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Smart approach paying off for community
2015-01-12
By Chen Huizhi and Zhang Ningning

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WHEN smart technology was first introduced into the blue-collar residential area of Caoyang Xincun in Putuo District, it met with a lukewarm response, especially among the third of 90,000 inhabitants who were 60 years and older.

Initially, a community website was established, listing events that could be booked online and services that were available with online appointments.

Some older residents, especially those who are not tech-savvy, just shrugged their shoulders at the innovations and balked at the idea of having to go online to book seats at local events or procure services.

“We started to realize that our goodwill was not always appreciated, and we had to stop and listen to what residents were telling us,” said Zhang Lei, deputy administrative director of the residential area. “We wanted our ‘smart’ budget to be spent where it would have the most impact.”

Enter the community smart cards.

Multi-functional digital cards were introduced in the middle of last year. Already 3,000 residents have received them.

The free cards enable residents to take advantage of discounts at local business, access public playgrounds and other community facilities and collect bonus points for doing volunteer work. Some of the cards even are linked to transport and banking services.

In addition, the smart cards create a cyber trail, providing feedback on what residents most like to do.

“It’s about how we can potentially use ‘big data’ collected via smart technology to better serve our residents,” said Zhang.

The Shanghai government has said it wants to create a “smart city” where technology makes life more convenient for residents. Smart card technology has been introduced in parts of the medical system and in some schools to help officials keep more accurate records to help better allocate resources.

In Caoyang Xincun, a card center was opened where residents can apply for community smart cards or get information on their use. By inserting their smart cards in ATM-like machines in neighborhoods, residents can also look up public services and retail discounts.

Jin Jiande, a residents’ committee official in the Nanmeiyuan neighborhood, where the cards were first issued, said 400 of 5,000 residents turned up at a promotion on the first day the smart cards were offered.

“Most were people 50 years and older,” Jin said. “They were most interested in the shopping discounts the cards offer.”

Wu Tejian, 56, is among the enthusiasts.

“I just love the discounts at local stores,” she said. “It’s great that I can also gain access to school facilities to do exercises with this card.”

Surge of applicants

It’s now a matter of enticing more young people to sign up for the cards.

Wu Peng, chief operating officer at Caifu Technology, which manages the cards, said more staffers will be put on weekend duty at the card application center to make it more convenient for residents who work during the week.

“We’ll also promote the cards in popular venues, like restaurants and cinemas,” Wu said.

Both Wu and Zhang said they are confident card applications will rise as more community services are integrated.

“We noticed a surge of applicants when night-jogging in school grounds was introduced,” Zhang said.

Every log-in with the card is recorded and the data stored. Zhang said that helps authorities analyze user behavior and preferences.

“Community resources are limited, so we want to maximize their use,” she said.

Some residents have expressed concern about data protection for card users, especially after several high-profile hacking scandals in Shanghai where user information was breached.

Zhang said the contract with IT company Caifu Technology stipulates the highest level of data safety.

Some workers at residents’ committees said data protection concerns among residents are somewhat ameliorated by the knowledge that the smart cards are issued by the government.

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