Of late, there has been a rapid uptake of new-age technologies in the government utility sector. There has also been a realisation in the sector to reinvent the way services are delivered to citizens. As such, new-age technologies such as AI, IoT, blockchain and cloud are seeing an increasing uptake among government enterprises. These solutions have helped government enterprises bring in greater efficiency in their business processes and improve their ability to meet citizens’ needs. That said, there are some challenges that need to be addressed. Data security is the biggest concern for public utilities while using IoT or cloud-based solutions.
A look at the key technology trends that are transforming the government sector, the challenges faced and the way forward…
Government utilities have started deploying AI to run analytics on citizen data that is accumulated through their digital websites, and gather insights based on this data. The intelligence collected can help offer personalised public services to citizens, derive actionable insights, and help them predict future trends. In addition, AI- and ML-based applications can help improve the mission reliability of equipment and the weapon system. An AI-based application can identify defects in the system and recommend the course of action to rectify the faults, thereby preventing any failure or crashing of the system. Moreover, AI and ML can revolutionise the power sector by offering predictive and analytic solutions to assess the load pattern and consumption trends of electric vehicles (EVs).
Data analytics in power and utilities is playing a pivotal role in terms of business transformation. This technology is being used across the value chain by leading utilities and is aligned with technologies such as AI/ML, cybersecurity, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and advanced distribution management systems (ADMS). Of late, discoms in India have started gathering huge sets of data and this data can be used for customer segmentation, metering data analytics, hourly energy accounting, better load forecasting, system planning optimal power procurement, predictive maintenance of critical assets (reducing the total cost of ownership of assets), consumer data insights (peer-to-peer comparison, consumption optimisation in the time-of-day billing regime) through better web self-service portals or mobile app.
Moreover, if discoms are interested in foraying in the electric vehicle segment, analytics can play a significant role to find the best charging location, and the same applies for power transmission and distribution. For example, grid network optimisation and aggregation, grid automation, integrated customer services can be major themes.
Blockchain is yet another tech solution seeing a widespread adoption by governments across the world. As per market reports, over 40 countries have taken initiatives to implement blockchain and develop a robust and holistic blockchain ecosystem. Governments are rapidly deploying this technology in an effort to make their systems more efficient, agile and secure. As per industry experts, the technology has immense use in the power sector. As the sector is shifting to a bidirectional grid, blockchain technology can provide a secure, transparent and robust network with a tamper-proof data register accessible to every player in the network. Blockchain technology can assist multiple applications at the generation, transmission, distribution and consumption stages in the power system to resolve existing challenges. The renewable energy sector too can leverage the technology for various benefits. The wholesale energy market has many incongruities. When transactions occur between two parties in the market, several arbitrators are involved to come to the final settlement. The deal between the parties has to go through a verification process in which the third party has to be involved. Unless and until the final settlement is reached, the process gets entangled in the verification circle. Blockchain helps expedite the transaction between the two parties and reach final settlement. The imbalance in the settlements is alleviated by blockchain. Further, blockchain is a data-driven technology that helps create a very transparent process in data sharing among the peers involved in the system and sort out the challenges persisting in the energy market.
The government is increasingly deploying IoT-based applications across smart cities. This involves large-scale deployment of IoT sensors across the city to provide real-time data about city events. In addition to this, an IoT-based centralised monitoring system helps the authorities analyse the vast amount of data being generated across servers and connected devices. By gathering insights from this data, the government authorities are able to enhance their decision-making process and improve governance. Some of the other critical applications of IoT in smart cities are smart parking, intelligent transportation system, smart grids, water and waste management, smart urban lighting, smart city maintenance and digital signage.
IoT sensors have applications in various other utilities as well. For instance, IoT sensors can improve workplace safety for oil and gas workers. They can also help optimise the generation and distribution of key utilities such as energy, water, gas and electricity. They help PSUs involved in the supply of such utilities to better address consumer demand. Furthermore, IoT sensors can be used to ensure efficient waste management. In this regard, a smart solution being incorporated widely by ULBs is the deployment of smart bins. Antariksh Waste Ventures Private Limited, a start-up incubated by the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, has developed an internet of things (IoT)-enabled smart bin system called Airbins. Each of these bins has a GPS-enabled sensor that sends out a signal to officials at the waste control monitoring room of the relevant contractor/ corporation once the bin is filled to the brim with garbage. This ensures timely clearance and enables on-demand clearance requests from end users. Moreover, geotagging all garbage bins and collection points helps to keep a close check on the collection process. The Chennai Municipal Corporation too has switched to a smart bin system, whereby sensors are installed in garbage bins at public places to track the quantity of garbage being dumped in them. The sensors transmit the data in real time through wireless networks.
Challenges and the way forward
While new-age tech solutions offer several benefits to government enterprises, the challenges concerning their deployment are also many. For instance, there are security challenges if the data of an organisation is hosted on a cloud model. Analysts have pointed out that since a third party is involved in data handling, measures to deal with cyberthreats and other such attacks must be precisely mentioned clause-wise in the service-level agreement between the client and the service provider.
The deployment of IoT solutions across government utilities comes with its own set of challenges. Indian utilities face issues related to interoperability, reliable communication, cybersecurity and capacity building while implementing IoT. Moreover, the successful working of an IoT-based application is dependent on a robust ICT infrastructure that can provide high network bandwidth.
Further, cloud adoption in large PSUs requires effective redressal of concerns related to data storage and security, and vendor lock-in period. In addition, there is lack of quality IT hardware infrastructure and system integrators in India. This creates hurdles in the widespread implementation of the cloud. The lack of standards is another issue. The cloud has documented interfaces. However, there are no standards for cloud solutions. Therefore, it is unlikely that most clouds will be interoperable. The interfaces and application programming interfaces (APIs) of cloud services are not standardised and different providers use different APIs.
Going forward, government utilities must devise strategies and plans that can effectively mitigate these challenges. Merely putting together a set of new technologies is not enough. The effective utilisation of these technology solutions can only be achieved if infrastructural and other roadblocks are properly addressed. Government enterprises should also consider organisational restructuring with respect to governance and culture.