From One Smart City to Another: My Big Data Love Letter from Russia


Photo courtesy of WeGO

After travelling for nearly 24 hours from Jakarta, I finally arrived in Ulyanovsk, Russia for the 4th WeGO General Assembly. On the invitation of the World e-Governments Organisation of Cities and Local Governments, more commonly known as WeGO, I was there to adjudicate nominations for the organisation’s sustainable smart city awards.

With scores of attendees and different informational sessions taking place (such as “IoT, Big Data and Analytics” which I had the privilege of chairing), it was obvious that this triennial conference had a good reputation among city mayors, officials in local government, chief information officers and others.

Though I’m eager to delve into the interesting takeaways based on my participation, I thought it’d be helpful to first answer some of the questions that are already on your mind: smart city? IoT? WeGO? How do they all connect?

Smart city technologies are on the rise, promising more efficient services with the availability of real-time data on a wide range of topics related to citizens’ quality of life. For instance, IoT (Internet of Things) devices are installed in many cities worldwide. The benefits from these new technologies are, of course, unprecedented possibilities for informing and transforming our complex society.

More specifically, by integrating the technologies in daily city operations, smart cities are expected to offer new solutions in dealing with traffic congestion, environmental pollution, energy efficiency, disaster management, and increasing demand for services.

During my three-day trip, I had an opportunity to mentally “visit” other smart cities, as well as, interact with different smart city practitioners. The overall conference gave me a chance to examine the promises and challenges of smart city initiatives, to leverage lessons from good practices and to devise new ways to strengthen collaboration among big data cities.

Here are my five key takeaways:

1. Smart City = People Focused

The concept of smart city is similar to technology. Image research on smart city has resulted in computer-generated pictures of high-rise buildings, roads, cars and even binary symbols. Given this, it was very assuring to hear the speakers focusing on the importance of the human aspect of smart cities, such as Tom Symons from NESTA Foundation who asserted, “people-centered cities are smarter cities.” Mi-Jung Kim, CEO Of Yong Consulting and a familiar face in the financial service industry, also underscored the need for institutional capacity (people focused) to conduct integrated development planning with ICT technology for jobs and economic growth.

2. Smart City = Breaking Silos and Pushing Collaboration

The winners of the WeGO Smart Cities Sustainable Awards showed how new technology is being used to streamline processes and to provide a platform for different government agencies to communicate. Eldar Tuzmukhametov from Moscow City, for instance, stated that unified system allowed the integration of databases from different institutions in Moscow. Particularly, it created 200 public services available online and via mobile, and the unified IoT platform is used for optimisation of services to its citizen. These tools also allow wider audiences to share ideas and views, so that policymakers in the city can make more-informed decisions.

3. Smart City = Smarter Data Collection and Use

As people’s needs change, individuals change how they use services, and these changes leave patterns in the big data in real time. Notwithstanding, big data is rapidly growing and has messy unstructured datasets, which rarely fits nicely into the rows and columns that traditional approaches to intelligent machines, software, and database required. Smart city therefore needs to augment finding from big data with qualitative insights from user research, using ethnographic approaches to uncover the meaning behind data visualisations and analyses. These results can then provide insights to help cities find and explore solutions.

4. Smart City = A Living Lab

Open innovation and living labs are trending in smart cities. In South Korea for example, 29 living labs were identified at the end of May 2017, as confirmed by Dr. Marc Wolfram from Yonsei University. Chungha Cha, founder of Re-Imagining Cities Foundation argued that the emergence of living labs is a response to “smart city 1.0”, which created “vertical data silo” and failed to scale and demonstrate real benefits. Accordingly, living lab is now considered “smart city 2.0” — a city that connects multiple, inter-operating platform into a ‘living lab’. These living labs are spaces for multiple stakeholders to collaborate and develop solutions to city challenges.

5. Smart City = Groundwork for Future Generations

With smart cities planning and infrastructures, energy can be used more wisely and waste products can be better-managed. As a result, the use of these new technological approaches enables us as citizens to measure the way we use our electricity in crowded cities, to allow friendlier use of energy in the environment, to transform waste into a useful matter, among others. These small steps will contribute to a better life for people living in urban cities, and create feasible and sustainable groundwork for future generations to build on.

To learn more about Pulse Lab Jakarta’s work on urban dynamics, check out our pages on medium.

Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support from the Government of Australia.



UN Global Pulse Asia Pacific
United Nations Global Pulse Asia Pacific

UN Global Pulse Asia Pacific is a regional hub that aims to drive data innovation and sustainable development to ensure that no one is left behind.