Smart nations need smart shopping mall delivery systems: IMDA

shopping mall IoT
Khoon Hock Yun, assistant chief executive for development at the IMDA, delivers the first address at EmTechAsia

When ICT industry people talk about smart cities, they’re usually thinking of smart meters, smart traffic management and smart lighting systems. They don’t usually think of shopping malls. But shopping mall delivery turns out to be a key example of how Singapore is approaching the challenge of becoming a smart city – and how it requires everyone in the city to become involved.

Khoon Hock Yun, assistant chief executive for development at the IMDA, delivered the first address at EmTechAsia this week and spoke about the IMDA’s experience with harnessing IoT technology to streamline delivery of goods to shopping malls.

Shopping centers are not unlike shipping ports, where the bottleneck is the loading/unloading bay. Malls typically open at 10:00am, and loading/unloading must finish before the evening rush hour starts at 4:00pm. A study showed that it took a truck an average of 65 minutes to entering the shopping center loading bay, finish loading or unloading, and then leaving – and most of that time was spent waiting. The actual loading and unloading time was just 24 minutes.

The IMDA introduced a structural change to the malls in the form of a centralized in-mall operator to receive the goods and then distribute them to the individual shops. This reduced the time trucks spent in the bay to just seven minutes.

This in-mall operator system alone has the potential to reduce the number of trucks by 25%, the number of foreign truck drivers by 25%, and carbon emissions by 14.8 megatons a year. All in all, it was worth S$65 million ($45.8 million) in manpower savings over the course of a year.

The problem with an in-mall operator is with chain of custody. To solve this, the IMDA introduced smart locks on containerized transports. If at any time the lock is broken or connectivity is lost, the integrity of the package is not guaranteed. If the lock is intact and something is missing, then the loss is something for the shipper and receiver to handle, not the logistics chain in the middle.

The next phase was to consolidate delivery trucks off-site to further reduce the number of trucks on the roads to the shopping centers, and expand to federated lockers or to homes.

Khoon said that since the receiver – rather than the shop – is the agent, then delivery hours are not limited to 10am-4pm and can even be operated 24/7. And, one day in the future, with autonomous vehicles, further reducing the demands for trucks even further.

“A smart nation is not something the government thinks of and comes out and tells the people that this is a smart nation – enjoy,” he said. “Everyone needs to participate. Problems come from real-world communities and the question is how we can make society better and what is the role of technology.”

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