Smart cities and PPPs: Why data is the new currency

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New Delhi | January 12, 2018 2:47 AM

Indian cities must leverage city data for monetisation and economic development.

Smart cities, PPPs, new currency, public private partnerships, urban infrastructure, housing, roadsThere is now an increasing realisation that this rich data could be another key asset for the city for purposes of economic development and PPPs.

The importance of public private partnerships (PPPs) in successful implementation of India’s smart city mission is fairly well established. At least 20% of the over Rs 180,000-crore outlay across 100 cities is expected to be funded through PPPs, primarily in the areas of urban infrastructure (housing, roads, community halls and entertainment complexes) and transport. However, with the implementation now underway in quite a few cities, another asset category, which did not feature prominently in many of the smart city plans, is now assuming importance in the context of economic development and PPPs. This is the city-level data—expected to be captured for the first time through the state-of-the-art Internet of Things (IoT) and other solutions being implemented under the mission.

Technology-based pan-city solutions, where the minimum investment per city is around Rs 200 crore and have a much shorter implementation period, have already emerged as frontrunners for implementation, with many cities expected to have fully functional solutions within the next 1-2 years. In their simplest form, these solutions essentially comprise a combination of IoT-based sensors across multiple areas like water supply, traffic, transport, surveillance, etc, which collect real-time data for analytics and visualisation at the City Command & Control Center, thereby enabling emergency response and real-time decision-making. At the core of all this is the extensive data, which is expected to be collected at the network or transaction level and would cover everything—right from citizen details to electricity/water consumption, traffic flow, pollution levels, property tax/housing, etc. There is now an increasing realisation that this rich data could be another key asset for the city for purposes of economic development and PPPs.

Globally, there are a number of instances where governments have successfully leveraged city data for effective service delivery as well as economic development. Some of the earlier innovators include London, which, through the London Data Store (, offers over 600 datasets across different areas like citizen demographics, housing, education, health, business and economy, crime and community safety, etc. The primary objectives are to offer this data to the government and private eco-system for further analysis to improve urban service delivery; test new technology standards and applications; foster a culture of sharing and transparency within the government; enable usage of the data by private sector players, including app developers to come up with solutions for meeting their own business objectives, thereby furthering economic development. Over 6,000 city-level datasets are offered under the United States Data.Gov initiative under a similar model. One of the more recent initiatives, focusing explicitly on monetisation of city data, was launched in 2016 by the city of Copenhagen through its City Data Exchange ( initiative. Over 65 datasets, covering health, education, crime, transport, etc, are being offered under the initiative on an anonymised basis, with some of it also being offered free of cost. The city is also offering its data-hosting platform to private data providers to enable additional data sources for more wide-ranging data analytics and visualisation applications.

As Indian cities embark on this journey of leveraging city data for monetisation and economic development, a number of steps need to be taken. First, the necessary policy and institutional framework to get individual departments like the municipal corporation, Police, electricity distribution company, etc, to share common databases (like citizen records) and contribute relevant transaction/network data to the city data platform has to be in place. Secondly, cities need to ensure compliance to data and metadata standards as notified by the Union government. Need for additional sector-specific data and metadata standards, as has been the case for drinking water and sanitation, will also need to be examined. This would ensure that data from various sources as well as across cities can be used seamlessly. Third, cities would need to adopt the open data licence (ODL) guidelines notified by the government. Since the ODL guidelines mandate provision of data free of cost, the strategy for value addition on identified open data and subsequent monetisation would need to be addressed.

Fourth, a suitable technology road map for implementing the city central data store would need to be finalised. The essential building blocks would include a secure data sharing environment, a platform for ingesting IoT /sensor data, distributed but catalogued data storage and advanced analytics capabilities.

Finally, public awareness campaigns for addressing key citizen and community sensitivities need to be launched to ensure adequate usage of the online platform by citizens. While some of these actions, such as updating of city data standards and government data licensing guidelines, may have to be initiated by the central government, the others would fall under the jurisdiction of the state and city administration.

Experience in other countries also shows that successful implementation of the central city data store or exchange is more likely to need a dynamic policy rather than a one-time strategy, which addresses the changing business and technology landscape over time. Frontrunner cities like London and New York have institutionalised a dedicated city data governance team, comprising subject matter experts with oversight from the concerned government agencies. This team is usually tasked with developing and implementing the city data strategy and also reviewing and updating the strategy periodically. Despite it being early days for Indian cities when it comes to city-data monetisation, it may still be worthwhile to look at this model.
India is considered to be one of the leaders in the information technology (IT) sector globally. The smart city mission, through its investments in pioneering IoT-related technologies and associated city data analytics and monetisation opportunities, now offers the country an opportunity to consolidate this leadership position in the IT sector and, in the process, also improve key urban sector outcomes.

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