Solutions that Make Systems Work: Nirav Shah

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Nirav Shah President EI Technologies, LLC

Nirav Shah
President EI Technologies, LLC

From your vast experience spanning over 450 projects, what kind of a Common Operating Picture (COP) you envisage in the context of Indian cities?

A Common Operating Picture for the Indian cities will include a multitude of information. It will begin with a base map as a framework (aerial photography or satellite imagery). It will include information, such as:

Parcel Fabric: It is a complete picture of land ownership in the city. Putting together a parcel fabric sometimes leads to higher tax revenue as it discovers land parcels that were either not being taxed at all or not being taxed appropriately. Parcel fabric allows an official to search for all parcels larger than a certain size, which is key to economic development activities. They can further refine this search by reviewing the available infrastructure as part of COP.

Utilities Infrastructure:

Having access to your infrastructure on-demand is imperative from operations point of view. Knowing where your assets are and analysing the trends for these assets helps one manage demands more efficiently. COP helps officials review their network. For example, if a water main breaks, they will be able to trace the network and know exactly which two valves will shut the water off, and the way to reroute the distribution system to allow for quick service recovery. They can also review loss (in developed countries loss is less than five per cent, while in India it could be as high as 30 per cent).

Public Safety:

Providing public safety information, such as crime and fire incidents, in a COP allows the officials to review the occurrences. Police officials are able to conduct incident analysis looking at the trends, and even predicting the next potential target by studying the journey to crime. They are able to review the heatmap (map reflecting where the crime is concentrated) that allows them to increase patrolling in an area. Similarly, when a fire occurs, firefighters are able to know ahead of time, information about the structure of the building and floor plans, etc.

Public Works: Providing asset informa-tion, such as age, material, condition etc., for streets, signs, lights, etc. is an important tool. This allows the officials to better manage their assets and look at trends for recall or problems due to a specific material, etc. It even allows us to find out issues of refuse collection that is linked to a specific driver route.

A number of initiatives have been undertaken by government agencies in the areas of Disaster Management, Smart Cities, Land Administration, Utilities, etc. In what ways does EI Technologies dovetail with the ongoing efforts?

At EI Technologies, we focus on efficiency that also means avoiding duplication. Government agencies in India have various tools at their disposal for Public Works, Land Administration, Disaster Management, Utilities, etc. But often the problem is that none of these tools talk to each other. So, what we have is “silos” of information, not integrated with other systems. This prevents users from “connecting the dots”, which is the most important piece in today’s information overload age. We put together geospatial systems that are tightly integrated with other systems, such as land administration, utilities, public works, etc. By providing a solution that works with other systems as well, we are able to add value to their existing systems while allowing them to make better decisions and faster.

It is never the technology that is the hurdle but always the people. Very often, we keep solving problems that arise due to turf battles between divisions… We have helped numerous agencies build consensus around technology, governance, functionality, operation and maintenance issues…

Being a leading member of the Smart Cities Infrastructure Trade Mission to India, would you like to share in brief the kind of Smart City infrastructure that exists in the world’s leading cities?

Some leading cities in the world are implementing the smart cities infrastructure. They are keeping geospatial technology at the heart of their implementation, because more than 95 per cent of information a city manages involves the location component. One of our clients, York Region in Canada, had an issue with wastewater discharge where they had leaking pipes that resulted in flooding of pumps when there was an instance of snow melt or heavy rain. Conventional wisdom was to build a new pump station that would have cost close to $100 million. Instead, we worked with them to create a solution where they put flow meters in sewer pipes and we took real-time readings for snow depth, temperature, etc., and compared the flow in pipes with what is known as dry weather generation flow. This allowed us to pinpoint exactly which pipes were leaking, and by replacing those pipes, the problem was resolved at a fraction of the cost.

How does real-time situational awareness help in smart governance of cities?

Real-time situational awareness is an important piece of the puzzle in the governance of a city. For example, providing Citizen Engagement tools, such as a Mobile App, allows the officials to gather information from the public about crime, street improvement, etc. This information is automatically categorised and sent to appropriate divisions for action. Police is able to respond to the crime in a quicker manner. By integrating 911 services or a similar system, we are able to see whether the first responders are located in the proximity of an incident, and mobilise response. By looking at traffic patterns, we are able to re-route firefighting equipment, so they can reach seconds earlier, saving lives and property, and much more.

What are the key critical hurdles you feel dot the implementation of the ambitious Smart Cities programme as envisaged by the Government of India?

In our experience, it is never the technology that is the hurdle but always the people. Very often, we keep solving problems that arise due to turf battles between divisions – this could be a number of things, including who has control over what data, what technology to use, communication or lack thereof, mistrust between organisations, etc. We have helped numerous agencies build consensus around technology, governance (who has control over what), functionality, operation and maintenance issues. Providing examples of successful organisations, demonstrating functionality and putting together a governance framework that allows inputs from various divisions helps bridge some of the differences. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this. As India embarks on the ambitious 100 Smart Cities programme, we must allow each city to find its own sweet spot.

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