10.1 Introduction

Thua Thien Hue is a cultural and historical center of Vietnam, which has five world heritage sites. The province is committed to sustainable tourism development. An assessment of Thua Thien Hue province sheds light on how the city authorities can develop intangible smart city infrastructure while preserving cultural and historical values so citizens live in a comfortable and sustainable environment while tourists enjoy a better cultural travel experience. This article analyzes Thua Thien Hue’s transformation in e-government. First, it describes smart city development in Vietnam. Then, the case study analysis is presented in detail, describing the Intelligent Operations Center’s (IOC) solutions to six main problems. The major features of the IOC are using cameras with sensors applying face recognition and crowd recognition to supervise the city, ensure urban security, and regulate traffic; managing journalism and media; supervising public administration services, information technology (IT) security issues control, and governance; using smartphone applications to develop stronger bonds with residents and tourists; and installing environmental sensors for early natural disaster preparation, real-time analyzing, and warning. Last, the article gives some recommendations for the authority to better engage residents and tourists in co-creating the province. The results of the case study indicate that Thua Thien Hue has been effectively implementing the smart city strategy with an aim to preserve cultural and historical values of local areas.

10.2 Smart City Development in Vietnam

The idea of the smart city has been conceptualized by prestigious scholars and organizations, but there is still no unified definition. One author defines it as follows:

[A] smart city is a well-defined geographical area, in which high technologies such as [information and communication technologies] ICT, logistic, energy production, and so on, cooperate to create benefits for citizens in terms of well-being, inclusion and participation, environmental quality, intelligent development; it is governed by a well-defined pool of subjects, able to state the rules and policy for the city government and development. (Dameri 2013, p 2549)

The European Commission defines a smart city as “a place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies for the benefit of its inhabitants and business” (European Commission nd, para 1). A smart city is not limited to employing ICT for better resource use and fewer emissions. It also means more intelligent urban transportation, better water supply and waste disposal facilities, and more efficient lighting and heating in buildings. Besides, it means a more interactive and responsive city administration with the participation of inhabitants, which creates safer public places and satisfies the needs of an aging population.

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a smart sustainable city can be seen as “an innovative city that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social, environmental as well as cultural aspects” (ITU-T nd, para 1).

Most definitions of smart city emphasize the close relationship between governance and technology in improving citizens’ well-being and sustainable development. The first and second definitions highlight the importance of the inhabitants’ participation in developing smart cities. If the authority is considered the smart city service provider, the city inhabitants are customers when developing smart city models.

Customer participation is “the degree to which the customer is involved in producing and delivering the service” (Dong et al. 2008, p 160). In other words, it includes all kinds of customer involvement and engagement in the value-creation process, including four main dimensions: information seeking, information sharing, responsible behavior, and personal interaction. Through information seeking, co-creators actively get information about how and what to do during the co-creation process to reach the desired performance. Information sharing involves customers providing essential information to service firms or employees (Yi et al. 2011) who use the information to create new ideas or perform their duties (Ragatz et al. 2002). Customers show responsible behavior when they recognize their duties and requirements and behave cooperatively, in line with existing rules and policies and according to the directions offered by employees (Bettencourt 1997; Ennew and Binks 1999). Finally, personal interaction refers to interpersonal relations between customers and employees; it is a cornerstone of successful value co-creation (Ennew and Binks 1999; Hsieh et al. 2018).

With the accelerated development of science and technology in the last 20 years, many cities in the world are undergoing major changes to become smarter, safer, and more sustainable (nexusintegra nd). Some cities in Vietnam are also making efforts to catch up with this irreversible trend. Economic development is the main driver of infrastructure development in Vietnam, including smart city infrastructure. The global competition organization IDM has pointed out that the smart city ranking index will be one of the decisive indicators in attracting investment capital and high-quality human resources. This index will become the core standard for countries to compete in the industrial age 4.0. Economic and technology experts assess that Vietnam is highly motivated to focus on developing smart cities in the future (Journal of Building Materials 2020).

Recently, Vietnam has been very active in developing smart cities. According to data collected by Viettel Group, a favorable factor for smart city development in Vietnam is the large percentage of internet users/total population in Vietnam (Top 10 in Asia). Vietnam currently has about 49 million internet users with a penetration density of 51.5% (Nguyen 2019). The government of Vietnam has determined that smart and sustainable city development is a breakthrough direction to enhance national competitiveness. Therefore, in the past five years, the government has issued many policies to promote the construction and development of smart cities, such as Decision 950/QD-TTg approving the “project for sustainable smart city development in Vietnam for the period of 2018–2025 and orientation to 2030” and Decision 749/QD-TTg approving the “National Digital Transformation Program to 2025, with an orientation to 2030” (Dangcongsan.vn 2020). As a result of the government’s promotion of smart city development, Vietnam ranked 86th in 193 UN member countries in 2020, remaining in the group of 69 countries with a high E-Government Development Index (EGDI) value since 2018, while maintaining a continuous rise from 2014, as stated in the UN’s publications (UN E-Government Knowledgebase nd). Currently, nearly 40/63 (63.5%) cities in Vietnam are working with cutting-edge technology to implement smart cities (Lam 2020). However, many current smart city models focus only on technical solutions rather than paying attention to the planning elements, such as maintaining and promoting elements of traditional culture and urban civilization. One of the smart city models in Vietnam that concentrates on planning and encouraging cultural aspects of the city was developed in Thua Thien Hue province, Vietnam.

10.3 Introduction to Thua Thien Hue Province and Its Crucial Concern in Developing a Smart City

The case of the IOC in Thua Thien Hue province is a remarkable example of effective smart city planning and application inside a historical and cultural city in Vietnam. The IOC helps the government supervise and control citizens’ social activities and predict social trends. In addition, it encourages two-way communication between the government and citizens/tourists to co-create the city.

The Thua Thien Hue authority understood the high level of complexity in designing and deploying a smart city in their province. First, the extended central city of Thua Thien Hue is large (502,530 km2) (Thuathienhue.gov.vn nd) and comprises both urban and rural areas. Therefore, different areas of the city are at different levels of development. While some areas already have the necessary infrastructure to develop IOC utilities, access is still limited in others. Another crucial concern for smart city planning is that the rights and participation of all citizens, including the privileged and the marginalized, must be at the center of development. Second, Thua Thien Hue is the cultural and historical center of Vietnam, which has five world heritage sites. The province is committed to sustainable tourism development. However, these sites were in a poor state of preservation due to a lack of cultural heritage supervision, while poor management led to overtourism in peak season. Evidently, tourism is beneficial to Thua Thien Hue province in many ways, but the heavy presence of tourism reduces quality of life for locals. Overtourism could bring about certain social problems, such as damaging fragile environments or landmarks, scaring wildlife, pushing up local rents, and crowding narrow roads (Chan nd). The main objective of the authority is to develop smart city infrastructure inside a cultural city. Accordingly, citizens live in a more comfortable and sustainable environment while tourists enjoy a better cultural travel experience.

However, the authority has managed to complete the IOC project in just 90 days. In order to build the basic technical infrastructure for limited access areas, they collaborated with the biggest telecommunication and technology firm in Vietnam, who possesses the broadest-reaching connectivity infrastructure. They also asked for financial support from the firm. This loan allowed them to deploy smart cities’ infrastructure in both urban and rural areas simultaneously (Trung 2019).

As the authority defines the main customers of the province as citizens and visitors, a customer experience approach was applied. The firm collaborating with Thua Thien Hue province authority is a homegrown telecommunication champion who possesses a deep understanding of the consumers in Vietnam. As the firm knows people’s preferences by city or area, income level, age group, and gender, the Operations Center was tailored to be responsive to the needs of all citizens and visitors and offered integrated services across several functional areas such as transport, security, and collaborative government. The IOC is applied in 7/9 districts (77.8%) and in 100% of specialized organizations under the province’s central authority. Camera sensors are installed around the province, especially inside and outside the historical sites for the purpose of supervising. Traffic, public order, and security are closely regulated. As a result, Thua Thien Hue province’s cultural sites are protected, which allows the province to deliver a better travel experience for tourists. The IOC project of Thua Thien Hue province won the prize for “most innovative smart city project” in Asia in the Telecom Asia Awards 2019 (Thua Thien Hue IOC 2019a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h). The next part of this paper will shed light on how the authority can develop an intangible smart city infrastructure while preserving cultural and historical values in Thua Thien Hue.

10.4 The Intelligent Operations Center

The IOC in Thua Thien Hue was launched in 2019 and has contributed to the city in many ways. First, by handling, supervising, coordinating, and controlling data, the center not only helps strengthen management capability but also reduces the cost of government maintenance. The problems the center has addressed are described below:

  • The Operations Center currently allows residents and companies to fill 2300 administrative forms online, which saves time and effort for both residents and government officials.

  • The IOC solves management problems that require timely information about every aspect of the city functioning by making resources readily available. The authority can thus make immediate and reasonable policy decisions.

  • The public administration supervision service solution addresses problems caused by humans such as government officials’ bureaucratic and systematic errors. By June 2019, the system had identified 41,764 violations, including 10,268 at the provincial level (25%), 21,675 at the district level (52%) and 9821 (23%) at the communal level. Time-consuming and cumbersome administrative work is transformed into a fast and easy process (Thua Thien Hue IOC 2019a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h).

  • The smart card for government officials helps track the presence of officials more easily to avoid potential fraud (Thua Thien Hue IOC 2019a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h).

  • The IOC also offers journalism and media management. The system automatically verifies 98.25% of news and feedback relating to Thua Thien Hue province. The authority can thus make timely decisions to handle each case. A mere 1.75% of the news items need to be sent to organizations for observation. Using machine learning, the system scans and collects all online information related to Thua Thien Hue province from all sources such as websites, Facebook, and blogs. Collected data is then automatically analyzed by the system, which labels the nuances of the news (negative news, positive news, etc.) and other management information. In the first phase, the IOC will re-verify and distribute the information to relevant specialized agencies depending on the content of the news. If sensitive or fake news is collected, the scenario “information crisis” will be activated according to the regulations and operating procedures of Thua Thien Hue province. In the first six months of 2019, the system identified around 1100 news items about Thua Thien Hue scanned from 1 million electronic newspapers, 40 million Facebook accounts, and 150 thousand Facebook groups and fan pages, with 731 (66%) positive news, 197 negative news (18.2%), and 171 fake news (15.8%) (Thua Thien Hue IOC 2019a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h). By tracking and categorizing citizens’ and tourists’ feedback on the internet, the authority can understand their needs and thus design better living and travel experiences.

Second, the IOC helps to promote urban safety. Camera sensors are installed around the province, especially inside and outside the historical sites for the purpose of supervising. These 200 cameras apply face recognition and crowd recognition to ensure urban security and regulate traffic. Urban order is ensured by detecting encroachments on sidewalks and illegal parking; traffic is regulated by counting and capturing the license plates of vehicles that commit traffic violations. Also, the IOC observes the entire city with a bird’s eye view. Specifically, using an artificial intelligence solution, the system will analyze and issue warnings of violation and provide the appropriate processing time: instantaneous or in a certain period (Thua Thien Hue IOC 2019a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h). Cold penalties will be given in case of traffic violations, urban order violations, and environmental sanitation violations. As a result, Thua Thien Hue province in general and its cultural sites in particular are protected, which allows the province to deliver a better travel experience for tourists and better living conditions for its residents.

Third, all IT security issues are closely controlled by the latest applications. Information safety supervision for the LANFootnote 1/WANFootnote 2 system, data center, server, email system, and general/shared applications is offered 24/7 by IT experts. The center uses four of the latest applications, namely Centralized Virus and Internet Attack Prevention, Web Application Firewall, Intended Attack Detection, and Centralized Security Supervision. The center provides real-time information safety warnings by displaying the source of attacks on the system and the targets that are being attacked. At the same time, it provides security analysis to give effective solutions for protecting and preventing security attacks (Thua Thien Hue IOC 2019a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h).

Fourth, citizen and tourist relationships and satisfaction are better managed using an application called Hue-S. Leaders of the People’s Committee of Thua Thien Hue Province consider citizens and tourists as central to their mission and operations, so by launching the Hue-S application, a part of IOC, they are beginning to develop a stronger bond with their residents and visitors. Basically, the Hue-S application acts as a real-time contact point between residents/tourists and the local authorities. The application receives all complaints about municipal issues from citizens and visitors in the province. This feature of the Hue-S application also helps residents and visitors to monitor, interact with, and evaluate the level of satisfaction with the results of each agency’s handling. The application allows for quicker and easier access to non-emergency municipal services and information, as well as improving the effectiveness and efficiency of governmental services. Use of the Hue-S application has resulted in a sound base for improving the satisfaction and cooperation of citizens and tourists with the local authorities. Considering the large increase in the number of requests received and handled recently, governmental services have improved. By March 2021, more than 350,000 people in the area installed and used the Hue-S application, accounting for nearly 50% of the province's smartphone users. All the specialized organizations under the People’s Committee of Thua Thien Hue Province and 7/9 (77.8%) of the People’s Committee of Districts have applied to the IOC to receive incident reports and handle incidents. In the first six months in 2019, the Hue-S application received 1400 responses and successfully sanctioned 80 related infringing agencies. The respondents were mostly satisfied with the way results were handled: 67.6% of respondents were satisfied with the handling results, 21.8% accepted the handling results and only 10.6% were not satisfied. Because they are co-creators of the smart city project, people are more willing to share their information. They believe the risk of losing privacy does not outweigh the potential benefits of a smart city (Thua Thien Hue IOC 2019a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h).

In addition, a variety of different communication channels is important to reach a broad range of citizens and tourists. All official alerts about criminals, frequent fraud, fake news, counterfeit goods, traffic jams, accidents, dangerous weather, natural disasters, and epidemics are immediately communicated through the application. In November 2020, through the warning function, 50,000 users of Hue-S in Thua Thien Hue received notifications about storms No. 5 and 13, including updates on the progress of storms, tropical depression, natural disasters, or electricity safety warnings in case of storms. These warnings appear immediately on the notification screens of their smartphones, helping people access accurate and timely information in difficult communication conditions (Dinh 2020). As a result, people can actively respond to natural disasters, minimizing loss of life and property damage.

In addition to providing emergency warnings and updates, the Hue-S application allows tourists to discover many interesting cultural and historical places and events as well as good local restaurants. The application helps to push the benefits of the tourism economy toward less crowded urban areas by exposing tourists to other underrated travel destinations and activities in the provinces. Also, this exposure limits pressure on the most popular tourist attractions and restaurants. Accordingly, tourist attractions in the central area can offer better tourism services, while the quality of life for locals in these areas is ensured.

Fifth, the IOC solves environment supervision problems. Environmental sensors are installed in densely populated areas, industrial zones, lakes, and dams as well as areas where floods frequently occur. The software system synthesizes data from the sensors, analyzes environmental pollution, air, and water environments, then integrates the environmental management data of Phu Bai Industrial Zone with the center to save time. Additionally, the center inspects dams and regulates traffic for areas with frequent floods during the rainy season. During this season, the system also provides residents with images directly through Hue-S applications (Thua Thien Hue IOC 2019a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h).

Sixth, the IOC offers fishing vessel monitoring solutions. The center helps monitor fishing vessels on the sea and records fishing vessels’ voyages. Its main functions are giving automatic warnings when a fishing vessel goes out of the Vietnamese territorial sea, receiving SOS signals from fishing vessels, and sending storm warning signals. The center has installed equipment on fishing vessels and is now conducting monitoring, testing, and evaluating the effectiveness of the solution (Thua Thien Hue IOC 2019a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h).

10.5 Conclusion and Recommendations

As can be seen from the features of the IOC described here, Thua Thien Hue’s local authority has worked with smart city initiatives to develop smart city infrastructure, focusing on enhancing the living experience of residents and the travel experience of tourists. They consider technology as an instrument to help design the center rather than as a focus. Accordingly, citizens and visitors in Thua Thien Hue province work as valued co-creators of the smart city project. The authority thus has successfully provided sustainable living conditions for its inhabitants, managed tourism effectively, and protected the province’s historical sites and cultural values.

The future of urban tourism belongs to smart cities. To boost tourism and increase the participation of inhabitants in co-creating more value for the province in the smart city project, this paper makes the following recommendations about conducting sustainable marketing campaigns for the center.

  1. (1)

    The authority is now using Hue-S to introduce new tourist attractions to visitors. However, to turn awareness about attractions into action, the authority should create and encourage the use of travel cards integrated with the Hue-S application to stimulate tourist flows to less crowded tourist attractions. A Hop-On, Hop-OffFootnote 3 bus tour is a good idea to show tourists the targeted destinations. At the same time, developers should create 3D maps for these destinations on the application to attract tourists. Moreover, Hue-S should operate as a social platform where users can become content creators to promote information-sharing behavior. The authority should give incentives to people who share their travel experiences and make it easy for them to give reviews about tourist destinations and events on Hue-S.

  2. (2)

    Additionally, to promote responsible behaviors in inhabitants, the local administration of Hue-S can create interactive games and quizzes about “how to be a responsible tourist and citizen” or “how to protect cultural heritage sites.” These games and quizzes will promote responsible attitudes among visitors and residents. These activities will also help spread awareness and publicize the preservation of the area’s heritage