South Korea: Final Stop Of The Smart City Innovation Tour

What findings did we discover in terms of tech, innovation, big data, and design during the trip to South Korea? Read on to explore the country’s specifics.

MING Labs
MING Labs
Sep 12, 2019 · 10 min read

by Fang Dong, Senior Community Manager, and Randall Wong, Marketing Intern, at MING Labs

When EnBW, Germany’s third largest utility company, was exploring new business models, they identified Smart City as an area with strong, promising prospects for EnBW and its abilities. They then turned to countries that have been developing and running different kinds of Smart City projects to learn from them. Together with MING Labs, members of the Critical Infrastructure department visited four Asian cities — Singapore, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Seoul — and witnessed the drive of Smart City in these areas.

In our final part of the four-part series on the Smart City Asia tour we embarked on, we look at South Korea and provide some of our learnings from the country.

Before we delve into the insights from Korea, here is a brief recap on the insights from the first three cities:

  • In our first trip, we went to the sunny island of Singapore. The small nation surprised us with their drive and achieved level of implementation for nationwide Smart City solutions. With full support (financial, regulatory, and strategic) from the government level, startups and big corporates were encouraged to innovate Smart City solutions. The government even opened its doors and invited foreign talents with the necessary expertise and experience to operate in the country, as well as supported companies in terms of research and innovation.
  • After Singapore, we went further north to one of the global leaders of today, China. In Shanghai and Hangzhou, we saw how startups and big enterprises collaborated to develop an entire Smart City from scratch. Although Smart Cities are still being developed in China and not yet fully operational, we could see the speed of progress of each Smart City project. Besides having a big Smart City vision, China also has big data available. However, we learned about the importance of having data of a minimum quality when putting it to use in Smart City solutions, and how crucial the accompanying development of data processing capabilities is when it comes to vast amounts of data.
  • Our third stop was to Japan. The country had a slightly different environment and progress in terms of Smart City development as compared to the other two countries. In Tokyo, we witnessed an entire Smart City already built and in operation—with a special focus on people’s life improvement through addressing ecological and social matters equally to technical questions. The community was of great importance in the consideration of Smart City solutions, and we saw how each solution had careful consideration of the people. Another inspiring model was the city-wide implementation of a CO2 emission certificate trading system for owners and operators of existing big buildings in the city of Tokyo to incentivize emission-reducing measurements.
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View over Songdo

In our final trip to Asia, we find ourselves in the country of influence in entertainment, technology, and culture. South Korea is a country that could sometimes be mistaken for its neighbor, Japan. However, both countries are actually distinctly different, especially in terms of culture and food. There is no denying that South Korea is one of the leaders of technology and software. Samsung, Hyundai, LG are just some of the many examples of global brands that have their roots in Korea. However, when thinking about South Korea’s achievements, many may have forgotten the struggles the nation had to go through to get to where it is today. Recovering from the Korean War in the 1960s, South Korea was a poor nation—a plight all too familiar when we think of Singapore. But as with Singapore, the nation of South Korea rallied their people, focused their resources on industrial pillars which they were strong in, and built a country almost from scratch. It is an amazing feat that the country and its people have achieved.

Although it was only in recent years that the country started placing greater focus on building Smart Cities, history has proven what this nation and their people can achieve in less than half a decade.

There is no doubt they would be able to do so with that same resolve, and it is unquestionable why the team of EnBW included Korea in their Smart City Tour of Asia.

In this final article of the four-part Smart City Innovation Tour series, we’ll explore what went down in South Korea and the lessons learned from the country.

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Visiting Encored Technologies

From the previous three tours to Singapore, Shanghai, and Tokyo, we observed a common pattern: The ability for a country to develop Smart Cities is highly pegged on its advancement in technology and research as well as its people’s and government’s ability to embrace and utilize the possibilities of this progress in a responsible way. Although South Korea had only recently been able to increase its attention on developing Smart City solutions, its potential is enormous. For a long time, South Korea has been known for being globally leading in the information and communication technology industry. They have a total of 14.1% patents filed between 2010 to 2012 and were recently crowned leaders in innovation in Bloomberg’s 2019 Innovation Index.

In fact, the country already has the expertise and skills needed to develop Smart Cities as its people have been constantly innovating cutting-edge technological solutions.

We visited Songdo, a Smart City built entirely from scratch on reclaimed land just 25 miles away from Seoul. Known as the world’s “First Smart City”, the project was started by the US-American real estate developer Gale International together with South Korean partners like POSCO and Daewoo. The project is slated to be completed by 2020, even though it might be delayed due to the size and complexity of the project. The goal was to create a car-free city by having interconnected transportation systems throughout the city, all at the doorsteps of residents. Green spaces are deliberately allocated for communal activities and cycling routes make up to 40 % of the area. Technology is integrated throughout the city and one example is found in the city’s trash disposal system. There are no rubbish chutes and trash is “pneumatically sucked out of the houses and recycled to generate electricity”. The only aspect which tampered down our excitement to some degree was some lack of people living in Songdo and, therefore, the feeling of a vibrant city, since some parts of the housing opportunities were just too expensive for a bigger part of the local population.

Songdo is part of the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ), which includes three regions, Songdo, Cheongna, and the island of Yeongjong. The IFEZ represents the government’s strategy of creating a hub for Northeast Asia. We were invited to view its Smart City Operation Center, which was awarded the Smart City Asia Pacific Awards (SCAPA) in 2017 and whose design is being exported to other countries. The system is in operation 24/7 and provides a broad variety of remote public services including transportation, crime, disaster prevention, environmental or facility management, and many others. This wholesome integration of different public services in one single operation center leads, among others, to considerably lower cost in setting up and running the facility than traditional, single operations centers. The control center overlooked the entire city of Songdo, and we saw a fully functioning Smart City on one side while there were constructions and developments still taking place on the other side. The project team explained to us the future of the city and their plans of further developing the rest of Songdo as well as new services for the residents, based on the combination, analyses, and insights of the accumulated data.

We see the potential of the city and the possibilities South Korea can achieve in the area of Smart City in the years to come.

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EnBW and MING Labs at Encored Technologies

We further visited Encored Technologies, an energy technology company leveraging IoT and Big Data to create an innovative behavioral platform. The team from EnBW was excited to see the possibilities in handling energy data behind the meter, especially in the context of people’s households. Encored’s platform “EDGE” Energy Planner delivers energy use habits to each customer based on IoT and Big Data. In addition to that, the company provides a variety of service platforms offering values and innovative energy services. Encored keeps studying for continuous development of their integrated platform “ENERTALK”, which consists of the EDGE service platform and an innovative internet meter “GetIT” collecting real-time information on electricity use.

In comparison to the German market, it was unbelievable for EnBW to see people agree to have a company track their data and sign data protection regulations.

We discovered that there are actually lots of innovation opportunities in leveraging energy data in homes and that it is an interesting field to innovate further.

In a Smart City conference in Busan, South Korea, President Moon Jae-in announced plans to use two cities as testbeds for building Smart Cities and informed the public of the government’s intention to invest even more into building Smart Cities in the country. The intention behind building Smart Cities is to enable people to live in a safe city, increase efficiency, save more time for residents, and to create an environment that would encourage future growth.

The building of Smart Cities has its agenda revolved around the citizens. Therefore, human-centric design is a must and a necessity in ensuring that a Smart City is designed for maximized efficiency and to encourage interaction within the community.

We had the privilege of meeting Professor Yoo Hyunjoon, an award-winning architect with an educational background from Yonsei University, Harvard, and MIT. Spending a couple of years in the United States, Professor Yoo was trained in the study and evaluation of a city’s design.

He believes that Smart Cities should start with a human-centric design instead of having a tech-focused approach.

Commenting on the current Seoul city design, he noted the city’s progress in development and how the country has come a long way to where it is today. However, the city could encourage greater inclusivity among the citizens. This could be done through more public common spaces which people could gain access to freely without having to pay or consume something and designing streets or roads that allow people to meet one another. Drawing from an example of streets designed in New York, Professor Yoo showed how the layout of a city could create opportunities for greater interaction between people.

Design is important and cannot be neglected in creating any solutions; there should be a human-centric focus in almost all solutions. This is important because the ultimate users of solutions are people and we are designing a future for humans to live in.

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EnBW and MING Labs at the Songdo Control Center

Our visit to South Korea was an eye-opener on many levels. Given the short time after the Korean war, it is incredible what the Koreans have been able to achieve. There is huge potential, as witnessed through the companies and projects we visited, and the people are well-equipped and ready to build the Smart City Korea envisions them to be. They have built an empire of technological innovations and are not stopping their progress in innovating further. It is important to be open and to explore new cutting-edge technology, investing time and effort into research, understanding what we could do with technology.

In doing so, we can then create solutions that maximize the potential of the user and the technology used.

We also saw the importance of human-centricity and how design cannot neglect this important aspect in a Smart City context. This lesson we took away from Korea was equally important to us as it was for the team members of EnBW since this lesson validated the already existing focus of EnBW itself for its own customer approach. We also saw the importance of promoting inclusivity and designing to build a community. In doing so, we can harness the power of people and community, and achieve greater milestones in the future.

Countries are increasingly opening up their doors to transformation through technology and the use of the digital world. When a country is headed that direction, the incorporation of Smart Cities in its transformation plans is inevitable. There is still much to be done and there can be more exchange of skills and knowledge. Through the four trips to each individual city, we’ve witnessed how the transformation or setup of a city into a smart one does not necessarily require grand plans, and the responsibility of it should not lie solely in the hands of the government. Smart City can happen from the smallest unit of every community — the home. Designing a home and including technology into our everyday lives can help us get closer to building a Smart City future.

As we enter into the next decade, resources are draining while the population is continuing to swell. There is a need for accelerated development in every country to allow each country to use their resources as efficiently as possible. Smart City is the big topic of the future and should be the eventual aim of every government for the coming decade. In Asia, many countries and cities are already on it with high focus and resource commitment.

Fang Dong is Senior Community Manager and Randall Wong is Marketing Intern at MING Labs.

MING Labs is a leading digital business builder located in Berlin, Munich, New York City, Shanghai, and Singapore. We guide clients in designing their businesses for the future, ensuring they are leaders in the field of innovation.

Liked this story, and curious to know more? Start a conversation with us on Twitter, check our latest updates on LinkedIn, or drop us a note at hello@minglabs.com.

Related Reading: Inside Japan: Visiting Tokyo As Part Of The Smart City Innovation Tour

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Find out how the megacity Tokyo drives its Smart City solutions through Smart Energy, community building, and more.

MING Labs

MING Labs is a leading digital business builder located in…

MING Labs

Written by

MING Labs

We are a leading digital business builder located in Munich, Berlin, Singapore, Shanghai, and Suzhou. For more information visit us at www.minglabs.com

MING Labs

MING Labs

MING Labs is a leading digital business builder located in Berlin, Munich, New York City, Shanghai and Singapore. We guide clients in designing their businesses for the future, ensuring they are leaders in the field of innovation.

MING Labs

Written by

MING Labs

We are a leading digital business builder located in Munich, Berlin, Singapore, Shanghai, and Suzhou. For more information visit us at www.minglabs.com

MING Labs

MING Labs

MING Labs is a leading digital business builder located in Berlin, Munich, New York City, Shanghai and Singapore. We guide clients in designing their businesses for the future, ensuring they are leaders in the field of innovation.

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