Geotagging can help cities become 'smarter'

Governments can tackle urbanization challenges by leveraging "crowdsourced" information, and establishing common standards for more location-based services to be developed on.

SINGAPORE--Leveraging big data and analytics will be key for those looking to becoming a 'smart' city, as technology can play its part in tackling the challenges brought about by urbanization.

One of the problems with urbanization is rising healthcare costs, especially in countries such as China, said Andrew Grant, director at McKinsey & Company Singapore. He was part of a panel discussion at the i.luminate 2012 conference organized by Singapore Telecommunications held here Tuesday.

"Healthcare costs in China will be 3 times in 10 years' time," said Grant, but noted one way of tackling this is by leveraging big data for preventive medicine . He was referring to China's disease surveillance network, where data is collected across the country to monitor the patterns and potential of infectious diseases--such as during natural disasters.

Such "crowdsourced" information can also be used to bring down healthcare costs, the executive pointed out, such as in emergency response which is one of the most expensive things governments provide.

For example, a number of cities have looked at hybridizing the existing response infrastructure with volunteers, Grant noted. Volunteers and defibrillators are geotagged , so when someone suffers from a heart attack the system triggers an alert to the nearest volunteer and the nearest defibrillator.

Cities can potentially get a lot of feedback from citizens to become more efficient and smarter too, but most do not capture it properly, the director noted. "For example, if a tree falls, I can geotag it and send it to the relevant department straightaway and this can help influence real-time workflows."

Common standards to unlock LBS potential
Agreeing, Doug Farber, managing director for enterprise in Asia-Pacific at Google, said it was important for governments to establish a foundation of standards on which services can be built on top of.

"A great example is geospatial infrastructure--having a single source of truth of what a country or what a city looks like," said Farber during the same panel discussion as Grant.

He cited the example of his experience in Queensland, Australia, where Google worked with local authorities after a hurricane struck two years ago.

"What made the problem worse was there were 15 to 20 different sources of truth to what the underlying data and the mapping data was. People didn't know what the disaster was, they didn't know where the property lines were. They didn't know where the flood plains started or ended," the executive said.

The search giant helped wade through the different data and unified them using Google Earth, and this single source of information then opened up opportunities for location-based services (LBS), he said.

"Once you set up that foundation, you can overlay other sorts of important information and send it out to a lot more constituents," he pointed out.