Actualising smart communities in Malaysia: CEO interview

Cyberjaya Global Tech Hub

Malaysia’s inception of its digital economy vision in 1996 was seeded in the form of Cyberjaya, the embryo of the country’s first smart city, and the beginning of its ambitious aim to become a digital hub through the MSC Supercorridor (MSC Malaysia) platform.

Cyberjaya, as a smart city zone, is designed to support the development and growth of emerging technologies and is well-positioned to become Malaysia’s preferred tech investment location, according to Najib Ibrahim, Managing Director, Cyberview Sdn Bhd, in a recent interview with Disruptive.Asia.

Cyberjaya plays a big role in Malaysia’s digital revolution as a smart city. In 2019, Cyberview was mandated by the government to develop Cyberjaya and further strengthen its technology ecosystem.

“We took on the role of a tech hub developer and designed a new master plan for the city that will focus on the development of five key elements: facilities, community, activities, experience, and incentives,” said Najib.

The master plan was expected to contribute around RM250 billion to the GDP accumulatively, provide up to 87,000 job opportunities, and attract 1,200 companies by 2045.

The long revolution

So far, the journey to those goals has comprised many intriguing, somewhat sporadic ‘dots’ – all of which suggest potential wins from smart community models.

Many dots are required to design and implement a meaningful smart community that draws broad benefits from applying digital technologies.

The heart of these is the supply and secure handling and analysis of data, flowing through an integrated yet complex array of projects that embrace key functionalities of community life.

Najib points out that Cyberjaya is made up of early tech adopters. “The city serves as a Living Lab offering real-life settings for proof-of-concept testing for innovators and businesses. Together with Cyberview’s ecosystem partners, the city provides a piloting platform for a range of companies to test as well as validate proof of concepts and prototypes that are commercially ready. “

For example, in the ride-sharing space, Tryke, Malaysia’s first sharing electric scooter service provider, is currently piloting in Cyberjaya. Platforms like Tryke is responsible for scaling smart communities within the city.

There has been an exponential increase in user ride frequency from 0 to 20,000 rides in a span of 17 months in Cyberjaya. This period includes the eight months between mid-February to September 2020, where public transportation operations were reduced due to the lockdown causing users to search for alternatives.

Since October 2020, Tryke has seen the ride frequency grow to 60,000 rides. Tryke have recently added bicycles to their portfolio apart from establishing a consolidated online platform for other entrepreneurs to follow suit by operating a similar rental system. This platform will enable other communities outside of urban areas and anywhere in Malaysia to access micro-mobility services.

Cyberview Living Lab

Actualising a sustainable smart community

The development of smart communities in Malaysia is believed to have started in the early 2000s, and since then, various technologies have been implemented.

For instance, Najib said that Smart Mobility had shown predominant growth, especially in Cyberjaya, with the evolution of shared rides, electric vehicles (EV), charging infrastructures, and the cultural transformation of becoming a cashless society. Cyberjaya is listed in Malaysia’s Smart City Framework along with Putrajaya and Iskandar, in Johore.

The development of smart mobility in Cyberjaya is also helmed by companies such as Aerodyne, a solutions provider that uses drone data and AI-powered analytics to resolve complex industrial challenges. Drone technology has proven useful, especially in times of emergencies, calamities and currently, during the pandemic.

During Malaysia’s first Movement Control Order (MCO), Aerodyne collaborated with the Royal Malaysian Police, during which 26 teams were deployed to assist the police drone unit in patrolling neighbourhoods in the Klang Valley.

Using drones and sensors worth about RM2.5 million, the teams conducted thermal patrolling, mass sanitisation, and delivery services in addition to visual patrolling and making public announcements.

“In terms of practicality, drone surveillance provided authorities an efficient and fast method of detecting errant individuals who failed to comply with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) set by the Government,” explained Najib.

EV parking rekascape

Najib further stresses that In a city with a population surpassing 140,000, Cyberjaya’s real-life settings enable technologies to be tried and tested where creators and innovators can assess adoption rates, practicality and project future usage.

 For example, in 2018, Cyberview collaborated with TNG Digital. Cyberjaya was used as a platform to kickstart the transformation of Malaysia’s taxi ecosystem in a bid to improve last-mile connectivity.

To encourage the community to utilise this mobility option, efforts were carried out to refurbish taxi stands in Cyberjaya, now equipped with USB ports to enable charging of mobile devices during waiting periods, and solar panels to power up the USB port as well as light up the taxi stands at night.

“Smart communities play an important role in pioneering the adoption of digitalisation and new technologies,” he continued. “The Cyberjaya Farmers Market (CFM) became one of the first eCommerce activities to fully implement cashless payment methods.”

Serving as a bridge between businesses and consumers, CFM is a producer cum entrepreneur-run organisation that hosts cashless community markets in Cyberjaya. With the support from Cyberview, CFM was mooted in 2018 to catalyse and accelerate the adoption of e-wallets in the Cyberjaya community.

Already committed to digitalisation, CFM ensured business continuity for their 100 CFM entrepreneurs from the onset of the first MCO in 2020. This involved setting up a website within three days with collaboration from industry players, including the Internet Alliance Association and Cyberview, the latter providing space for sellers to distribute the products for delivery.

Another example is startup Urban Farm Tech, which provides solutions enabling local communities to grow their food. The platform has been instrumental in introducing the urban farming concept to the Cyberjaya community. The produce from urban farming has proven to generate a viable source of income for primary or supplemental jobs.

“This is especially relevant in the case where the development of urbanisation has been rapid but inevitably is accompanied by issues such as urban food insecurity and poverty. Urban Farm Tech is also an alumni of the Cyberview Living Lab Accelerator (CLLA) programme,” Najib said.

“In another move to promote cashless behaviour, Cyberjaya became the first city to adopt a national QR code,” continued Najib. “This would allow merchants to accept various brands of e-wallets without having to sign up with each company.”

In early 2020, Cyberview Sdn Bhd (Cyberview) launched the Cashless Ecosystem for Cyberjaya, which saw a collaboration between Cyberview and Bank Negara Malaysia’s (BNM) affiliate, Payments Network Malaysia Sdn Bhd (PayNet). Yet another prime example of technology and collaboration in scaling smart communities.

To date, based on the latest sampling completed in the first half of 2021, more than 95% of merchants in Cyberjaya offer customers the option of transacting via cashless methods.

Stepping into 2022

Najib stepped back and explained that the definition of a smart city is not just a place for technology but a space for innovation across a broad spectrum. “A smart city drives liveability, encourages the growth of economic activities as well as supports the social needs of its people.”

On a strategic level, with the Cyberview Smart City Action Plan at its core, Cyberjaya is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), which emphasise building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusiveness and sustainable industrialisation while fostering innovation.

Cyberview’s plan also aligns with the Malaysia Smart City Framework and the Cyberjaya Low Carbon City Framework.

“This action plan requires the civic participation of communities to not only drives a sense of ownership and commitment but ensure a better quality of living for everyone in the city,” he said, adding that other areas that Cyberview can address include:

  • Better public safety monitoring during the pandemic through connected CCTV monitoring, AI analytics, remote access to the workplace among others
  • Enhancing Government-Community Partnerships – Public be given opportunities to participate in improving city services through use of technology.
  • Create socio economic opportunities – adoption of technology for creation of jobs, driving growth of the e-commerce that also supports the development of the gig economy/digital economy as well as other industries.
  • Improved accessibility – using technology to improve transportation and infrastructure efficiency, last mile transportations, public parking, among others
Smart City integrated platform

“Building smart communities requires collaborative efforts from various parties,” he agreed. “This includes the involvement of government agencies with specific roles of leading the nation’s digital economy, spearheading innovation apart from offering financial assistance. These include Cyberview, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) and Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA) and Investment Promotion Agencies (IPA) like Invest Selangor, government ministries, local government authorities, and federal agencies such as PLANMalaysia. Efforts are further boosted with the inclusion of industry players, businesses, academia, public-private partnerships and most important, the communities.”

Who will benefit?

Speaking to this question, Najib said the community benefits would embrace citizens, students, academicians, tech developers, local government, businesses, and others.

“They are always at the heart of what we do at Cyberjaya. We are a strong proponent of inclusive growth within Cyberjaya, ensuring economic growth is fairly distributed and opportunities are created for all. Cyberjaya is a citizen-centric, smart city enabled by digitalised services through collaborative efforts and adoption of technology.”

A 2018 study by McKinsey suggests that technology used in cities could improve quality of life up to 30%, he cites. Our smart city agenda focuses on the city’s liveability, including aspects of safety and security. Adoption of technology and digitalisation are the steps forward in ensuring all levels of the communities can reap its benefits and enhance the quality of their lives.”

As per the Cyberjaya master plan, the city is split into four distinct zones, each catering to different groups of people within the communities.

“For example, the Global Business District – North Cyberjaya is a centre for the development of sustainable smart city solutions. It is designed to serve the community owing to the development of the MRT nearby as well as the Cyberjaya City Centre (CCC) that will further spur urban living in Cyberjaya,” he said.

Meanwhile, South Cyberjaya is known as the innovation zone, another fundamental piece to the master plan as it anchors the development of three technology clusters: Smart Mobility, Smart Healthcare, and Digital Creative. This zone serves as the ideal platform for entrepreneurs, businesses, investors, industry players to put their heads together in driving the transformation across these highly potential sectors.

This is also where the Collaboration Campus is located, which will become the initial iteration of developing these three tech clusters in a single location. The Cyberview HQ is also located here, along with its subsidiary, Futurise, which oversees the National Regulatory Sandbox (NRS), where regulatory processes involving authoritative bodies are fast-tracked.

“This campus offers physical spaces for the testing of autonomous vehicles (AV) through the Cyberjaya Malaysia Autonomous Vehicle (MyAV) Testing Route, which is Malaysia’s first public road testbed for AVs. The Collaboration Campus is landmarked by a huge field, certified as a drone testing zone,” said Najib.

The 5G element

In whatever format the 5G rollout eventually happens, this heightened connectivity promises to be the catalytic ‘glue’ that connects the dots needed to enliven a dynamic smart community environment.

One prime industry example manifested through Telekom Malaysia Group’s participation during the 2019/2020 MCMC (Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission) 5G demonstration project initiative. These suggested massive social and economic possibilities from a nationwide 5G rollout, beyond the usually touted qualities of speed, low latency, and so on.

As described by Najib, Cyberview is one key thread in Malaysia’s smart city story.

The new masterplan has also been designed to provide dynamic synergies between companies from various industries and entire value chains, addressing one of the gaps faced by businesses today: working in silos. Its four distinctive zones will optimise productivity and amplify growth with the three tech clusters to enhance liveability, ultimately transforming Cyberjaya into the centre for global tech powerhouses and promising startups.

“Other areas that we need to look into, is ensuring better data sharing and governance which is key in the adoption and development of technologies like IoT and Artificial Intelligence. We are pleased that the government is pushing forward this agenda with their recent efforts in the migration of public data to hybrid cloud systems. We welcome the government’s plan to introduce supportive regulatory framework in enabling a thriving digital ecosystem in Malaysia which also drives the advancement of Cyberjaya as a smart city and global tech hub.”

“With the new masterplan in place, Cyberjaya is on track to create a sustainable and high value comprehensive business launchpad, progressing into a smart city,” he concluded. “The city offers holistic infrastructure to support growth across all areas with readily available talent pool, attractive incentives and a supportive and involved community.”

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