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How digital is making Indian cities smarter

January 25, 2019

Sumeet Walia   

Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Tata Communications

“…the real purpose of government is to enhance the lives of people…” — Gerald R. Ford (US President 1974-77)

In the bustle of crowded streets in cities the world over, people speed through their busy lives. In the middle of all this, it’s easy to take things for granted. Mobile connectivity anywhere, coffee at the tap of a credit card, same-day deliveries – not to mention reliable access to essentials like electricity.

As the world continues to grow in population, over 7.6 billion according to the World Counts, new solutions must be implemented to ensure the wellbeing of all. This is especially true in our ever-expanding cities across the globe. And, as a second most populated country, India is the perfect setting for implementing smart technologies.

The urban innovation rises in India

The world is today increasingly urbanised, with well over half of the world’s population living in cities, while more than 80 per cent of global economic activity stems from cities.

By 2030, it’s estimated that cities and towns will be home to 40 per cent of Indians and contribute three-quarters of India’s GDP. It’s no surprise that a recent report by Oxford Economics states that in terms of the top 10 cities for economic growth, India’s urban areas are set to dominate the globe over the next two decades.

While no country has achieved economic success without urbanisation, it does come at a price. Cities, as they grow in size and increase in population, inevitably cause pollution, for example. The challenge for the Indian Government is to manage urban growth, improving infrastructure, and ensuring economic sustainability.

That’s how the Indian Government’s Digital India plan aims to transform citizen services. In particular, its Smart Cities Mission focuses on crafting a sustainable, inclusive and replicable development model. The Mission emphasises good governance, efficient resource management, public-private partnerships, standardised processes, rapidly-deployable initiatives, stakeholder collaboration, rigorous monitoring, and speedy incident resolution to get this done. Smart cities will also require holistic cyber-security that covers both citizens and institutions and protects them across all technology layers.

None of this is possible without deploying cutting-edge digital technologies, whether in greenfield cities like Andhra Pradesh’s upcoming capital Amaravati or in millennia-old ones like Bhubaneshwar.

Barriers for technological advances in cities

Amaravati aims to be among the top 5 “Happy Cities” globally, encompassing the highest standards of liveability and infrastructure with a thriving economic environment. The city is being developed from the ground up with smart grids that not only deliver water, cooking gas and electricity but also cover security, LED street lights, internet access, flood control and sanitation, amongst other services.

The challenge with established cities, however, is a lot greater.  On top of expected costs that new technologies come with, existing cities also are in need of retrofitting legacy infrastructure and connecting disparate service providers, as well as managing the changes to core processes and the way that the bureaucracy functions.

Bhubaneshwar’s E-mobility plan is a good illustration of this. The project is ambitious, as it involves a large number of contributing factors like amending building bylaws, extending road networks, migrating to electric buses and e-rickshaws, developing charging hubs for e-vehicles, and more. All of this would then be governed by an intelligent transportation system, with control centres and video analytics.

Regardless of the challenges, these examples demonstrate the crucial role that technologies, such as Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and big data analytics, play in making Indian cities smarter, more sustainable and more liveable for citizens. Aside from fuelling automation, it is clear that digital technology can create true transformation as well. It is also clear that it can’t be done in isolation. It will require nurturing collaborative public-private partnerships to convert the promise of these technologies into value for citizens.

Working together towards a smarter future

Collaboration is key to ensure we are all moving in the sustainable future together. For instance, Tata Communications has partnered with Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Co. Ltd. (JUSCO) to implement India’s largest deployment of smart streetlights. The project which encompasses devices, application, network and even platform services, helps JUSCO save energy, reduce maintenance costs, generate real-time reports, and reduce carbon emissions.

This is one example amongst thousands, where companies are working hard to invest in their cities’ futures. Transforming India’s urban clusters will require a high degree of technological standards and a culture that believes in using technology as an agent of change.

Our partnership with CII for the CII-Tata Communications Centre for Digital Transformation aims to be a catalyst to drive adoption of mobile, cloud, IoT and cyber-security while shoring up the digital talent pool. It is only through such collaborations that we will be able to digitally transform India’s cities into the new nerve centres of growth, and enable citizens to truly prosper.


Read about how India can accelerate its economy digitally here.