Why China leads the way with practical smart city innovations

CITY innovations from startups and enterprises alike are stirring up excitement among citizens and forcing municipal bodies and government agencies to explore and invest.

A majority of these new-age solutions boast of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and claim to leverage the internet of things (IoT) to transform urban spaces into modern digital arenas.

Although there seems to be no dearth of innovation in this space, the rate of transformation or even progress is slow.

Government agencies are dragging their feet on making sweeping changes to their cities, and for good reason. There’s not enough evidence to say that city innovations actually help its businesses or residents.

, however, seems to be bucking that trend. Its provinces are announcing one success story after another in the city space, creating buzz and excitement across the world.

Their key to success seems to be the fact that the innovations they pursue are citizen-centric and deliver value to residents and businesses alike.

Tech Wire Asia had a chance to learn about China’s approach to smart city development at Tencent’s recent Global Digital Ecosystem Summit in Yunnan, a province in China that Tencent is helping climb the digital maturity curve.

Tencent Cloud VP Yan Ge discussed an interesting app that the company has developed for the province and showcased how it helps businesses in the region an approach other cities could take to accelerate their transition and create more opportunities for everyone.

Taking a leaf out of Yunnan’s innovation playbook

Tencent partnered with Yunnan’s provincial government to launch a mobile app last year. Dubbed E-Travel in Yunnan, the app aims to help tourists better experience the region and interact with businesses to gain access to better products and services.

“The traveling application ‘E-Travel in Yunnan’, provides tourists with fast and unified information and connect them to services via the APP, mini-programs and the public account on WeChat,” explained Ge.

What’s interesting, Ge explains, is that although the app is geared to help tourists, it also creates exciting new opportunities for businesses in the province.

Here are some highlights of what the E-Travel in Yunnan app offers:

  • Tourists in Yunnan can pay for all the services on the mobile phone, including tickets booking via the integrated “one-code pass”.
  • Easy access to eateries, lodging, toilet, and sight-seeing routes.
  • Access to online package services (ticket reservations, hotel bookings, and parking accommodations) from local businesses that cover scenic spots and tourist attractions.
  • Purchases of vetted, genuine local delicacies from local businesses.
  • Reduces irregularities, including misleading promotions, forced shopping, and poor management of tourist attractions.

“The traveling app leverages AI, cloud computing, mobile payment, and other leading technologies to make it a secure, objective, and user-friendly.”

However, Ge believes that the app is a step in the right direction for the Chinese province of Yunnan in terms of smart city and smart tourism developments.

The app not only makes traveling in Yunnan more comfortable but also helps connect people with genuine local businesses that can offer interesting (local) products and services to significantly improve the experience of travelers.

Speaking of experiences, Tencent’s app also allows customers to buy souvenirs on their phones and have them delivered to their hotel showcasing a great degree of attention to customer demands.

Why human-first helps Yunnan leapfrog into smart city royalty

Not many cities around the world have cracked the smart city code.

China’s Yunnan, and other provinces in the country, seem to be delivering on the smart city agenda simply by focusing on the human aspects of their innovation.

As Ge explained, the company and the country seem to try to put people-first when creating new products and solutions and believe that users will only accept exciting offerings if their needs are at the core of the development efforts.

The country has a reputation for using advanced technology, and Yunnan’s app and other innovations don’t shy away from doing so the simple E-Travel in Yunnan app uses advanced AI, cloud, and other technologies behind the scenes.

On the screen, however, users only see a friendly interface that’s welcoming. And that’s exactly how all smart city innovations should be, believes Ge. Friendly and inviting.

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