A cloud-based suite of “Smart City" applications part- funded by the central government can really help in speeding up implementation.

The manifesto of the ruling party envisages the creation of 100 “smart cities". With key urban development functions being under the mandate of the local government authorities, various municipal corporations have, on their own, initiated actions for adoption of the smart city concept. In April, one of the largest information technology companies in the world announced the selection of Surat to develop it as India’s first smart city under a private initiative launched last year. It aims to use a combination of cloud technology, mobile applications, data analytics and social networks to provide real-time data on all civic services. In Noida, on Delhi’s outskirts, a number of private developers have announced plans for future-ready smart cities as well. Other private networking and connectivity companies have spoken of being heavily engaged in smart city projects coming up in Kerala, in Greater Hyderabad and Greater Bangalore.

Most local government authorities across the country are constrained for funds, people and technology, which constitute the key enablers for creation of smart cities. Of late, there have been many discussions regarding the need for an appropriate successor to the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) for urban development and reforms. One of the potential successors to JNNURM could be a centrally funded programme for development of a cloud-based suite of smart city applications, which can be used by municipalities across the country.

In its simplest form, such an application suite would have to address all the individual services, which are typically covered as part of any smart city initiative. These would include urban planning, building plan approval, electricity, transport, water supply, sanitation, policing and so on. Under each service, separate modules would have to be in place for supporting individual activities like GIS (geographic information system)-enabled area/property mapping, metering, billing and payment, financial accounting, complaint redressal and generation of MIS (management information system) reports. The entire system would have to be developed on an open platform, be hosted on scalable cloud-based infrastructure and have linkages with established payment gateways. Depending on their specific requirements, corporations/urban local bodies as well as utilities would subscribe to individual modules, on a pay-per-user basis or annual subscription basis or a combination of both. The user charges so collected could be used to meet part of the system development expenses.

Development of this cloud-based suite of smart city applications need not be from scratch. It could build on some of the existing e-initiatives already initiated by the various ministries of the government over the last few years. Prominent ones include the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems being implemented by the ministry of home affairs, which comprises a central government-level application interfacing with state-level applications (going down to the police station level); the Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme from the department of power, which has led to supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)-based systems being installed for monitoring the power transmission and distribution network at the utility level across multiple states. For this category of services, the central cloud-based suite of applications could draw on the data being captured at the transaction level and generate actionable MIS for the smart city administration.

There is yet another category of services where various progressive states/local governments have implemented Internet-based e-applications for monitoring service delivery. For example, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board leveraged SCADA for monitoring its water distribution and waste water processing network. The city administration in Ahmedabad uses an integrated e-enabled application for the bus rapid transit system with various features like centralized operations control, automatic vehicle tracking, electronic fare collection, real-time passenger information and traffic control. Each of these applications could be evaluated in terms of their functionalities, inter-operability, potential for scaling up, etc., and suitably customized for including in the proposed smart city suite of applications. Together, both these categories are expected to cover around 60-70% of the proposed suite.

A set of pre-conditions would also need to be identified for municipal corporations/urban local bodies/utilities to participate in and leverage this centralized suite of applications. For example, all participants in this initiative may be required to set up a city-level steering committee comprising senior officials from all concerned agencies such as the corporation/urban local body, police, utilities for supplying power, water, etc., which would be responsible for taking cross-cutting decisions to tackle key issues and achieve the promised service levels. Select information on service-level benchmarks, critical incidents, etc. would also have to be shared with the concerned central government agency. While the entire programme can be anchored by a designated ministry (like urban development, for example) at the central government level, all participating states as well as local government authorities would have to agree to their respective set of commitments by entering into a standard memorandum of understanding (MoU). The proposed MoU framework can be leveraged for getting various state and city/local governments to agree to a minimum set of priority policy and governance reforms.

There are a number of instances where a similar cloud-based strategy has been successfully used for implementing smart city services over multiple jurisdictions within the shortest possible time. One of the most prominent examples is the European Platform for Intelligent Cities initiative, which was implemented in 2010. As part of this initiative, a number of cross-cutting applications such as relocation planning, 3D urban planning and environment management through energy consumption monitoring have been hosted on cloud-based infrastructure, with each participating city government leveraging this suite to provide services to its own citizens based on an agreed per transaction/user cost. Closer home in Asia, the cloud of things project involves a number of European and Japanese companies, research institutes working closely with city select administrations in Japan for developing a set of services, tools and applications for citizens.

The proposed cloud-based smart city suite in India is likely to result in a significant reduction in both implementation time and cost as against a scenario where each government agency invests in its own smart suite of applications. It would also facilitate harmonization and standardization of service delivery processes and practices in the participating state and local governments, while leveraging innovative practices already put in place by progressive government agencies in individual states. In view of the current government’s agenda of inclusive growth and empowering the common man, coupled with the expected growth of the urban population in India from 377 million in 2011 to around 600 million in 2031, the proposed cloud-based smart city programme has the potential to emerge as one of the most important initiatives to meet the country’s aspirations.

The author is a senior director with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India Pvt. Ltd.