Embracing Digital Symmetry: Why and How Businesses Can Ride the Smart City Wave

By Tan Yinglan, Founding Managing Partner, Insignia Ventures Partners

Tan Yinglan, Founding Managing Partner, Insignia Ventures Partners

Smart city solutions are evolving from bespoke solutions to ecosystems encompassing applications. This evolution comes on the heels of government prioritization of smart city initiatives, as with Singapore committing $1B this year to becoming a “Smart Nation” and leading the ASEAN Smart Cities Network last year with 10 participating countries. Heavy government investments and engagements across the region have created incentives and spaces for smart city solutions to develop and interact in an ecosystem.

Urban planning policies are also enabling more widespread creation and adoption of smart city technologies. Countries in APAC are facing tougher environmental externalities, from water crises to pollution, and are looking for more sustainable city management practices to adopt, from waste reprocessing to renewable energy. This has opened up more long-term opportunities to smart city solutions geared towards adapting to such externalities.

As the smart city becomes less a pipe dream and more a necessary path to sustainability, the impetus for businesses to keep up with the digitization of cities becomes greater.

The Smart City is All About Digital Symmetry

Smart city advancements, from in-home appliance connectivity to cross-border supply chain tracking, are not only transforming urban spaces but more broadly, the way we humans interact with machines. The picture this paints is not one of disintermediation of humans by machines, but of more efficient collaboration across human interactions. Being “smart” is about strengthening the interconnectivity of these elements, as opposed to building more and more structures, to meet the needs of a populace.

By resolving information and infrastructure asymmetries, smart cities enable more efficient communication across various relationships. These relationships could be between suppliers and merchants, governments and citizens, and even Airbnb hosts and travelers. More efficient communication, powered by smart city technologies, can lead to digital symmetry, where information flows are defined by transparency, access, and security.

"Smart city advancements, from in-home appliance connectivity to cross-border supply chain tracking, are not only transforming urban spaces but more broadly, the way we humans interact with machines"

Take, for example, the smart access locks of Igloo home. These locks not only secure valuable assets but also create seamless, real-time information flows about the state of these assets, whether these be fresh produce in a container van plying cross-country routes or a vacation home for rental. This reduces information asymmetry by keeping users informed and infrastructure asymmetry by making it easier to access and secure their assets.

What Digital Symmetry Means for Businesses

What this means for businesses is that smart city solutions present an opportunity to develop digital symmetry for customers, with suppliers, and even among employees. This reduces costs and waste and creates breathing space to focus on delivering more value.

Digital symmetry ultimately builds deeper relationships based on trust. Customers stick around longer, suppliers become more invested in the success of the business, and employees become healthier, productive, and skilled.

The depth of connections businesses can capitalize on is qualified by data the DNA of a smart city. The impact of data is more accessible with tools and platforms to unearth and make sense of data, like Igloo home’s recently launched Igloo works, an ecosystem of enterprise-grade smart access tools that enables data management, and Singapore’s cloud and data platform CODEX for better PPP collaboration on more user-centric infrastructure.

The benefits for stakeholders, as well as more accessible tools for implementation, make a stronger case for businesses to align with the development of smart city technology and contribute to digital symmetry.

At the end of the day, businesses are also key elements in a city, and the riding the smart city wave cannot leave any part behind.

Growing with Smart Cities is All about Resilience

Ultimately, a business aligning with the development of smart cities develops resilience against externalities. This way a business can truly ride with the waves of smart city advancements that won’t come all at once in a few years, but take shape over decades, especially in markets and industries with more entrenched asymmetries.

Resilience is built on partnerships, and when it comes to creating digital symmetry, partnering with data-driven tech solutions opens up untapped avenues to deliver value to customers. Take the landlord-tenant relationship, for example. Co-working space CoHive’s new retail solutions under Co Retail opens up access to data on how communities interact with spaces, enabling landlords to accommodate tenants better and cater to their varied needs.

These partnerships with tech platforms cover a wide range of applications, even getting your pizza fresh at your doorstep. B2B partnerships with smart mobility solutions like Beam enables food delivery services to optimize routes and more efficiently serve consumers. These partnerships are not in a vacuum. The Singaporean government, for example, is also investing in such partnerships, with their AI Business Partnership Programme linking up end-user businesses with AI solution providers.

Collaboration toward Digital Symmetry Begins at the Top

Building this resilience requires collaboration with other moving parts in an urban space and organizations driving smart city innovations. For companies, however, especially ones that are not digital-first, collaboration can only be possible with a strong foundation at the top of the ladder. Is company leadership embracing digitization and data-driven approaches? Do they have a vision of the role the business will play in a smart city?

Alignment from the top is crucial to raising the confidence of employees down the line to play a more active role in sourcing innovation and finding the right partners. After all, smart city solutions are not so much in the tech as they are in the people who make the tech work.

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