Developing Smart Cities

Developing Smart Cities
Jul 2017 , by , in Interviews

Amitabh Satyam is the Chief Mentor at Smart Transformations.  A graduate of IIT, Kanpur with an MBA from Fisher College of Business, USA, Amitabh was earlier the Managing Partner at SAP and the global consulting leader for Telecom and IoT at IBM.  He has recently authored the book named “The Smart City Transformations”.

 

In the Indian context what should be the definition of Smart City?

Smart concepts relate to maximizing improvements in lives of people at the lowest possible use of resources such as energy, material and human resources. I consider a Smart City to have 12 key elements: Infrastructure, Environment, Culture, Governance, Safety, Disaster Management, Health, Education, Human Resources, Entertainment, Affordability, and the ability to anticipate.  Each element above has several sub-elements, for example, Infrastructure has Water, Sanitation, Electricity, Roads Ports, Gas, Pavements, Telecom, Railways, Buses, Traffic Management, and Waste Removal.

The book “The Smart City Transformations” defines 54 elements, each with 8 layers and an organized framework for assessing the level of smartness in each area. The primary driver for Smart is achieving improvements in these elements that relates to lives and happiness of the citizens using technologies and processes that minimize resource expenditure. Clean drinking water and clean air to breathe are a fundamental right in a Smart world.

 

Does Smart denote intelligent connectivity, smart governance & automated buildings in a city?

The word Smart does have a reference in the world of technology, however, when we look at Smart cities as a concept for improving lives, then the focus is not on automation or technology, but on improving lives.  If a technology of constructing automated buildings reduces the input costs, such as the energy and material, then yes, it is the Smart thing to do.  However, if the additional cost of constructing technology-laden buildings is more than the benefits it provides, and if that extra money could be better utilized on other initiatives that help more, then I would say that automated buildings are not Smart. Technology does, however, help achieve these goals if used judiciously.

We must not fight technology but harness it suitably for the purpose.  Expensive technology for the sake of appearing Smart is not Smart. Similarly, technologies that improve governance at a reasonable cost is certainly Smart.

 

How critical is it to develop new urban centers in India to take away load from the few metros? 

Not only the major cities crumbling, it’s also unfair for our people to have to move to faraway locations to find employment.  For a country of our size, we only have about 10 cities that provide employment in large numbers in the organized sectors. Rest do not have the critical mass of qualified manpower to attract large business, and businesses also do not go to the smaller cities because there are no qualified people.  It is a vicious circle. We must have hundreds of these employment generating cities located across the country.

Large scale migration causes considerable stress on the society.  People from villages and small towns settle in these cities – sometimes there are a dozen people living in a room, taking turns to sleep.  We must provide them employment opportunities closer to their homes where they live with their families and watch their children grow. A distribution of economic activities away from the current set of employment generating large cities is a must.

 

What are the challenges for developing smart cities in India and learning from the Smart cities across the globe?

The biggest challenge is the needed funds to match our aspirations.  Our current set of cities is highly inadequate.  In fact, most of the tier-2 and smaller cities are residential cities that were villages that just happened to grow over time, without any meaningful long-term planning. To upgrade them to be a viable business and industrial center will be expensive. Of the 12 elements of Smart, as I have defined, these cities rate low in practically all of them. To be globally competitive in supplying products and services, a significant improvement is needed. We must find Smart ways of identifying projects and initiatives that provide the maximum impact on the cities.

We must assess the cost of providing the city services, the benefits and their impact on the environment.  In my book, I have used an example of Bhutan as a Smart country.  It uses technology but actively promotes living in equilibrium with nature’s processes, without causing environmental damages.

Great cities and well-planned, good-looking cities are not necessarily Smart cities and level of technology used is not a measurement of Smart.

Globally, most Smart city initiatives are incremental improvements enabled by technology.  We, however, need structural improvements that will cost significantly more.

 

What is the intention of your book and its relevance for Indian professionals?

Not just in India but professionals everywhere need an organized framework for dealing with Smart concepts and Smart cities.  I have set a specific set of definitions, methodologies, tools, and frameworks for dealing with all the aspects of Smart.  I have also covered the areas of the economics of Smart cities, the industry dynamics, measurement of Smart elements, and governance of Smart projects.  The beginning part of the book focuses on integrating the concepts of economics, development, sustainability, and technology.

The co-author of the book, Dr Igor Calzada, who teaches at the University of Oxford, has focused on social, economic and governance aspects, and brings the perspective from the academic research.  Professionals who are solution providers or those responsible for defining and delivering Smart projects from the private sector or the government, will find this book a master guide, helping in every step.  I also expect the academic community to use this as a textbook in teaching Smart Cities and Smart living.

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