IBM’s India Head reveals how creating Smart Cities in India is really no ‘rocket science’

IBM’s India
Head reveals how creating Smart Cities in India is really no ‘rocket science’
The government has allocated Rs. 98,000 crores for 100 Smart Cities Mission in India. Clearly it is not enough, agrees Pratap Padode, founder and director of Smart Cities Council India. So this is where the private players come in and a lot is dependent on them. Are they willing to take risk? What is the current status of their involvement in this project?

Here it from a player itself; Pratap Pradhan, Director, Smarter Planet Business, IBM India and South Asia, who is leading IBM’s Smart City plans in India, in talks with Business Insider India.

What challenges will be faced in implementing the internationally accepted reference models of Smart Cities in India?

We have to first consider what the legacy setup is. Most of the data may not be digital, a lot would be in pen and paper. Just getting the whole operation digitised would be the first challenge.

Second issue is the process discipline. There are books in India on disaster management. But it is not feasible that everybody who is in the middle of a disaster has read and memorised it. It can be done through command and control. This is where video analytics comes in.

Third is institutional capacity, which means that there are people in the department who may not be typically trained in these areas. Most cities in US have Federal Emergency Management Agencies. Technology is a challenge but there also needs to be functional experts in these areas. This is one of our closest programmes with the Indian government.

The government funds allocated for the project is not enough. So a major chunk of investment is expected from the private players. Are the private players willing to take that risk?

The whole concept that smarter cities mean more money is a fallacy. Most of these projects would pay for themselves because the benefits that they reap would bring money.

It can be explained with an example. In one of the cities in US, sewage water was leaking into drinking water. US govt imposes fines for that. The civic authorities were mandated to create infrastructure which would have cost $100 million. So through analytics we installed sensors and found out which are the main blocking areas. We were able to open up 10 million additional capacity of water in the same sewerage system that they already had. So this investment was no longer required.

Another instance was in the city of Sao Paolo in Brazil. The city wanted to understand where are all its civic issues were? Instead of installing hundreds of sensors and cameras, we gave the citizens a mobile app. We said wherever you go, if you are having inconvenience in terms of waste, sewage, traffic, potholes, street lights, click a photo, the app geo codes it and sends it to the city.

In 3 hours we were able to map 4 sq kilometres area of the city and each and every civic issue of that area was noted. The city did not spend a penny because of citizen participation.

Our brains are actually a better asset than our money.

What is the global perception of India’s smart cities mission? Does India have the necessary infrastructure to make the cities smart, considering even the remotest areas?

From a technology deployment perspective, India’s situation is very good. For most brown field areas that we are targeting, there is a fair bit of readiness.

And, through Digital India campaign, government is trying to create a seamless communication system between the government, gram panchayats and the citizens of the remotest areas.

What smart technologies are available?

The technology is predominantly in two categories. One of these is highly vertical solutions like water management, waste management, disaster management etc.

The other thing is horizontal technologies like mobile engagement, city wide command and control.

Where technology and analytics comes in, the question of cyber security comes in. And India’s security system, both physical and cyber, is abysmal. How is IBM playing a part in the solution?

Cyber security is one of the key element which is part of all of our solutions. Enterprise security is our key element. We design for security. We also have threat assessment programmes in an existing system through penetration analysis. For example if you are entering a legacy system which you need to improve and also have to fix some loopholes, we have a team called X-Force Exchange, comprising of threat assessment specialists, who can do threat assessment on any given system, find loopholes and plug those loopholes.

In terms of physical security, we implement video analytics to solve problems like crowd management, traffic management and accidents.

For instance, we deployed a surveillance system during the Navakalevara festival of Orissa. The city basically needed a much more advanced way of surveillance. Through analytics we solved the problem. What it solved was that if you have 100 cameras you can’t have 100 eyes constantly focussed on that. Analytics are very important because you manage by exceptions. Video analytics are able to speak out specific exceptions from the feed itself. They are able to alert somebody to take action.

What difficulties would be faced if this needs to be implemented on a pan India basis?

Smart cities get thrown around as a little bit of generic concept, you put in technology and you will get a Smart city.

Smart City is about local context and tapping what is best in that particular city. The issues are unique at each city. There isn’t a one size fits all solution.

We did a study in Vishakhpatnam post Hudhud. The city has a vibrant MSME sector. When Hudhud came there wasn’t that much loss of lives but there was lot of loss of livelihoods. So, in Vizag before we try any other smart city interventions, the very first intervention required is to make it a resilient Vizag where there is an integrated command and control. Another reasons of such massive damage was lack of adherence to building codes. Other coastal cities like New York have put in strong norms to protect the city from these climate related disasters.

We can really be the drivers of that city if only digitally it becomes easier for us to engage with that city. Like through a single app, we can promote tourism of Ajmer (as tourism is the strength of this city).

Is IBM working on any such kind of apps?

We have a very strong digital engagement portfolio which includes apps, devices. There is technology and then there is design. One really needs to work closely with the city to design the right solution. How can it really push the economy? Can the city then do analytics? How can it reach all the people living in that city? There are some pockets within Ajmer that are getting left out because of reach.

We have done 2500 Smart Cities projects around the world and these assets are what we are bringing to our India programme

How long will it take to build a Smart City in India?

If you see the roadmap, the roadmap for selection of cities is a three year roadmap. So, say in the first year 20 cities get selected. When the first round of selection occurs, then it will take 2-3 years for those 20 cities to see some progress.

(Image credits: youtube)