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Gaia Empowering Urban Governance Through Advanced Technology: Dr Sumit Chowdhury

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As the Coronavirus outbreak has made the Government impose a nationwide lockdown, smart city initiatives, private IT firms and e-Governance infra were some of the few that enabled the Government to fight the pandemic and carry on effective governance in times of COVID. To know more on tech as driving the new scenario of remote working and smart governance, Arpit Gupta and Adarsh Som of Elets News Network (ENN) interviewed Dr Sumit D Chowdhury , Founder & CEO, Gaia Smart Cities.

Dr Sumit Chowdhary

What role is Gaia playing in enhancing India’s e-Governance?

Gaia is a tech firm specializing in IoT, Digital, & AI-based SaaS platform for e-Governance  Monitoring. As a team of tech experts, we bring in the expertise and skills to help city, state, and national level governments in two ways.

Firstly, we are deploying our core technology platforms to implement solutions that enable governments and enterprises to monitor, manage, and optimize the distributed last mile sites, assets, people, and processes. We have a specific focus in building and operating two-sided models that enable monitoring between Government to Government entities and Government to Business entities. These solutions provide tech-enabled governance, assurance of service levels, and contractual monitoring of multiple third-party service providers onto a common platform. Data-driven operations and governance is a new concept, which connects the last mile to the Boardroom on a unified platform to give a comprehensive near realtime view of the entire operation.

Our customers in this space have included Swachh Bharat Urban, Various City and State Urban Development Authorities, Indian Railways, Airports Authority of India, and multiple smart cities. As an example, for Swachh Bharat Urban, where we developed and managed their entire Mission Management cloud platform to connect 4041 towns and their nearly 1 lakh officials onto a common system for performance monitoring, communications, and rapid visualization.

Secondly, our team of Information & Communication Technology (ICT), Operational Technologies (OT), and Advanced New Tech (AI, ML, IoT, SaaS, Visualization, GIS) are designing city or campus level technology roadmap, technology blueprints, detailed tech design including Detailed Project Reports, Inception Reports, Business Process Reengineering, Tender and Bid Specifications, and Procurement Management. Our team serves as program management experts to help cities or enterprises manage bid processes, select and onboard vendors and system integrators, and program manages implementation for effective outcomes.

While we have worked with 14 cities during the Smart Cities Challenge phase and 3 cities during the Project Management & Implementation phase, one of our key clients has been Agra Smart City, which recently was ranked as the Number 1 city by Smart Cities Mission, MoHUA in terms of performance, implementation status, and outcomes.

Gaia contributed to Agra by repurposing our SaaS solutions for COVID-19 usage. Agra is using Gaia solutions for Citizen Health Risk Assessment, Online Platform to connect last-mile suppliers of essentials, and Citizen Emergency Request App, powered by an AI-based allocation engine to ensure incoming requests are serviced by a team from Agra Civil Defense.

In which cities Gaia is working on smart metering solutions? How has the lockdown affected the work and by when do you expect normalcy to return?

Gaia has deployed multiple solutions in the smart monitoring space.

Gaia’s SmartFeedback IoT and Cloud SaaS solution have been deployed by 110 cities and Urban Local Bodies in nine states for governance monitoring of sanitation in public and community toilets. All the Top Winning cities and states of Swachh Survekshan 2018, 2019, and 2020 have used our solution and it won the Quality Council of India Gold Award 2019 for impact. Till date, this solution has had 75 million citizen touchpoints over three years.

Gaia’s SmartFeedback solution has also been deployed in 32 airports for the Airports Authority of India for monitoring last-mile traveller experience at multiple service touchpoints.

Gaia’s Digital and Cloud SaaS solution is deployed for governance monitoring of Indian Railways on-board housekeeping services and platform monitoring is being used in 13 zones nationally to serve nearly five million passengers on a daily basis. This has special relevance in post corona scenario for ongoing sanitation and hygiene management on trains and stations. In the post-corona scenario, health and hygiene will be important indicators for cities and governments, and the need for governance monitoring and service and health safety assurance will be more critical than ever.

Remote monitoring and management of distributed sites will become even more critical in the post corona phase when requirements for effective and safe operations will be stringent, and there may be a shortage of last-mile staff for manual interventions. So, digital and sensor-enabled solutions will be needed.

Is Gaia working on mapping technologies and tracking/ tracing measures to aid the civic authorities and governments in disease outbreaks like COVID-19?

Gaia SaaS solution is being used to enable city and district government to provide hyper-local delivery of last-mile essential, emergency, and health-related services. Gaia’s Sarvam Setu app and platform is a two-sided solution. The citizen-facing app enables citizens to raise requests for assistance in multiple categories. It pairs with the Volunteer or Staff app, which allows cities and their partner organizations to orchestrate real-time, AI-based allocation of requests to deliver the last mile request of food, essentials, medicine, emergency call, or containment violation reporting. This solution has already been deployed to serve the 4.4 million citizens of Agra district. The city tied up with 800 retailers of essentials in 101 wards for doorstep delivery of essential groceries and milk, and with Agra Civil Defense and its team of 600 volunteers to respond to citizen emergency requests. The solution enables cities to get micro-location based information on health risks and citizen requests and needs.

Also Read:Workshop held on urban governance

One of the significant services you offer is City Sensor Network and IoT Platform. How has been Indian smart cities developing in this regard? Please mention a few IoT projects Gaia is doing with Indian Smart Cities.

Gaia City Sensor Network and IoT Platform allow multiple solutions, and their associated sensors, to run on a common communication and data management platform, thereby creating ease of usage, data latency and validity, data interoperability and data intermediation for the city at an aggregated level. This platform has been deployed in Kakinada Smart City to cover 440 million square feet of the urban area to connect solutions such as Air Quality Monitoring, Smart Parking, and Waste Management.

Gaia is one of the only companies in India that can deploy, optimize, and manage private LPWAN networks for cities or campuses or large footprint sites. We have the full stack capability for this, and can connect to Gaia’s solutions or multiple third-party devices and applications.

Considering the fact that Smart cities are from smart people, do you think the government authorities and even the private players must focus on conditioning citizens? What measures Gaia is taking for the cause?

Smart Cities Mission has always focused on citizen centricity. Even from the start, citizen interaction, engagement, and idea collection was built into the process to get citizen feedback into defining the vision and plan for each city. As cities implement solutions and solutions are live, the engagement of the entire ecosystem of service providers, staff, and citizens must be conditioned. Training, Capacity Building, and Change Management are essential to ensure that all staff, from officials to the last mile workforce, know how to use and operate the new systems and processes, and can use data-driven tools to manage and improve service delivery and citizen satisfaction. At the same time, citizen awareness and engagement is needed to ensure that citizens understand the services being put into place to ensure cooperation and adoption, as needed. Citizens need to be comfortable with the interfaces and usage of solutions. Especially considerations of vandalism or theft of hardware, data protection and privacy, surveillance for safety, and citizen activism are critical where citizens need to feel a part of the process. Gaia ensures that change management and citizen engagement is built into all solutions so that cities can transform the ecosystem and not just technology and processes, but also people and mindsets.

Smart Cities are connecting more and more services and people on integrated technology networks, does this make the entire city functioning and people’s data vulnerable to hackers? What contingency plan cities have to tackle this?

Smart City solutions come in two categories. Solutions pertaining to delivery of essential services which has data about the city, but no information about the citizen. Solutions pertaining to last-mile citizen services and online transactions related to them have citizen data. Cities are ensuring complete protection through appropriate infrastructure and firewalls and protective software at edge nodes and at cloud levels. Vulnerability testing is critical for hardware, networks, applications, and cloud infrastructure, and cities are extremely cognizant of the requirements and ensuring the same.

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