Smart Cities India

Smart Cities India
Nov 2017 , by , in Trends

By 2030, approximately 600 million Indians will be living in cities. The existing challenges coupled with massive urbanization will put tremendous pressure on cities’ existing resources.Therefore, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government has announced a flagship program, ‘Smart Cities’.

Indian cities are burdened with increasing demand for energy, water & housing, pollution & traffic issues, infrastructure & resource constraints. The program, ‘Smart Cities’ aims to address challenges associated with India’s rapid growth and massive urbanization in coming years.

As part of the program, the government has decided to develop 100 Smart Cities by 2024.Building smart cities will involve development of technology solutions coupled with urban infrastructure & connectivity that can address cities’ growth aspirations and offer employment opportunities to its citizens. Moreover, it should be within regulatory framework of the government and must adhere to common industry standards. It should also facilitate participation from various sections of society.

Smart city development is not just a technology problem but it also entails facilitation of inclusive environment where stakeholders can co-create, adapt, grow, manage and sustain rapid urbanization.

Many cities in India are already undergoing smart transformation and deploying such solutions. However, it should have India-centric approach. Indian society, diversity, history, political influences, regional alignments, and resource availability pose different challenges in urbanization. It may result in different usage and adaptation of smart solutions. These unique issues may not be comparable to other smart cities in the world.

With many domestic and foreign stakeholders at various levels, there is a bigger need to bring in common consensus, inclusive environment and open standards based platform. It will eliminate issues associated with dependency on vendor, proprietary technology stack, scalability and cost.


Government of India’s Vision for 100 Smart Cities

Estimated growth opportunities by 2030:

— 70% net new employment

— 68 cities will have population 1+ million, 590 million people will live in cities

— 700-900 million square meters of commercial and residential space required

— 2.5 billion square meter of roads and 7400 Km of metros and subways to be constructed

— $1.2 trillion capital investment required in meeting projected demands in cities


Smart City Components

Every country has defined its own context and framework of a smart city. Government of India defines a smart city as those cities which have intelligent social,physical, institutional and economic infrastructure while ensuring centrality of citizens in a sustainable environment.Its sustainability needs to offer economic activities,employment opportunities and quality of life to a wide section of its residents, regardless of their level of education, skills or income levels.


How the Government plans to roll out 100 Smart Cities?

The 100 Smart Cities are shortlisted based on criteria like economic sustainability (GDP contribution), geographic inclusivity, cultural heritage, diversity, etc. This effort also intends to prioritize other flagship programs of government, e.g. Swachh Bharat, Make in India and Digital India. The implementation is based on three key approaches:

Information and Communications Technology is the backbone of every smart technology solution. However, “one-size-fits-all” strategy will not work for all approaches as each one poses a different technology challenge e.g. retrofitting a technology solution based on existing crammed infrastructure will be more costly than similar scale, grounds up deployment in green-field town ship. Solutions have to be flexible and adaptable to different ways of retrofitting to serve the need. And yet, quality and ease of use cannot be compromised.

This plan cannot be a mere policy decision by the government leading to assembly of various smart solutions. Neither can it be an implementation mandate from central level percolating down to municipal bodies. It’s a complex equation of infrastructure, available resources, technology, regulations, cost, participation and change in the ways cities have been executing. The next section will discuss evolution of smart solutions, current status quo and challenges of integrating these solutions in Indian context on such a massive scale.


Current Smart Solutions & Challenges

Smart solutions range from broad platform approach to niche solutions for specific problems.

  • Vendor-specific Platforms: Smart city platform from leading vendors like IBM and Cisco address many areas like water, energy, and building. These are horizontal solutions encompassing many proprietary technology solutions bundled together.
  • Niche Solutions: On the other end of the spectrum, there are solutions targeting specific area and focusing on providing specific solutions. E.g. Eutech Cybernetic for smart workplace solutions, Petra Systems for smart lightening and smart surveillance, etc.

Selection of smart solutions depends on certain questions that policy makers must answer: What is your city’s ecosystem in terms of needs, priorities, funds, infrastructure, policies, timeline, and socio-economic reasons? What key problems are you trying to solve? What are immediate gains and long term vision? How much budget is allocated? Is the solution for some other city really going to address problems of your city?

Once solutions are chosen and projects are initiated, more challenges start surfacing, such as interoperability of solutions, data ownership, vendor lock-in, scale of implementation, open access,citizen’s adoption of these technologies resulting in more user generated data and so on. Following section elaborates on each of these challenges and how it multiplies in the Indian context.


The “Remote Control” Syndrome

Complexity of every city’s ecosystem plays a significant role in implementation of smart solutions. Every individual project has its merit within the context of problem it is solving. However, over the period, these decisions would result in multiple smart solutions for different service silos e.g. energy, parking, traffic management. It would lead to heterogeneous data formats and inconsistent visualization. Such user experience is analogous to using many“remote controls” simultaneously to operate different devices at a time. It would also result in increased cost of training and maintenance.


Data Fragmentation

At implementation level, a smart solution is based on technology paradigm of “Internet of Things” (IoT) where things denote various types of sensors deployed in cities’ infrastructure connected via network and passing of data using the communication protocol.These “connected” things pass real-time data e.g. water purification system’s quality levels, open parking spaces indicators, and waste containers’ filling level. There would be thousands of sensors sending real-time data that enable speedy decision making.

However, ‘remote control’ syndrome would naturally lead to fragmentation of real-time data in various smart solutions at city level.This would further culminate in fragmentation at region, state and eventually national level. Obtaining holistic view of data (to perform analysis and lead to better reduction, optimization and efficiency)would lead to very complex integration effort.


Integration & Interoperability Issues

Sensors are of different types (location, thermal, acoustic, light and chemical) and they use different communication protocol to transmit data (wifi, Bluetooth, RFID, and Zigbee). Vendor-specific solution provide proprietary interfaces to interact with it. Interoperability between these systems is a key challenge for integrated smart city.This challenge manifests in a very complex scenario when data from multiple smart solution, from different vendors, diverse environment,and multiple government organizations needs to be integrated.


Data Locked in Closed Systems

Access to real-time and citizen generated data in smart city is very critical since it will help city administrators to take informed policy decisions. Open data can create new value chains, encourage innovation and transparency. Many governments worldwide have shared vital data freely to citizens, businesses, and academics creating new value chains, products, and business models.Following this global trend of open data, Government of India also makes certain data set accessible via the Open Government Data Platform India (

A smart solution must make open data access as its first priority.However, this remains a big challenge and manifests itself to exponential level with diverse systems at different cities with data locked in proprietary solutions and vendor data centers.


Absence of Smart City Standards

It is apparent that data will play key role in smart city implementation.Current big data technologies can handle large & diverse dataset sand provide insights. However, there is an immense need to develop standards that can guide technology providers & administrators:

— Common data communication protocols at device level

— System communication mechanism via well-defined interfaces

— Stakeholders communication (internal & external, social media)

— Data interpretation, conversion and flow between systems

— Standards to maintain citizen privacy

— Data security, storage, archival and purging

— Integrated data visualization framework

— Compliance and regulatory requirements

Such standardization demands both top-down and bottom-up approach in collaboration with various stakeholders. Currently, such’all-encompassing’ standards do not exist globally. Standards organization like IEC has clearly identified this need and is coordinating such efforts.


Vendor Dependency

Currently there are multiple vendors working on smart solutions deployment in different cities. 100 Smart Cities’ implementation with multiple vendors will result in various dependency issues such as:

  • Every vendor has its own proprietary standards for communication and data. Large platform-like implementations are typically slow in adapting new industry standards since it involves complex release cycles. Even if government defines certain standards, such implementation cannot comply with it immediately.
  • Proprietary solution would use its own data center. There is increasing need for environment-friendly co-located data centers for smart cities. Since there is no standardization of data storage,this will result in islands of smart data clouds located worldwide.
  • Smart city technologies are relatively new and their scaling with large amount of data is unproven yet. Many point solutions for specific services will end up being an expensive proposition for a city. Patchwork of expensive and un-scalable solutions in smart city realization poses a big threat to achieve true value of such efforts.


Stakeholder Participation

Citizens are not just consumers of services but also actors and data generators. They should be empowered to contribute to standards definition. The process should inclusive where stakeholders from various section of society contribute along with government such as:private sector, academia, technology providers, NGO and civil society representatives. Such inclusive approach will lead to necessary consensus.


The Ideal Approach

Smart city is a vision to be realized over the period of next 10 years. The destination cannot be reached using traditional way of thinking or turn-key approach. Technology alone will not provide the solution magically. The success depends on how standards and framework is defined to leverage ICT ii in efficient manner, how consensus can be achieved democratically, how India specific problems are addressed, and finally, how it is done in most cost- effective and incremental manner via open source approach.


Excerpted from Whitepaper by Persistent Systems Ltd


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