Industry leaders hold enormous influence over many aspects of daily life. Facebook and Google dominate the virtual world; private energy providers light our homes; and the Alibabas and Amazons of the world deliver all the products we could ever dream of.
The need for governments to work closely with the private sector is so crucial that Denmark appointed the world’s first-ever Tech Ambassador in 2017. This move arose from the realisation that companies can be “policy actors in their own right”, with the power to shape public opinions.
Public-private partnerships are hugely important for countries. Governments can tap on the agility, speed and expertise of the private sector to build services and infrastructure at scale. Below are examples of how China, South Korea and Japan are working with private sector to build smart city projects together.
Cardless transport in China
China practically blurs the line between the private and public sectors. Payment and services industry giants have stepped in to replace state systems entirely. For instance, various major Chinese cities – Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, to name a few – are making use of the enormous penetration of mobile payments apps.
To hop onto the metro, Guangzhou’s citizens merely need to scan their mobile phones; cash and card fares have been phased out since 2015.
Citizens may also pay for medical prescriptions online, and their orders will be sent straight to their homes. Medical services are just “one click away”, as Vice Mayor Cai Chaolin put it.
And this year, Guangzhou is trialling the use of WeChat as a digital ID card to access government services, in a world-first.
Driverless cars in South Korea
In South Korea, government is working closely with private developers to design and build an entire city on reclaimed land. Songdo, a city on the outskirts of Incheon, is being built to the tune of $35 billion, with developers keen to make it the world’s most sustainable city.
The residents of Songdo will benefit from less road traffic, as the development will prioritise public transport and accessibility to it. They will enjoy open, green spaces, with almost 40 percent of the city dedicated to nature. They will also feel safer – thousands of CCTV cameras feed into a central operations room, helping police and operators to monitor the city.
South Korea is unique amongst other digitally-advanced nations in that it lacks a large central team to build digital services for government agencies. Much of this is outsourced to the private sector, but despite this, South Korea still enjoys its status as a D5 nation.
27 million smart meters in Japan
With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics looming over the horizon, Japan is making procurement processes more flexible to ease public-private collaborations. This year, the government wants to trial new methods, such as crowdsourcing and agile procurement models for startups and SMEs.
Disaster risk is one area where public-private partnerships are affecting tangible change. The International Research Institute of Disaster Science is working with Fujitsu to build a system that uses AI to predict the effects of tsunamis. The system, launched last year in the coastal city of Kawasaki, will be able to help mitigate the impact of tsunamis in high-risk areas.
Authorities will have a clearer picture of areas with greater severity of damage. They will receive estimations on wave height and arrival time. They will also be able to plan evacuation routes better, as the system models human behaviour alongside flooding data.
Tokyo Electric Power Company, one of the country’s largest utility providers, partnered with Toshiba to install over 27 million smart meters in homes by 2020. Homeowners will have access to a visualisation tool that measures consumption patterns at regular intervals, and provides data analyses to help them conserve energy.
The private sector can help governments complete the smart city ecosystem by supporting startups and building up local capabilities. Tech service provider DXC Technology, for instance, helps startups expand their networks through its own global alliance and customers. The company is also uniquely positioned as a partner to governments, finding the best answers to policy challenges while being technology-agnostic.
Governments may not be fully equipped to solve complex challenges alone. To serve citizens better, the public and private sectors must work as one.