Smart Cities - the way ahead for India

Smart Cities - the way ahead for India

Anil Menon - President Smart+Connected Communities and Deputy Chief Globalisation Officer, Cisco
The article was published in the in Times of India

"Smart city" has emerged as a buzzword in India ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined his vision for creating a hundred Smart cities. And, aside from the hype around the term "Smart cities" it does raise some pertinent questions such as what does it really mean to be a "smart city?" and why should Indians care about the smartness of their city? Indian cities are unique in that they confront the challenges of not only the 20th and 21st centuries but also some remnants from the 19th century. While cities like Bengaluru are participants in global innovation and increasingly compete with Silicon Valley to further enhance innovation, they also need to tackle important issues such as providing basic sanitation, public transport, clean water and effective waste management. So, the traditional approach of managing and maintaining our cities must change - both in mindset and in the way we administer them.

Between 2014 and 2050 India will add 404 million people to its cities, according to the United Nations -- that's the equivalent of one Sao Paolo or two Singapores a year for the next 36 years. It's impossible for any country to create this level of scale and provide the attendant urban services like education, healthcare, security, and government services without being smart with limited resources. To do that, we need better understanding and planning of the current level of deployed resources and the gaps in the deployment versus the required level of resources. This can be only be done by running rigourous data analyses on current investments to identify ways of improving resource utilization. This is why Open Data and Analytics become the fundamental pillar for any smart city. While there may be many dimensions to consider when defining a smart city, at a simple and gestalt level, smart city refers to a meticulously planned city that relies on IT as an enabler to solve many of its problems - from the use of sensors to smart grids and data analytics that allow city infrastructure and services to meet city problems and citizen demands efficiently and reliably. Many are skeptical about this concept taking off given that basic amenities and infrastructure like water supply, sanitation, sewage, waste disposal and traffic management continue to be a huge challenge in many cities. However, this skepticism misses the point. While there is a tendency to focus the entire discussion about smart cities around technology like sensors, cameras, and software, these are important only because they allow for faster and better use of data to manage scarce resources and improve execution. What was once a visionary notion is now the new normal - Information and Communications technology (ICT) is as essential as the three utilities: water, telco and electricity.Technology infrastructure has to be built keeping in mind the holistic services-oriented approach to revitalize an existing city or designing a green field city.

The India scenario: Turning challenges into opportunities

Window of opportunities - Make in India

In a decade, over 50 billion devices will be connected through machine-to-machine communication and The Internet of Everything (IoE) will be a $1.5 trillion-a-year business globally. There will be another $2 trillion annually in new services and within this market, the global urban services segment is estimated to be around $2 trillion in revenues and savings over the next decade. I believe that the "Make in India" initiative and the Smart Cities intiative should be converged with cities becoming living labs for hardware, software and urban services developed and made in the country, thereby creating a base for exports.

Consider street lighting, which today accounts for 1.5% of total electricity consumption in India according to McKinsey. Cities that use networked motion-detection lights can save 70-80 percent of electricity and costs, according to an independent, global trial of LED technology. Smart street lighting initiatives can also reduce crime in the area by seven percent because of better visibility and more content citizenry, according to Cisco's estimates.

Another example to consider is buildings. Today, buildings in India account for nearly 40% of the total energy consumption, which will reach 50% by 2030. McKinsey estimated in India that 700 million to 900 million square metres of new residential and commercial space would need to be built every year from 2010 to 2020. Just imagine the increase in energy consumption unless buildings outfitted with intelligent sensors and networked management systems collect and analyze energy-use data.

In India alone, traffic congestion costs $10 billion a year in wasted time and fuel. Drivers looking for a parking space cause 30 percent of urban congestion, not to mention pollution. Imagine if Indian cities embedded networked sensors into parking spaces that relay to drivers real-time information about-and directions to-available spots. Think about how we could reduce congestion, pollution, and fuel consumption as well as generate more revenue for cities through dynamic parking fees for peak times.

Economic rationale and technological ability now also exists for smaller and satellite cities to pool their resources and integrate their management processes. In the process, many of these satelite townships can compete with those in developed countries on terms of physical and technology infrastructures. For example a smaller city that is part of a regional cluster could offer remote management services like infrastructure monitoring to other cities and may eventually become a center of excellence in this particular domain. So, cities can concentrate on some parts of the overall Smart Cities services and solutions industry and build an economic engine around them.

Smart Governance and Standards

Our cities must embrace technologies that will help local governments and civic bodies secure revenues, explore investment partnerships, make organizational changes that eliminate overlapping roles and manage expenses. Global cities like Paris or Barcelona have Mayors who are qualified and competent to lead and manage civic activities. Many Indian cities, however, do not have Mayors, and in the few where they are present, they do not have the adminstrative authority to run a city. An Indian city lacks executive focus. The ongoing Delhi-Mumbai Infrastructure Corridor (DMIC) initiative, where the government has sought to develop seven smart cities across six states, is making progress because it is operated like an enterprise where the project is being overseen by a CEO.

Smart cities must also establish radically new standards to ensure the effective use of technology to deliver services and manage complex civic problems. For instance, in managing its physical infrastructure, a city could set standards for all new assets (street lights, parking meters, garbage cans and buildings) to be equipped with sensors that monitor performance and signal when maintenance is required. Smart city leaders must benchmark their cities against the very best cities globally - particularly on the use of IoT and digital technology. Barcelona for example, has applied sensor technology to control water use in fountains in parks leading to a potential yearly savings of $60 million. There is no reason why water-starved cities in India cannot study and benchmark themselves against this approach.

City authorities must also use their political will to mandate - via regulation - the use of smart technologies while safeguarding citizens, and contentious issues around liability, security and privacy need to be addressed through comprehensive regulatory frameworks.

Public-Private Partnerships

Cities will have to rely on true Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) to build and operate both physical and digital infrastructure, especially given continually tightening civic budgets and enormous infrastructural requirements. Effective PPPs will take advantage of the private sector's risk-taking capacity and access to funding, while ensuring that the economics of the deal serve the public good. One such case of a "living lab" is the Cisco IoE Innovation Hub which was launched in Bangalore association with the Electronics City Industries Association (ELCIA). The opportunity for start-up companies to develop solutions for City Infrastructure Management (CIM) including Smart Parking, Smart CCTV Surveillance, Smart Street Lighting, Smart Water Management/Leak Detection and Community Messaging is tremendous.

Encouragement of local innovation is the final pillar on which smart cities will rest. In a technology-intensive future, job creation and GDP growth will depend on the steady incubation of new, innovative companies that can scale and go global. Cities should encourage start-ups that focus on solving urban challenges like traffic, crime, energy conservation, etc. by leveraging technology. To enable an innovation economy focused on urban service apps, a city may choose to establish open data standards for various urban departments, ensuring that entrepreneurs have access to data on public transportation, energy use, traffic, crime, etc., in order to create valuable data-driven apps for citizens.


There is tremendous potential in India to build an effective ecosystem to enable our burgeoning urban areas to become smart by using digital technology. This in turn will create employment opportunities and contribute to economic growth through innovation. Our cities are fast becoming the defining units of human habitation. How smartly we build, manage and operate our cities will be the single biggest determinant of our people's future. We owe it to our future generations to make our cities smart through the use of technology.

Let Us Help

  • Call 1800 103 7723 (Pre-Sales)
    1800 100 1364 (Tech Support - Enterprise)
    1800 102 5553 (Tech Support - SMB)
  • Submit Enquiry
  • E-mail