From smart city to a secure and integrated ecosystem

Smart cityThere has been a lot of buzz around smart cities in India ever since the Narendra Modi Government announced an investment of $1.2 billion to create 100 of them. For the common man, a smart city is a settlement which overcomes day-to-day challenges, bridges the gaps between people’s needs and civic realities and enhances the overall quality of life; such as providing clean water, managing the growing mountains of garbage, treating sewage, building a robust public transport system, managing traffic jams and providing a safe and secure environment for women and senior citizens. Other significant elements to this model include citizen-centric administration, education, health care, public-private partnership, and regulations for commerce and utility services, etc. — all essential to the delivery of innovative smart cities of the future.

Though there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, and each city shall have their own customized version of ‘smartness’; there is no doubt that the future of such cities will rely on Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) as a key enabler to inter-connect various technologies and optimise delivery of smart services like traffic, utilities, health care, etc. As the dependency of services on IT infrastructure and systems increases, service disruptions and equipment failure are likely to be the issues of concern to the authorities. Of the “five main elements of the smart cities” identified by the Urban Development Ministry, 24×7 availability of services is a crucial element.

Emergency response system is among the most crucial dimensions of smart city’s design due to disruptions caused by frequent manmade and natural disasters. The Government has conceptualized an IT-based platform for effective communication with the citizens to keep them abreast of various activities and plans of the city. Hence, it becomes all the more important to have the communications infrastructure designed in a manner that avoids common points of failure. But it is inevitable that an incident will occur at some point in time and the city must be prepared with a proper Incident Response plan. The speed of response is equally critical during emergency situations. Solutions, methodologies and processes for ensuring availability of infrastructure and mission critical information in case of an incident through backup procedures and recovery of software and applications need to be adopted to be able to protect and manage diverse environments.

The Smart concept utilizes technology to support a broader view of wellness management and healthy & secure living. A disaster creates a chaos situation throughout the city and most of the city links become blocked. Using smart disaster management solutions, latency of emergency services for vehicles such as ambulances and police vans can be reduced by sending and receiving disaster related information such as forewarnings earlier than the traditional management systems. Tele-surveillance solutions comprising of video cameras, gunshot sensors, number plate recognition cameras and emergency call points in city’s streets- monitored through centralized command centres can transmit alarms to police, fire services and emergency services whenever unusual events or behaviour are detected. Additionally, wellness solutions such as Telemedicine for remote areas in case of natural disasters are crucial.

On a daily basis, the city generates huge amounts of data, covering different fields such as environment monitoring, transportation, public services, public security, health services, etc. In the fully wired world of tomorrow, there has to be cultural non-conventional shift from working in silos to working collaboratively, leading to sharing of data and IT services between multiple local authorities and private sector. The smart city model shall operate on information gathering, its storage and distribution. Internet of things or IoT technologies will be used for communication between surveillance systems, transportation sectors, control centres and service providers for providing traffic management, building management, security services etc. Combining large volumes of heterogeneous data from different sources will be a major issue since there is no trust relationship between data providers and data consumers.

Smart cities will also require higher degrees of network connectivity to support new sophisticated features. Wireless communications and hotspots will become popular, which will in turn open up new vulnerabilities, and allow an attacker to penetrate the network, gain access to control applications and de-stabilize the systems in ways unpredictable at this moment. There is a need to prepare for deliberate attacks such as those from disgruntled employees, industrial espionage and terrorists. Hence, smart cities require proven capabilities and expertise in information security and threat management. It requires a holistic framework that operationalizes security across the people, process, policy and technology. The deployment of IoT (Internet of Things) brings new concerns regarding end-to-end information security, data protection, and privacy.

As smart cities evolve, interoperable solutions will become more critical. Only mutually-beneficial ecosystems will allow them to be truly smart. When the implementation of the smart city project is complete, it will usher in a new era in urban mobility, where education, medical service, and public welfare benefit from the creation of a smart community environment; thus bringing fundamental changes to government operations, inhabitants’ ways of life, and city infrastructure.

Kanishk Gaur, Manager – Advisory Services, has also contributed to this article.

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