Making Smart Cities Work for Us: Vikas Aggarwal

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Vikas Aggarwal, Executive Director – Advisory Services, E&Y

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, writes Vikas Aggarwal, Executive Director – Advisory Services, E&Y

The Government of India has been making substantial investments in Rural Development. Going by the investments pledged in the 11th and 12th Five Year plans, the total budgetary allocation has been Rs 2,91,682 crore and Rs 4,43,261 crore, respectively. But, 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 insignificant strain on the cities’ resources, such as housing, transport, health, education, water and energy etc.

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 utilisation 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.

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: 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. It is one of the most crucial enablers and is the paramount for sustainability of such cities. Smart governance provides a stable and result-oriented outlook, ensuring local government is accountable for results, and 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 organisations, so that the city can function efficiently and effectively as one unit. Traditionally, governance mechanism has been decentralised and siloed and has less than- optimal citizen participation. It 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.

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 and make the city life smarter. 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 in a smart city are e-voting on city matters, e-participation and citizencentric 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.

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 has 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 sensorenabled 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 actions as deemed fit.

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

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. 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.

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