Make the city a health care network
Chiang Mai is charting a future as a smarter city by using advanced technologies to help transform its tourism and agriculture industries and create other new engines of creative economic growth.
Linking patient databases and healthcare asset information could help create a hub.
Using technology to build a strong medical tourism sector and improve food production is part of the IBM-backed Smart City program.
IBM defines a smart city in terms of the improvements in quality of life and economic well-being that can be achieved through the application of information technologies to plan, design, build and operate urban infrastructure.
The company will award $50 million in technology and services to 100 municipalities around the world over the next three years. Chiang Mai is receiving $400,000 or 12 million baht to bring in global experts to advise on new approaches, said Parnsiree Amatayakul, general manager of IBM Thailand.
Chiang Mai was chosen based on its 700-year-old culture, abundant natural resources, and strategic location in the Greater Mekong sub-region.
However, Chiang Mai’s gross provincial product (GPP) is only 1.59% of the total gross domestic product and its growth rate has been low because its economy is not very diversified. It relies heavily on tourism and agribusiness in food processing and agriculture.
The government, local universities and the private sector have been trying to enhance local economic potential through the Chiang Mai Creative City campaign.
IT education and creativity will be encouraged through a proposed software park program.
Nat Voravos, chairman of the local creative city development committee, said improving IT capacity was one aspect of promoting a creative economy, with the aim of making Chiang Mai an attractive city for foreign investment, live , travel, study and work.
Mr. Nat said that technology and innovation could add value to products and services, create more job opportunities and increase productivity.
The committee is working with IBM to help develop a roadmap for a smarter city. It envisions using smart IT architecture to expand the traditional tourism industry with a strong focus on medical tourism. Meanwhile, a “Smarter Food” project will focus on increasing yields and managing production plans for farmers.
In the healthcare field, public and private service providers can use real-time location tracking of patients and hospital assets to increase efficiency and create an internationally recognized service identity, said David Hathaway, consultant of projects of IBM Corp.
Electronic medical record (EMR) technology should also be adopted to standardize information exchanges to link all medical service providers, including traditional medicine and spa providers.
Niwate Nuntajit, dean of medicine at Chiangmai University, said the city already had some experience in catering to long-term visitors, especially Japanese. Quality services at low prices are also a major selling point in conventional medical care, dental and vision care, and traditional Thai medicine.
The university received 500 million baht to build a medical center of excellence including robotic surgery and geriatric medicine to accommodate the aging society of the future.
Many countries are promoting medical services to boost their economies. Singapore is working to move from a health care hub to a medical training center for Asia, Malaysia is promoting medical tourism to create a personalized medical tourism network, India is focusing on alternative health care, and Qatar is trying to persuade Thai companies to open hospitals in the country.
“All these moves indicate that the medical industry in Chiang Mai is under pressure and needs to increase its comparative advantage,” said Niwate.
For the Smart Food project, knowing what to produce and when, using a technology-assisted planning and forecasting system, will be key, said Nathalie Gutel, adviser to IBM France.
The government could create an e-Farmer portal to collect data on all categories of agricultural products for each season. It could then use that information to create pricing models under a supply and demand calculation system.
The information could ultimately reduce the risk of both shortages and surpluses of key crops.
Additionally, Ms. Gutel said, smart irrigation could schedule water use based on specific types of land use and seasonal needs to reduce waste.
Chiang Mai will choose a district and a fruit for a pilot project to test the new applications. An IMB survey identified longan as the most promising candidate as thousands of northern families grow the fruit.
Ms. Gutel also said that since mobile phones are now ubiquitous, government agriculture authorities should harness their potential to provide weather information and disaster alerts.
Also growing in importance from a consumer safety standpoint is the traceability of food products from farm to fork. Technology can help improve traceability, build brand reputation and enhance export potential.
IBM opened a regional office in the city last year, he said.
In the meantime, the city is determined to capitalize on local strengths in software and digital content development to create new groups and expand employment opportunities.
Martin Venzky-Stalling, adviser to the creative city’s development committee, said the city had as many as 150 software and digital content companies, many of them independent operators specializing in graphic design. Some of them can be found working in coffee shops along Nimanhaemin Road.
“The city has an attractive lifestyle with a lower cost of living. It also produces a lot of graduate students who attract new high-tech entrepreneurs,” he said.
The committee plans to work in a public-private partnership to establish a 2,000-square-meter software park to provide training facilities and workspace for IT and design talent.
The Board of Investment is also being asked to declare Chiang Mai a special economic zone with incentives for innovative companies.
Venzky-Stalling said the committee expected to propose at least 10 projects with an investment budget of 200 million baht this year.
Chiang Mai has been selected as one of the 10 creative economy cities by the Ministry of Commerce.
“We are requesting that Chiang Mai join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, with the aim of raising awareness and attracting investment,” he added.