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ICT Push for Smart Cities

By Anand Mishra
In eGovernance
January 13, 2015
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ICT-smartcityRecently, the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) announced that it was entering in a partnership with Microsoft India to transform Surat into a smart city. SMC said it had selected Microsoft as its preferred partner for process automation and citizen services. Surat has been an early adopter of technology in delivering services to its citizens. It hopes to keep its record intact. Going by the plans of Narendra Modi’s government, India would create 100 smart cities which would mean lot many cities trying to adopt newer technologies in computing, networking and data management in analysing various service requirements and plan delivery accordingly.

India is under a massive wave of urbanization and it is expected that by 2030, India’s urban population will be nearly double of the entire current population of the United States. It is also expected that Indian cities will generate close to 70 per cent of the GDP. Needless to say, such a huge human settlement coupled with commensurate economic activity would present unique challenges for city administrators. It is imperative therefore that governments put in place systems, processes and people who forecast, plan and administer cities in efficient and sustainable manner.

But what do we mean when we think of a smart city? Is it smart traffic management, with sensors imbedded in roads and CCTVs installed at critical locations telling citizens which roads to avoid? Or it is smart energy systems that forecasts energy demand and pulls power from grid? Does a smart city ask its administration to accept all requests and revenues online and granting approvals or levying penalties online?

All of these are elements of smart city governance and if you can see the common thread that runs through all of these, it is the intelligent data assimilation, processing and information dissemination targeted towards specific population segment, which makes city services and operations more efficient.  Quite obviously, it would require bringing together various elements of IT,  telecom and networking. And the overall management system which would rest in hands of administrators would be the basis of e-governance of smart cities.

Traditionally, we have thought of smart cities as cities that use information and communications technologies to develop  physical and institutional infrastructure and develops smart, faceless methods to interact with citizens

However, smartness is a concept that goes beyond processes. It works at a deeper conceptual level at which people and economy of a city are also aligned  intelligently with institutions and processes.

smartcityModern cities are a complex interplay of people, processes and infrastructure. Reengineering the processes and putting in place alternative institutional infrastructure is a tough task for existing cities. From operational perspective, broadly, smart cities would work on a couple of crucial areas. First, how efficiently is the city administration able to leverage information about economy, housing, education,  public health, transportation etc. to make better decisions. This is where data analysis capability of the government comes in. Secondly, as resources of bigger cities get stretched, how efficiently is the government able to reengineer processes that eliminate work duplication, create shared information and interact with citizens online? In this regard, eliciting public opinion and effectively capturing them is a crucial aspect of e-governance as has been done by many European cities.

bring together technology, information, and policy to create a coherent program of urban and service improvement. With emergence of cheap connectivity,  hand held devices and cloud computing, it has become easier for governments to increase the
reach, scale and complexity of programs that can be migrated to online framework. In this environment, the application of ICT in governance needs to be framed within a longer process of technology-driven public sector reform, in which transparent information sharing and collaborative approaches usher in governance reforms.

The experience of developed countries in e-governance tells us that the involvement of ICT in city governance has also changed
over years. Initially, technology was introduced with the understanding that the technical capabilities would to be able to solve complex economic and administrative problems, which was actually achieved. However, the paradigm later shifted to a stage where social requirements started to determine the way technology was to be used. This called for customization in technology as per social requirements and conditions. But now, a unique situation has emerged in which technological solutions and the society are in a reflexive relationship in which each influences and is influenced by the other. Simply put, technological solutions are now being designed to meet the needs and wants of the targeted group of population and in process, bringing about a change
in population itself.

From data management point of view, e-governance for city management would involve process engineering and automation in all segments of governance, namely, data assimilation from citizens, managing and processing data and finally allowing citizens to fetch and use relevant data that is owned by the government. So, on one hand, the government would be putting systems in place which would fetch information about all citizens, their medical history, crime records, tax details etc. from various places and on other it could be making  available information such as traffic condition at certain stress points or medical camps being organized etc.

For e-governance policy planners, this requirement throws up the challenge of integrating data, applying tools to process the data, and making information available in required format. It is a cyclical process in which policy decisions are made, they are informed to citizens, their feedback is generated and responses are analysed. This entire process requires tools such as performance management systems, decision support tools, master data management, business and data analytics, ERP tools and risk analysis tools.

Innovation is the keyword in applying ICT in city governance as experiences of the various countries show. For example, in the city of Cologne, Germany, citizens discuss online proposals about participatory budget topics and politicians take decisions based on citizens’ inputs. In Norfolk, England, young people frequently use social networking media to steer discussion and lobbying on topics they are interested in. Through such activity, they were able to get bus travel price for 17 year olds attending college.

What is crucial here to know that technology alone is not enough and that exploitation of other infrastructure is needed to exploit ICT’s potential in creating smart cities. These include investment in human capital, process reengineering and policy realignment. Another important factor in managing cities through application of ICT is to realize that technology, at best, has instrumental value. This means to say that through intelligent use of technology, it is possible to create better cities. Thus, technologies are valuable only to the extent they enable citizens to do certain things or attain certain objectives. As such, it is a  mean and not an end to itself. This is the basic philosophy on which city planners need to create technological infrastructure.

Making a city smart is a complex, multi-technology undertaking, requiring a wide  range of tools to bring it all  together. A sound  e-governance paradigm requires data integration, data capture and analytics, and better tools to enable city leaders to better serve their citizens. But the most important part of making a city smart lies outside the realms of ICT. It is in effective planning of societal infrastructure that delivers value based service and inculcates civic sense to its citizens. It makes more sense to create schools that imparts value based education and civic bodies that clean up garbage rather than installing state of the art ICT network. Indian planners need to get their priorities right.

Budgeting
A participatory budgeting initiative could employ social media, visualization and simulation tools to attract citizen response and inform citizens about the impact of various proposals. This could result in more representative, priority based and intelligent
resource allocation.

Transportation
Instead of estimated throughput, real-life data collected from the citizenry and CCTVs coupled with traffic data could be used to plan public transportation routes and time tables in order to minimize the commuting time for citizens and introduce graded pay per use systems to discourage heavy routes or rush times.