Interview with Amitabh Satyam, Chief Mentor at Smart Transformations Developing Smart Cities
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.