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Stories Asia

The power of thinking young

In our Asia Vision Series features, we dive into key industry trends and issues with our subject matter experts and visionaries across the region. In part 3 of 3 in this interview, Koh Buck Song, author and editor of more than twenty books and former political supervisor for Singapore broadsheet The Straits Times, speaks with Stefan Sjöström, vice president of Public Sector, Microsoft Asia. Sjöström shares what drives his passion for empowering cities and people to achieve more through technology.

As young, dynamic mayors come into power, I think we are going to see much, much better use of technology in cities throughout the Asia Pacific.

Smart cities are more than about technology, they require smart leaders too. A big part of Stefan Sjöström’s job involves engaging with city mayors, and getting a sense of what keeps them up at night.

Transportation woes topped the list of desired improvements across Asia Pacific cities in a Microsoft survey. 7 in 10 believe tech is a catalyst for better living conditions.

As agents of change, mayors need to be visionary and part of this is about knowing how to put technology to good use. “Technology can help to drive social issues and behaviors in very constructive ways, so smart mayors will develop a vision on how to harness it to meet their citizens’ needs,” says Sjöström.

“Smart mayors will not see technology as the domain of chief information officers, and just delegate that function to them,” Sjöström continues. Instead, they will dare to use technology as ‘offensive weapons’ to overcome local problems, and deliver value to their communities.

Mayor Ir. H. Mohammad Ramdhan Pomanto of the city of Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, is an example of a young, dynamic mayor, according to Sjöström. Coming from an architectural background, his ability to understand blueprints helps him to see how technology can play a part in delivering better service to his people. “Mayors like Pomanto have an aptitude for aggregating resources and mobilizing people to their vision,” Sjöström expresses. “And because they do, good things happen. I hope there will be more leaders like him to build more vibrant environments in Asia.”

Mayors have the power to drive change and one way is in bringing the local software community together to solve problems. Following Pomanto’s election in May 2014, he chose his inauguration day to put the spotlight on the results of a local application design competition.

The Microsoft CityApp Appathon is a competition where student developers and technology enthusiasts create apps that help address urban challenge like healthcare and education. “This sends a clear and strong message to every citizen on how they too can participate in building a smart city,” states Sjöström.

The winning app, MACCA, seeks to narrow the skills gap faced by Makassar’s unemployed. Their app crowd-sources relevant training programs for users to acquire or improve their skills, and connects job seekers to potential employment opportunities available in the market.

Events like the appathon reflect Sjöström’s belief that smart cities will be driven by the passion and potential of youth. “Young people have different expectations of the future than society at large, which is why I think a lot of innovations will come out of universities. The closer city leaders get to the universities and tap that intrinsic motivation of students and engage them, the sooner we can shape the future together with these young talents,” advises Sjöström.

Though a veteran in the IT field, Sjöström’s remains most inspired by young software developers who are able to make good use of technology to solve problems for their cities. He dreams of a future where they can replicate, scale and share their solutions with others, and believes cloud computing is the key to helping youth reach the world and level the playing field.

“With a secure cloud to host their applications in, local start-ups can chase opportunities instead of worrying if they need to raise money to build their own data centers or invest in IT security. They can just focus on the problems they are trying to solve, scale their solution to the rest of the world, and create a commercial business around it,” he explains.

Moving to the cloud also gives developers access to unparalleled computing power that they cannot find in their local data centers. As machine learning advances, Sjöström expects the cloud will become more intelligent. “This presents a wonderful opportunity for entrepreneurs and innovators to leverage predictive analytics and gain business intelligence from their data. With insights come new opportunities, which will be key to continued economic growth in smart cities.”

To learn about Sjöström’s personal motivations for working in Public Sector, Microsoft Asia, read part 1 of this series. To find out more about digital initiatives in developed and developing cities, as well as the challenges and considerations each face in building their digital infrastructure, check out part 2 of this series.

Stefan Sjöström
Vice President, Public Sector
Microsoft Asia

Stefan Sjöström is the vice president of Public Sector, Microsoft Asia. He oversees sales and market development activities for Government, Public Safety & National Security, Healthcare and Education across the region. In his role, Sjöström seeks to enable and empower leaders across the public sector to draw value from technology to shape the future. He has also worked with numerous city mayors to jointly organize events where youth develop applications to improve the quality of life in their cities. Sjöström joined Microsoft in 2009, and is an IT veteran with over 30 years of work experience across different markets.

Koh Buck Song

Koh Buck Song is an author who has written and edited over twenty books, and a consultant in branding, communications strategy and corporate social responsibility in Singapore. He drove the positioning of Singapore as a “global entrepolis” as former Head of Marketing, Corporate Communications and Strategic Planning at the Economic Development Board from 1999 to 2005. Buck Song was also a former a political supervisor for The Straits Times. He graduated from the University of Cambridge and the University of London in the United Kingdom, and from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the US, where he was a Mason Fellow and earned a master’s degree in public administration.