Making Smart Cities work for us

The smartness quotient of a city must revolve around the needs and challenges of the three key stakeholders of the city: government, businesses and citizens.

Government of India has been making substantial investments in Rural Development. Going by the investments pledged in 11th and 12th Five Year plan, the total budgetary allocation has been INR 2,91,682 crores and INR 4,43,261 crore respectively. Despite the focus on rural development, there has been a mass movement from rural to urban areas due to better amenities, better infrastructure, better economic growth and greater perceived opportunities for livelihood. This has resulted in unprecedented horizontal and vertical physical growth of urban areas to accommodate the rapid population expansion; which in turn, has resulted in significant strain on the cities’ resources such as housing, transport, health, education, water and energy etc. which were originally constructed to support a population size that has now become a fraction of what it has reached today.

As these movements from rural to urban cities continue to grow, the strain on resources would increase exponentially and hence, there would be need for smart and sustainable solutions for better utilization of limited resources. Intelligent and efficient use of these resources can only be achieved by introducing smart planning and execution methodologies leveraging Information and Communication Technology (ICT), resulting in cost and energy savings, improved service delivery and quality of life, and reduced environmental footprint. These smart approach and methodologies would support sustainability of cities and encourage innovation and a low-carbon footprint economy. India carries immense potential to adopt the concepts of smart city and move ahead in the direction with global peers.

If cities are looked at holistically, a city strives on a number of core systems composed of different networks, infrastructures and environments related to their key functions. While shaping the smart cities it is essential that the roll-out of smart initiatives are optimally planned and integrated for efficient linkages between transportation, power distribution, water and utilities, waste management etc.

The smartness quotient of a city must revolve around the needs and challenges of the three key stakeholders of the city: the government, businesses and citizens and may be focused on three basic principles viz.

  • Know:  The design of smart city starts with the study of the needs of the stakeholders. A clear understanding of these elements gives a better picture of design requirements.
  • Transform:  A city needs to transform its way of functioning as per an integrated, modular design or plan. ICT-enabled infrastructure and services would be available to all stakeholders that would ease the way of life.
  • Sustain: With better governance and planning of initiatives and enablers, the growth of smart city may be sustained over a long period. The sustain phase would include reiterative improvements through well-constituted feedback mechanisms (from process owners and citizens).

Smart city is essentially a well-knit ecosystem of information sharing between the services and key functions communicating among themselves with technology as an enabler. Enablers are components, which provide the underlying layer of integration among all infrastructure and services components. These enablers are used by all services to reach stakeholders. Smart governance is one of the most crucial enablers. The potential of a smart city can only be actualized if the right set of human capabilities and sufficient authority to be able to manage the complex ecosystem are in place. In other words, smart governance is paramount for sustainability of such cities. Smart governance provides a stable and result-oriented outlook, ensures local government is accountable for results, encourages cooperation among local agencies and promotes public participation.

Smart governance links across-city governance with its citizens and other stakeholders as focus. It integrates public, private, and other organizations so that the city can function efficiently and effectively as one unit. Traditionally, governance mechanism has been decentralized and siloed and has less-than-optimal citizen participation. Smart governance promotes improved decision making and involves all stakeholders. Smart governance hinges heavily on the optimum use of ICT which further supports in maintaining service-level agreements, reduction of time overrun while executing crucial projects. Smart governance takes into account the criticality of planning ahead and thus views issues holistically. Smart governance looks at various aspects of planning and forecasting in an all-encompassing manner manner and offers cost savings by provisioning for resource planning and sharing.

Information and analytics alone may not be viewed as success parameter of smart city. A smart city requires deployment of ICT across departments with capacity building within departments to support the transitions to smart inclusions in the city life. Smart cities must strongly focus on citizen engagement which requires sharing of data between departments for improved citizen services. Smart cities around the world have witnessed one-stop centers for all citizen-related services to open an efficient and noiseless two-way communication between government and citizens. Some of the advanced forms of citizen engagement are in a smart city are e-voting on city matters, e-participation and citizen-centric portals.

Smart cities envision a connected future wherein the city’s energy, water, waste/sanitation and transportation infrastructures are made more efficient by communicating among each other and its users in real time. A sensor, analytics and information dissemination network joining layers of services together defines a framework for truly smart city with inter and intra sectorial interoperability. This allows a smart city to operate intelligent functions such as inform citizens of their power and water usage and pre-empt or prevent wastages and leakages, help utility providers in anticipating demand and regulating flow according to requirement. Therefore, this allows for a city to be more interactive, resource efficient and improve overall quality of life for its citizens.

The technology trends such as cloud computing and mobility have crucial role in the ICT enablement outlined here. Mobility has increasingly become a significant aspect in the lives of today’s citizens. Convergence across computing and mobility platforms have allowed for envisaging a paradigm where an ecosystem for application development can be exploited by third-party application providers, which may then be used by citizens (available for free or for a nominal charge) for getting access to specific data for monitoring management and at times even controlling remote sensor-enabled  functions.

Integrated visibility leads to integrated planning, execution and monitoring. Integration of services in smart city enables monitoring of parameters such as power consumption, water consumption, traffic delays and waste produce. This information is also useful to citizens to take plan or take actions as deemed fit. For instance, citizens can check resource units of electricity consumed, or get timely traffic updates to plan the route accordingly. In order to empower citizens with information or make the most of smart city initiative government needs to create conducive policies/guidelines and revisit them with evolution, feedback from citizens and rate of adoption of technology. Once a policy is drafted by a Government agency, inputs on it can be sought from citizens through e-participation portals, online surveys or mobile applications. This enables more innovative and practical solutions. A smart city should aim to provide data in the public domain, increase two-way communication between the Government and its citizen, and ensure greater transparency in systems.

Apart from planning, policy should take into account the implementation and sustenance of smart initiatives across city. Some of the established international standards like ISO 37120:2014 are paving a way to support policy around smart cities.

Building Smart cities requires a set of overarching guidelines or policy directives, which shall help lay the foundational principles. A broad-based digital agenda encompassing the broadband regulatory environment, establishment and operation of digital service infrastructures, development of skilling requirements of individuals involved in the service delivery process, establishment of laws regarding copyright and IPRs, formulation of cyber security strategy and generally identify computing infrastructure and networking backbone is essential. In today’s connected world, the agenda formulation process would also need to take into consideration industry-wide best practices and learning experiences from similar initiatives both across the country and world-wide. The overarching digital agenda may take into consideration citizen engagement, legal and regulatory support, access and awareness, inclusion of open government and industry participation for making the cities smart and workable by meeting today’s demand and provisioning enough safeguard mechanisms for future.

Mayank Dwivedi, Senior Professional with Advisory Services, EY has also contributed to this article. Views expressed are their personal.

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