Coming, the five-sense cities!

ICT has constructed pockets of efficiencies into governance; it’s now wiring up the pieces to build a pulsating entity

Imagine a city where information systems of different government agencies talk to each other for better service delivery to citizens; where public safety system allows real-time video surveillance and faster response to emergencies, and where advanced analytics can interpret large amounts of data to improve healthcare. Imagine a city where traffic congestion is eliminated and pollution is reduced; where people get timely insight into their own water use to locate inefficiencies and decrease unnecessary demand, and where smart power grids smooth up consumption and lower energy usage.

No, this is not a city of tomorrow.  It is a vision of city of today and such cities are already in the making in many parts of the world.

What’s driving their arrival?

City administrations are responsible not only for core services such as energy, water, environmental sustainability, urban planning and architecture, but also needs to focus on reducing congestion in transport systems; improving public safety by reducing crime and emergency response time; improving education and training delivery, and enabling wider access to healthcare. The application of advanced information and communication technologies can help administrators better understand, predict and intelligently respond to citizen needs.

Prakash Rane, Managing Director, ABM Knowledgeware, says, “The term smart city encompasses a fairly wide canvas. A smart city would mean clean city with easy and timely access to critical civic services ranging from health, education, disaster management, affordable housing for the urban poor, adequate water supply and sanitation, solid waste management and so forth. Each of these domains would have abundant scope for deploying technologies such as SCADA, GIS, wireless communication, wide area networking for any time anywhere service; suitable application software for automating business processes with different Web services and a service-oriented architecture; mobile computing, RFID, biometrics and other such technologies.”

AK Mehta
Joint Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development
Government of India

“ICT lowers costs and improves service delivery. We need to look at the city as a system, with all stakeholders sharing the same basic backbone of IT”

On the advantages of a smart city, AK Mehta, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development, says, “A smart city delivers goods and services more efficiently and at a lesser cost, increases productivity per capita and lowers human and financial costs. So there is no option for governments worldwide but to adopt the concept of smart city.”

Mathew Thomas
Vice President, Strategic Industries, SAP India Subcontinent

“Technology drivers for smart city are virtualisation of assets like computing devices, networks and storage, and usage of the Internet and kiosks”

Talking about the technology trends in the smart city domain, Mathew Thomas, Vice President, Strategic Industries, SAP India Subcontinent, notes, “Technology drivers for smart city point at virtualisation and consolidation of technology assets like computing devices, networks and storage, usage of the Internet and user-friendly interfaces such as kiosks and the emergence of shared services through service orientation.”

The experiences worldwide

The smart city concept has been triggered by the rapid growth of urbanisation. A number of cities across the world today are on way to become ‘smart cities’, combining technology and urban policy for streamlined urban systems. This is leading to the transformation of public safety and disaster management, education, healthcare, transportation, water and power sectors.

Transport officials in Brisbane, Singapore and Stockholm are using smart systems to reduce both congestion and pollution. Public safety officials in major cities like New York are able not only to solve crimes and respond to emergencies, but also prevent them. City managers in Energy Australia and IBM are working together to apply 12,000 smart sensing devices throughout the electricity distribution network in Australia to make power grids. New York, Syracuse, Santa Barbara and St. Louis are using data analytics, wireless and video surveillance capabilities to strengthen crime fighting and coordination of emergency response units.

Malta is building a smart grid that links the power and water systems, and will detect leakages, allow for variable pricing and provide more control to consumers. Ultimately, it will enable this island country to replace fossil fuels with sustainable energy sources. Masdar City is being built from scratch near Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. Planners are working with top scientists, engineers and innovators to create interconnected systems and manage them through an integrated city dashboard to be able to fine-tune their metropolis in real time. This is shaping up what could be the world’s first economically and environmentally sustainable city, with zero carbon emissions.

India too is on way to develop smart cities and has initiated pilot projects to develop ‘smart communities.’ The pilots have been initiated in Haryana (Manesar Bawal region), Maharashtra (Shendra industrial region) and Gujarat (Changodar and Dahej). These eco-friendly cities would provide world-class facilities with 24-hour power supply and drinking water, mass rapid urban transportation, with bicycle and walking tracks, complete waste and water recycling, systems for smart grids, and digitally managed systems to control energy consumption.

What planners are thinking

The government realises the importance of ICT for more liveable, citizen-centric, connected and smart cities. According to Mehta, “ICT use is very important in city administration since it lowers costs and helps in better service delivery. We need to look at city as a system, and all its verticals should have the same basic backbone of IT, which should be shared by all stakeholders in city management.” He emphasises the significance of planning ahead, “The city planning should be done keeping in view the infrastructure needs of the city 20 years from now and not as per needs of today. The cost of planning ahead is much less than doing it all over again 20 years later.”

SR Rao
Additional Secretary, Department of Information Technology, MoCIT, Government of India

“It is imperative to provide digital connectivity to rural areas so that residents don’t have to go to urban areas for availing government-to-citizen services”

The city infrastructure also needs to be developed at a faster pace. The current state of the infrastructure is dismal, remarks SR Rao, Additional Secretary, Department of Information Technology. He says, “Before we move towards the next level of cities, it is important to understand the current level of urbanisation. It is interesting to note that 40 percent of the treated water is unaccounted for. Forty percent of the urban population lives in slum areas. A mere 50 percent of the total garbage produced is scientifically treated. Almost 80 percent of the electricity consumption is on water and sewage. The turbines and propellants used are age-old.”

This necessitates the urgent need for ICT enabled integrated cities. Mehta recommends, “We need to create 21st century cities, characterised by inter-connectivity of governance, health, education, security, water and energy. For achieving this goal, there is a need for laying cables in the cities urgently. The wireless technology does not have the necessary bandwidth.”


With an increase in attacks in public places and other economically important infrastructures, security threats have extended beyond national borders and have percolated to the streets. Frequent terrorist attacks and security breaches have necessitated the need for enabling robust security across the cities. In this backdrop, HCL Securities has come out with an indigenous robust security framework called Safe City.

According to Rothin Bhattacharya, CEO, HCL Security, “Safe City integrates disparate technology devices with the existing security processes and local security machinery such as police, to offer a proactive system that aids in prevention, protection, detection, containment of threats, along with a reporting and effective response module. It focuses on a layered security solution implemented in phases and integrated through centralised command and control centres. Its benefits accrue not only to security but affect day-to-day operational activities like traffic management, crowd management, and intelligent surveillance. Moreover, the concept is custom-made for cities where the footfalls are maximum. We have also designed the first of its kind command and control centre architecture called Horizon.”

Horizon offers actionable intelligence by integrating and analysing inputs from multiple solutions and provides a single-window output giving the enforcement agency an enhanced decision making platform. Unlike other command and control centre modules, which are exclusive for standalone solutions like CCTV, baggage scanners and PIDS, Horizon integrates every possible solution incorporated in security and surveillance architecture and offers a single-window approach for viewing all the solutions through a single monitoring solution.

A framework is in making

With the goal of achieving fast-track and planned development of identified mission cities, Ministry of Urban Development in the year 2005 launched the flagship programme, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (Jnnurm). Under Jnnurm, the National Mission Mode Project (NMMP) on e-Governance in municipalities has also been taken up, under which the urban local bodies (ULBs) get funding from Government of India for upgrading their civic infrastructure with use of technology. The ministry has done a mid-term correction in December 2009, modifying the implementation approach for e-Governance under Jnnrum. The entire focus of current monitoring of e-Governance of ULBs is now ‘outcome’ based. “This approach, by design, is in contrast with the past initiatives in government computerisation, which were focused on providing requisite budgetary support and monitoring its quantitative utilisation, while leaving the implementations details to the respective government organisations,” opines Rane of ABM Knowledgeware.
In an effort to build internal efficiencies and build on transparency and effectiveness, ULBs in India and abroad are keenly adopting the Commercially-off-the-Shelf (COTS) approach in their information application infrastructure. Also, the Ministry of Urban Development has taken steps for adoption of state-level software applications for all ULBs to ensure uniformity and compliance to standards. In this regard, Mehta, points out that for upgrading of the ULBs, state-level solutions rather than municipal level solutions are needed. “State level IT architecture for ULBs will ensure interoperability and synergy, and bring down the cost,” he notes.

Lalit Kumar Gupta
Vice President, Public Sector & Higher Education, Industry Business Unit, Oracle Asia Pacific &Japan

“Fragmented procedures that evoke slow response times to requests from citizens make governments less competitive and therefore must be improved”Vice President, Public Sector & Higher Education, Industry Business Unit, Oracle Asia Pacific &Japan

Lalit Kumar Gupta, Vice President, Public Sector and Higher Education, Industry Business Unit, Oracle Asia Pacific and Japan, suggests, “Municipal governments need to ensure transparent and consistent citizen services. They also need to provide the right mechanisms to attract business investment into their municipalities. Legacy systems need to be updated. ICT can play an important role in this transformation of municipal governance.”

Shrikant Shitole
Vice President, Transformational Business,
Cisco-India and SAARC

“Municipal projects would bring about a positive change by developing urban infrastructure and also encourage accountability of ULBs to citizens”

Talking about the significance of e-Municipality MMP, Shrikant Shitole, Vice President, Transformational Business, Cisco-India and Saarc, is optimistic, “The municipal projects would definitely bring about a positive change through their increased focus on developing urban infrastructure, and would also encourage community participation and accountability of ULBs towards citizens.” He lays stress on the network as the underlying service delivery platform and envisions interconnected government agencies, which would result in containing cost, better service deliveries and effectiveness of public safety systems, and improvement in quality of life and workforce productivity.

NDMC on IT Way

Parimal Rai, Chairman, New Delhi Municipal Council

What has been the user experience of online utility services provided by New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC)?

The feedback is that users are finding it convenient to pay property tax and electricity and water bills, and checking the status of Barat Ghar (community centre) bookings online, among other such services. We are now in advanced stage of implementing a world class customer care and billing system with a call centre that will help enhancing customer experience and satisfaction level while availing various utility services of NDMC.

What are the challenges that have cropped up while implementing IT services?

There have been numerous challenges during the entire process of implemention. Efforts have been made to train the staff for using systems. Massive deployment of hardware and networking had to be done over a period of time. Upgradation of technology had to be done to keep up with the latest trends to ensure stability and security of the servers.  All these have resulted in high computer literacy in NDMC.

How is NDMC adopting GIS technology, in view of its important role in city planning?

We are already in the process of putting most of the information on a Geographic Information System (GIS) platform. This includes all utility services like electricity, water, sewerage network and other major critical assets. We are also creating layers for buildings with their sanctioned plan, trees and shrubs, along with all NDMC assets on roads and streets of NDMC. This will facilitate better and timely planning of resources.

How do you envisage the future of IT services at NDMC?

We plan a homepage for each customer which will be a single window for one’s interaction with NDMC. Citizens should be able to pay their dues, make queries, and see various orders notifications. We also intend to make the internal processes like inventory management, accounting and building plan approval system more efficient and less time consuming. This will reduce the number of visits of citizens to various NDMC offices.

Early building blocks

Some successful projects for providing e-Government solutions to municipalities are being implemented in states. These include, Smart Parking (Spark) at the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation parking complex, property tax management system using GIS in Kanpur Municipal Corporation, State Urban Bodies Integrated Data Handling and Access (Subidha) in Bhubaneswar, municipal reforms through Municipal e-Governance Project in Pune, MAINet project in Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation, Complete automation of birth and death registration certificates in Chennai, birth and death certificates through e-Seva centre in Hyderabad, and integrated ERP-based solution implementation in the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, among others.

MAINet: MAINet is an end-to-end computerisation program for creating an e-Municipality involving all departments and over 100 citizen services to be rendered in a time-bound manner through citizen facilitation centres (CFCs) in Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation (KDMC), Maharashtra. MAINet is a robust server-centric system, which provides real-time information management for all departments, ward offices, division offices and beyond. Prior to the implementation of e-Governance at KDMC, availing any service from KDMC meant inconvenience and loss of working days for citizens. Business process re-engineering was carried out for more than 400 processes, followed by a successful implementation of e-Governance at KDMC. Using best practices, KDMC today serves a citizenry of about 1.3 million people to provide more than 100 civic services like water supply, electricity, urban infrastructure of roads, drainage, birth and death certificate and a host of other services.

Smart Parking: Implemented by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, Smart Parking (Spark) solution is a sensor-based system, executed under the National Ubiquitous Computing initiative of the Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Government of India. Sensors are deployed in each parking lot to detect the presence of the vehicle. This information can be availed in real time. There are guiding nodes, which assist the drivers in finding a vacant lot in the parking area, thereby easing a commuter’s search within parking complex. The system uses latest and cutting edge technologies. It is currently functional at GHMC Parking Complex, Abids, Hyderabad. Real-time parking information can be accessed anytime, anywhere. Finding a parking lot effortlessly increases customer satisfaction and builds customer rapport with the parking management system, thereby stimulating positive responses from customers to return and reuse the facility. Congestion control and possible jams are minimised, especially at peak hours, available parking status updated and displayed in real time. Customers can reserve their parking lots for specified durations of time on any given date. The reservation can be booked well in advance through either online internet reservations or SMS reservations. The project has resulted in reduced fossil fuel emissions due to smoother commuting within the parking facility, optimal revenue generation and reduced manpower within the facility.

Prakash Rane
Managing Director, ABM Knowledgeware

“Governments should identify some matured e-Governance projects to demonstrate how the infra can be leveraged for expediting e-Governance in India.”

Rane suggests, “Government should identify some matured e-Governance projects in the state and incubate them as anchor projects to demonstrate proof-of-concept of how the proposed core infra can be leveraged for expediting e-Governance in India.”

Vibha Agrawal
Senior Director, CA Technologies

“Municipal reforms through service level benchmarks and e-Governance are here to stay and will be much more than just digitisation of a few services”

Vibha Agrawal, Senior Director, CA Technologies, is very optimistic about such urban reforms, “Going by the positive quality of service changes happening in many a municipal bodies across India, it is expected that municipal reforms through service level benchmarks and e-Governance are here to stay and will be much more than just digitisation of a few services.”

A way forward

Implementation of e-Governance projects demands mindset changes and re-prioritisation. Resources limitations in view of the fact that there exist 5,000 ULBs, selection of an effective monitoring mechanism, bureaucracy, costs and lack of sufficient broadband penetration are some of the other challenges.

Agrawal opines, “A thorough understanding of the municipal processes, well designed software, willingness to learn from failures, pragmatism in business process re-engineering, and firmness of leadership at municipal level can be helpful in overcoming these challenges over a period of time.”

Governments are under pressure to improve quality of services despite rising costs and reduced budgets. Metropolitan governments that are creating smart cities are empowering their city officers, managers and employees with superior technology tools and service delivery capabilities, making it easier to manage budgets, respond to demand, and improve the overall service offered to communities.

While some governments are well on their way to developing ‘smart cities’, there is still a lot of work to be done before they can truly deliver more consistent and transparent services.

Thomas of SAP feels that concentration towards capacity building, change management, adoption of a standards-based approach, alignment with best practices and performance-based monitoring will lead to achieving the dream of smart cities in India.

Providing urban amenities in rural areas is also a step towards achieving urban reforms. Rao of Department of Information Technology suggests, “It is an imperative to provide digital connectivity to rural areas so that residents may not have to go to urban areas for availing government-to-citizen services.”

Mehta of Ministry of Urban Development, opines, “Though time is running out with regard to making Indian cities smarter and be globally competitive, India does have a huge opportunity, being a leading country in area of IT.” 

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