Bad roads, congested streets; no clean drinking water; garbage; unreliable public transportation; non-functional street-lights; crime against women, old people and children; pollution; wrong utility bills; inefficient public grievance centre; and above all, a lack of accountability at municipal administration.
These are few of the problems with which people of an unplanned, fast growing city, whether in India, or across the globe, can relate. City leaders are always looking for solutions— both tactical and long-term—to resolve these challenges they face on a daily basis. When they do find and implement a solution to any of these problems, they have made a progressive move towards making a city smarter.
India too has taken up this challenge. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brought the focus on urban revitalisation by means of Smart Cities mission; 97 cities, competing in this programme, are all infested with the challenges mentioned above, and have one thing in common: the desire to look at smart solutions to address those.
In order to make the cities smart, we must make them ‘predictive’; and to make a city or a community predictive, we must integrate social, political, environmental, economic and sustainable parameters, powering it with technology. In order to achieve this integration, city leaders need to analyse petabytes of data being thrown at them through several sources including sensors installed at various places.
This data could include simple information from public grievance systems, or multimedia content from various cameras installed across the city. The most important part is how the city aggregates all this data, converts it into meaningful information, identify patterns of events, and comes out with most effective but least-cost solution that can be deployed with ease.
A smart city must be both economy- and technology-driven where smart solutions are used to improve citizens’ everyday lives. It is well established that without a viable business and economic plan, cities can neither maximise growth nor offer high class facilities. The first step is to generate awareness among city leaders as to the city’s state of affairs—its impediments and its potential.
A smart city must have a strategic plan for expansion, and its planners must have clear goals toward job expansion and output, financial inclusion, and sustainability and flexibility. The plan must identify the city’s strengths and weaknesses, and have strategies leveraging exclusive industry specialisations, modernism, education and skills development, land and infrastructure, and governance and public services. All we need is a well-planned city cockpit with integrated decision support system to assist authorities in handling the growth of a city as measured by indicators including potable water, clean air, social security, efficient buildings and reliable power grid.
City leaders do make these decisions without the use of technology as well, but those are less effective and are often delayed. For example, a flyover may be proposed to ease severe traffic congestion, but the lack of data and information might be hiding the actual problem, that is, non-availability of parking space leading to everyone parking vehicles on the side-roads, resulting in congestion. Data and technology-driven analysis gives power to the city leaders to take more effective decisions.
In order to create more smart, livable and sustainable cities, the entire ecosystem must be unified with integration of technology at all levels. From real-time traffic management, to reducing hazards and costs associated with water and lighting, to locating available parking spots, to managing energy in real time with smart meters on smart grid, this is what essentially enriches the quality of life of people living in smart cities.
Three distinct levels to implement smart cities have emerged from the international experience. The first step towards building a smart city is to have a physical telecommunications network infrastructure, comprising cables, wireless stations, servers. The second layer constitutes applications that facilitate operations in the city, such as traffic control. Several vendors may provide such applications, using the provided infrastructure. The third is ensuring last mile connectivity of all.
India’s Smart Cities mission also needs to look at global best practices, learn from their mistakes and adapt to local conditions. The concept of special purpose vehicle (SPV) within the Smart City Challenge Proposal is loosely built around the Barcelona model. The real test of this SPV will be when city leaders overcome internal resistance and give it the autonomy and power to plan, build, contract and maintain projects. Technology will play a major role, as the SPV will help not only itself but also the city, state and the Central leaders to monitor its health and support its operations.
Most importantly, now is the time for technology and its providers to bring to India global best practices, smart solutions and use-cases. They must localise those solutions and make those easy to deploy, easy for consumption and above all, commercially viable.
The writer is director & leader, Smart Cities, Pwc India