Interview with Qlue CEO: "We didn't know what a smart city should look like"

Qlue co-founder and CEO Rama Raditya. (Image: Qlue)

Co-founder and CEO of Qlue, Indonesia’s largest "smart city" company, Rama Raditya explains how citizen involvement – not high-tech – is the true innovation of smart cities and the agent for change; plus how his startup has grown from partnering governments to businesses, and more


In late 2014, the Jakarta provincial government was looking for a way to quickly gather information about problems in the megacity, from littering and parking violations to flash floods and criminal activity. A GPS mapping company called TerralogiQ stepped up to the task, creating a citizen reporting channel and an integrated dashboard called Qlue.

Five years on, Qlue is now an independent company and the face of "smart cities" in Indonesia. We sat down with Rama Raditya, Qlue's co-founder and CEO, to learn more about his company's beginnings, their business and investment strategies, and their plans for the future.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Qlue started out in Jakarta as a collaboration with the local government in 2015. How did that happen? Was it an open tender?

It was pretty quick: we launched Jakarta Smart City just nine months after we embarked on the project. It just so happened that there was an urgent need for the technology. We showed some basic implementations of our capabilities, mostly data visualization of citizen reports and third-party data. Of course, it was an open tender by policy, and we won it. 

So Qlue was first envisioned to help keep neighborhoods clean?

Simply put, yes. For example, there were potholes in front of my house, and at the time I didn't know where to report it so that the government could get it fixed. I also used to go on morning runs near Suropati Park, near the governor’s official residence, and there was this fountain spewing green, rotten-smelling water. How did the government not fix this problem right under their noses? 

It turns out that they simply could not detect that there was a problem, so there was no urgency to fix it. That's why we created Qlue. We focus on helping the government quickly catch wind of emerging problems, send the data to field personnel and get the problem resolved, and analyze the data to perform preventive actions.

Originally, we decided to use citizen reports as “sensors” in place of high-tech solutions like computer vision and IoT, because it's cheap and fast. This is so basic, because everyone has been complaining on social media anyway; yet it’s been so effective in Jakarta and other Indonesian cities. 

This aspect is surprising to our foreign counterparts, because we demonstrated that the government can work harmoniously with a startup, who in turn works with public users.

What we want to encourage now is for the people who report these things to also change their own behavior for the better. For example, people who reported littering should be inspired not to litter themselves. That's what is behind our hashtag, "#BeraniBerubah" ("dare to change").

What are Qlue's main features right now?

Qlue has four main pillars. The first is the Qlue app itself, where users can quickly report problems and interact with users and government within their neighborhood. This app is directly linked to the second pillar, i.e., the Qlue Dashboard. The Dashboard manages the ticketing system for citizen reports and integrates third-party data from sources like Waze (traffic data), citizen population, tax-related information, etc.

The third is QlueWork, which can be used to respond to citizen-submitted reports or incidents flagged by our fourth product, Qlue Vision. Qlue Vision is the video analytics system which processes CCTV footage, providing capabilities like facial recognition, license plate recording, etc.

How does Qlue monetize?

For B2B engagements we use a subscription model. For government work, we use a perpetual model, where we sell our product and charge maintenance fees.

So you're not charging citizen users yet (B2C)?

No, not yet. We will likely monetize once we reach a certain number of active users.

What are Qlue's users like?

We don't have a specific target audience but currently, most of our audience are millennials. We have a total of 600,000 to 700,000 users. In 2018, we received about 112,000 reports across all cities, and 87% of them were resolved. 

Many users also use Qlue to interact within their neighborhood, so it's not just about reporting. Data from these interactions can be used for sentiment analysis, so we can detect concerns before someone files a report and the government can perform the necessary maintenance and repairs.

Any features in active development?

Of course! Our R&D is working non-stop. I can't tell you the specifics, but the new features will be related to IoT sensors and the like.

It makes sense to go from CCTV to IoT, doesn't it?

All we have to do is integrate other sensors into our system. We are also researching moving IoT devices, like drones. We need to consider how these sensors can contribute to what urban environments need. 

We actually already have quite a few air quality sensors around, although they are mostly around the major roads; data from these sensors are already integrated into our dashboard. There are also more than 180,000 lamps by Philips around the city that we are already monitoring on the platform. 

We integrate our platform with partners, because we don't think smart city is necessarily about competition; it's more about collaboration.

Speaking of third parties, Nodeflux works in a similar line of business as Qlue, and Qlue has invested in them. What's the relationship with Nodeflux, exactly?

Nodeflux is very focused on computer vision. What we build is an ecosystem for smart cities. We provide a solution instead of an engine, as opposed to Nodeflux's focus on their computer vision engine. Their product can have a lot of use cases, while ours is focused on smart city and mobile workforce contexts. Yes, we still invest in Nodeflux; they are one of our many investees.

Many investees? Can you tell us about the other ones?

We can't share the rest right now, but soon there will be others that we can disclose. 

At the end of the day, we want to build an ecosystem that accommodates many smart city solutions. We can't do it on our own. Sometimes there are other companies with a different focus from our own, but their data and tech can be integrated in our ecosystem and we get them involved by investing in them. 

For example, if an IoT sensor company has a good product that can be integrated with ours, and they have the same vision and values, we'd invest in them, plug their product into our platform, and take it with us to other cities to sell. 

We've already built the infrastructure; what we need to do is plug in the partners that we want to showcase.

Generally speaking, has Qlue's vision changed?

From day one until now, our vision has always been to accelerate positive changes in society, starting from Indonesia, and eventually to other cities and countries. We didn't know we would end up becoming a company with more than 100 employees and a sizeable revenue. 

Now we are working with more than 20 cities, roughly 20 regional police forces, ministries, the National Disaster Management Board, and private players. We are now a B2B and B2G company that is focusing on safety and security. 

We didn't know what a “smart city” should look like when we first started selling Qlue. We didn't know that it was going to be a sexy topic, and now we are probably the largest smart city company in Indonesia.

Which private companies are you working with right now, that you can name?

Some of the big ones are property developers like Sinarmas, Agung Sedayu, Intiland and Alam Sutra. We are also working with some factories, but we can't share the details because our work with them involves safety and security aspects. With property developers, our work with them involves building smart city/neighborhood systems, where information flow can be more efficient, whether it's gathering reports from residents or analyzing CCTV footage.

How does Qlue plan to grow from now? What do you think is most important in your plan for growth?

I think what's most important now is to collaborate with many stakeholders. That's what we need to expand to 512 cities [in Indonesia] and more property developments, factories and such. We work with channel partners who help sell our products; in this arrangement, we act as the principal, while others can sell our products as system integrators or channel partners. 

In terms of scalability, there's still a long way to go. We've only captured a small percentage of the market right now. That's why it's very exciting, and we're looking forward to growth.

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