Setaiji’s team is spearheading collaboration with startups in the transport sharing economy. For instance, Jakarta is sharing the locations of buses with Go-Jek, a motorbike taxi app, so that riders can plan their journey. In return, Setiaji plans to get traffic data from Go-Jek drivers.

Uber has already agreed to share some data with the government, says Setiaji. “They can give us the locations and journeys of the taxis.”

The smart city team will model this with other data to identify gaps in the public transport system, he explained. It will use data from traffic cameras, SIM cards and taxi company BlueBird.

Partnering with startups can also save the time taken to build a new service: “We don’t want to make new apps,” Setiaji says, “because if you make new apps, you need much more time”.

But he is cautious as he negotiates these new agreements. Talks with GrabTaxi stalled in August with protests from the Organisation of Land Transport Owners (Organda), he said. Based on how the partnership with Go-Jek goes, he hopes to have a similar agreement with Nebeng, a carpooling service – the government will provide bus location data, while the startup will share its data.

The city is also building a light rail transit system to take some traffic off the roads. The first segment of the rail will cost US$1 billion, Setiaji said.

Smart cards for citizens

The third task is to track government benefits to the poor. In 2017, the city will introduce smart cards for citizens to make payments.

The government has already introduced cards for cashless schooling support for the poor, but some are selling them to make quick cash. The new smart cards will be integrated with citizens’ identification data to make sure benefits reach those intended: “With the ID card, we can explore [integrating] many data like age, school, where they live”, Setiaji says.

The government will also be able to use this card to track visitors at public attractions, like monuments and museums. People will have to tap their smart cards to enter and exit the venues, Setiaji says. The government can use this data to determine how many people visit the facilities and the amount of time they spend there.

Future plans

In 2016, Setiaji’s focus will be on cleaning up the environment. “For pollution, I think the best approach is [that] we must limit car movement”, he says. The city’s collaboration with startups would be useful here, he believes. For instance, Nebeng could provide data on how much fuel is saved and pollution reduced by sharing cars, he says.

There will also be a greater focus on helping startups grow. The government plans to build a co-working space and connect startups with venture capitalists to get funding, he says.

The smart city team itself will expand next year. Setiaji plans to recruit a data scientist to his existing team of data analysts, programmers and surveyors. However, outsourced staff will be cut from 80 to 50 by automating some tasks.

It’s been just nine months since the Smart City Unit began debugging Jakarta, but this tech team is already taking tough steps to fix the operating system of government.