State governments have been working to get their Smart City projects off the ground for sometime. While technology will be the enabler for services, states have to spend on creating infrastructure initially. While some cities are still creating Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), others have moved ahead to bring out request for proposal (RFP) to implement the projects. Maharastra which has 10 cities government signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Oracle. Niraj Prakash, director, solution consulting, Oracle India spoke to Anup Jayaram on the Smart City initiave.
Q: What does the MoU that you signed with Maharashtra on Smart Cities entail?
A: The MoU that we signed with Maharashtra in the US is a way forward on a partnership that we want to create with government. We will create a centre of excellence (CoE), which can help generate solutions around modern government. The CoE which will be located in a government of Maharashtra premises or real estate is where we can test and develop newer solutions which can help in Smart Cities. It will leverage cloud solutions and entrepreneurs can come and test newer solutions there. The internet of things (IoT) is a new technology and there are numerous use cases. You need to connect the new technology with the use case to see what works best and has maximum impact on citizens.
Q: Oracle has partnered with many cities globally. What learnings can you bring here?
A: Oracle has hundreds of cities globally as strong customers. We worked in Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York and the Middle East. Across the world we have done a lot of IT transformation. That gives us an enormous understanding of what cities are, what kind of transformation can happen and what do they impact. Today we are looking at how to embed an IoT component, mobile, social and big data components in the offering.
Q: What is the status of Smart Cities now?
A: Once a city is identified, it has to create a special purpose vehicle (SPV), followed by an organization structure and a CEO. Then it needs to identify a managed service partner (MSP) who will look at the city and see what greenfield and brownfield areas are there and what it wants to prioritise. Then they will float RFPs to identify system integrators (SIs) to implement that. Many cities are busy doing that. Pune, Raipur and Nagpur have come out with RFPs. While these cities have moved faster, others are getting their SPVs in place.
Q: While technology is key, isn’t infrastructure a bigger issue in Smart Cities?
A: Yes, that’s true. Public safety, transportation, parking and solid waste management are among the seven common priorities across cities. In waste management some cities want bins, but in others there are plans to remove garbage bins totally; they will collect it from the source. Parking is an issue across cities. Smart parking involves an IT component, but space has to be created. Then you need sensors at each parking slot. That data has to be moved to a central command centre. There is civil and IT infrastructure involved. Then comes the IT backbone on top of which it is going to ride. A large part of the cost would be incurred in the civil construction cost for the parking.
Q: What are the challenges?
A: Smart cities requires a balance between distributed architecture, distributed IT systems and a convergence of IT systems. It’s a combination of distribution and converged systems. This distribution is not simple: every bus, mobile and sensor has to have it. Managing this immense distribution is important. The solution vendors are small parties and will come with their own technology piece which is proprietary to them. We recommend a common IoT backbone. While all along the command centre has been owned by say the police, or by the municipality, that’s not the way to do it. You will need a common command centre with different domains.
Q: How is Oracle changing this?
A: We are offering a one stop shop—Smart City in a Box. What we are trying to do is partner with some of niche solution providers in transportation, parking and waste management and get their application on to this particular box. This is an opex box, which means there is no capex but you pay as you use. We will put in partner applications and our applications like billing, real estate management, citizen services in this box and pay as you use. It is a recommended solution that we have created. We are discussing with many state governments.
Q: How have states reacted?
A: Every state is looking at how it can leverage a similar situation for other cities as well. They might not get covered under the Smart City programme, they will be state-funded. But they want to adopt a similar approach. We have recommended that states adopt such an approach.
Q: Who are your partners for Smart Cities?
A: We have global partners. There is 3Di, which has done MyLA311, a city app through with Los Angeles delivers over 200 services which includes licences, certificates, citizen services. Five other have variants of MyLA311. As youn kmow, 311 is a non-emergency call service in the US, which started as a call centre, grew into a web channel, then a mobile channel, and finally an app. They have done it on Oracle solutions. We are bringing that solution to India, which can be run on this Smart City in a Box concept. We also have partners on the public safety side – iOmni and Exalted. They use big data, analytics and geo-spatial capabilities to offer solutions.
Q: What’s the action on the Oracle Cloud Machine…
A: Last year we announced the Cloud Machine or Cloud at the customer. With government the biggest challenge is data residency. It needs data sovereignty and it should be hosted within the country. Since this is a problem in many countries, we created the Cloud Machine that creates the same services offered on the public cloud, but can be deployed within your firewall. Give me data centre space and you can use it on a pay as you use basis. We give you the machine for three years, there will be monthly billing and we give you cloud services and manage it for you. The Smart City in a Box will reside on the Cloud Machine which will be within their firewall. So, they don’t need to create a new data centre.