Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Smart Nation need Smart Leaders


I was using the Microsoft site (how-old.net) and it could not guess the age of Ultron from the movie age of Ultron.

I've often heard many politicians talk about "Smart Nation", the idea of a smart nation is very cool. But in essence, it is collecting personal data, recording videos, eliminating jobs, losing personal touch in services, and having an app for everything.

A smart nation sounds very cold, one that has defined rules in place, and defined consequences when breaking those rules, but does not care for any reason why those rules are broken. A smart nation with a lot of information is also prone for abuse. The easier it is to use a tracking software to track a person using all the connected CCTV cameras and a facial recognition software, the more it will be abused by people to use it for personal errands.

I've been pushed around in a bureaucratic system and having a webpage which the government forces everyone to use is by far one of the worse experience I have had. I wanted to buy a police report for an accident between my motorcycle and a bicycle, but could not do so online because the bicycle had no license plates, and when I arrived at the Traffic Police HQ, I could not buy the report over the counter as there is a webpage doing that, and since this was an exception, the people at the Traffic Police HQ denied all responsibility as they were not in charge of the system, and told me to look for the IT department, which was in a separate building, and the IT department could not access police reports as it was the duty of the Traffic Police.

With a computer system to blame, the service inevitably will be either very efficient (for things that are common) or impossible as exception will not be handled at all.

From my experience working with many different government departments across different countries, I realize that communications between the different government departments simply does not really exist.

In many countries, a "smart system" can be built relatively easily, but getting the data to work with can be impossible. Many government departments already collect a lot of data, most of the time, there will be an over saturation of data, and sometimes reports are run, but without any context or inputs from other government departments, most of these data are just nice to have and may not be enough to solve problems.

When the leaders do not have a clue about "Smart Nation" but pretend to know, then roll out initiatives and provide a lot of budgets for people to try things, There will be a lot of money wasted, as it is hard to achieve anything if the goal is not defined. Throwing money at the situation does not solve anything if the problem is not even properly defined.


Many of the Leaders have too much ego to learn. Having read a few pages from a book, they automatically can speak the lingo and become an expert. I've seen projects measuring traffic density, air quality and movement patterns, but the sensors are placed in any space that it fits with the least efforts required. So money is saved when sensors are just attached to pre-existing mounts, yet a lot more expensive sensor have to be bought because many of the sensors record the same thing as they are too close together to be effective.

Without a proper understanding of the problem, and an eagerness to talk about Big Data and other forms of analytics, the leaders will spend a lot to make sure that the data is collected, and have no idea how to parse the data into something usable. What's worse is that when other departments want to collaborate to use such data for their processing, the approval process to allow the sharing of the data or even having a sample of the data may take years. In the meantime, even what kind of data is collected remains a secret.

Well, I've spoken to some people who believe that collecting excess data in the beginning is a good approach, because we will never know what kind of data we need. I used to think that is a good strategy as well, but looking at the finite storage of the data collected, many of these data gets corrupted after a year or becomes unusable when the database structure is updated or a new system or new sensors are put in place, with a new format of data. Sometimes, even when changing different vendors for the sensors, the old data that has never been used, is discarded.

We can have a smart city, but if the leaders does not really know what's so smart about the city and having automation for the sake of automation, then it will be a big waste of money, hopefully the solution does not cause service levels to degrade.

I think the notion of a smart nation is a bad one, and I'd prefer to see perhaps a progressive nation, which focus on using technology to empower people and to reduce the barriers to marginalized people. From the implementation of many of the solutions I've seen from various government departments, the idea of a "smart nation" will indeed widen the income gap and create more barriers for people who are not the "average" person.

-- Iron Bowl

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