ICT readiness for smart cities demystified: A practitioner’s perspective

04-Nov-2015 #Digital India Source: India Inc

In over 40 conferences and conclaves that I have been a part of in the past year across the country, technology investments needed in smart cities seem to have conflicting acceptance. The reasons are manifold. Being a practitioner and having worked on several smart city projects, the leverage of technology is a no brainer when we talk about smart cities even with conflicting and sometimes convincing debates on where the investments within the Indian context should be; Urban Vs Rural, Technology Vs Infrastructure and so on and so forth. Drawing from experiences of the West where use of ICT has moved from a support function to an enabler even as their core infrastructure continues to evolve, India’s predicament cannot be any different irrespective of its infrastructure maturity.

Indian cities have traditionally faced several challenges across domains and have confronted them by allocating large amounts of money to address their urbanization challenges and it is evident that those efforts have consistently fallen short of their goals. Adopting urban technology advancements is a rational resolution to urban problems. However, demystifying the advantage of ICT within context of smart cities is critical for its success and sustainability. To start with, an ICT master plan must be drawn for the city and this must be in complete alignment with the city master plan. Thus the proposed plan must leverage every facet of managing the city by allowing seamless readiness for deployment and delivery of end-user services, at the receiving end of which are residents, businesses and governments.

The best way to explicate readiness for deployment of end-user services is by breaking down the master plan into a number of cohesive layers. While many discussions and design considerations are imminent over the next year as part of the City Challenge of MOUD’s Smart City program, it is imperative to establish the following baseline for deployment of enduser services:

  1. Sensing Network: This layer comprises of sensors and edge devices that collect data and video feeds and relay the status of urban and service infrastructure for analysis and decision-making.
  2. Comms Network and Data Storage: The comms layer provides connectivity for all edge devices and sensor networks across the municipal footprint where they lie and haul the harvested data and video to data stores.
  3. Integration Platform: This layer helps close departmental silos, ensures interoperability across systems and allows for opening up of government data.
  4. City Operations and Contact Center: This layer facilitates an integrated approach to city management, by decreasing response time and supporting decision-making.
  5. Service Delivery Channels: This layer defines the various channels of service delivery to the end-users.

An important outcome of smart cities is a unified view of urban systems. Leaders of India’s urban territories embarking on this journey must be aware of the challenges and benefits of integrating their siloed department. Well strategized and implemented projects will increase the chances of integration across smart initiatives. It is best to integrate departments once they have a dependable level of maturity. If the verticals are integrated before they are optimized they will impair the integrated product. As a mathematical analogy two verticals that are 90% optimized will yield in an integrated product that is 81% optimized increasing chances of failure. Hence, a phased incremental approach is optimal.

Success of ICT adoption in Indian cities and its long-term sustainability is further compounded by an effective governance mechanism that rides on three pillars:

1. City CIO: The CIO facilitates 1. Acceleration of technology implementation by developing plans for deployment; 2. Enables reforms that improve quality of service for end-users and 3. Creates platforms for process reformation of authorities easier.

2. Policies and regulations: To procure, implement and maintain ICT components

3. Automation of Municipal Administration: To make urban and local bodies accountable and transparent by allowing city ratings and establishing credit worthiness

In conclusion, some of the key principles to abide by for city administrators as they design their smart cities are:

1. Adopt vendor neutral technology solutions

2. Promote innovation especially within the city

3. Maintain a unified view of the city by discouraging silos and duplication of technology

4. Opening up of city data

5. ICT must not impinge the city’s soul; its DNA must be preserved

6. Design with the end in mind but guided by budget

7. Citizen centric approach to design

8. Leverage current investments in ICT

Biju Kadapurath 1Biju Kadapurath is PwC’s international leader for Smart Cities and regional leader for the Government and Public Sector practise. He has worked on several smart city projects across the globe and is a preferred speaker at leading smart city events.

 

 

This article was first published in India Inc.’s India Investment Journal.

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