With population explosion and rapid urbanisation in India, a sustainable ecosystem needs to be created to help people lead better lives. The Smart Cities Mission of India was launched to fulfil this. It describes a smart city as an urban ecosystem, which provides resources to cater to the aspirations and needs of citizens through comprehensive institutional development, and physical, social and economic infrastructure.
The Smart Cities Mission is aimed at transforming the delivery of public services through efficient deployment of resources, and increasing the points of interface for delivering government-to-citizen, government-to-business and government-to-government services. This will enable cities to deliver a better quality of life, support economic development, provide employment, facilitate well connected mobility and infrastructure, ensure safety and security, and efficient government and public institutions to its citizens.
This is easier said than done. Cities are highly complex ecosystems that need to be addressed in a comprehensive way. Furthermore, execution requires consensus building among diverse stakeholders and participants – citizens, who expect delivery of quality services and good experience; city corporations as leaders of this transformation; services companies (public and private), which are the key enablers; technology players, providing reliable and secure solutions; and policymaking institutions.
Transformation of cities requires a holistic approach and long-term commitment. India remains an emerging market, and there is an urgent need to improve the efficiency of public services provided by various city corporations.
Some recent success stories include public–private partnerships and outsourcing. Mature operating models, processes, systems, and governance mechanisms have been adopted to enhance the pace of development and the quality of delivery. They have helped cities overcome some legacy challenges such as rigid systems and processes, compensation structures de-linked from delivery and long-term commitments with limited manoeuvrability.
The internet of things (IoT) and connected technologies will be paramount. These technologies, enabled through a right ecosystem of partners, require innovative, sustainable and eco-friendly solutions to realise the Smart Cities Mission. Technologies that enable IoT promise to turn almost any “thing” into a source of information.
IoT requires a framework that captures the series and sequence of activities creating value from information that is, the “information value loop”. IoT and connected technologies can analyse this loop to address the needs of the city and deliver efficient services by measuring the quality and resource indicators.
While any ICT organisation with adequate technology platforms, evolved business models and the right strategy can deliver smart city solutions, telcos are in a sweet spot here. They have already made significant investments to develop the necessary infrastructure, business models and cross-sector alliances/partnerships. The euphoria around the role of 5G in IoT and connected technologies has further strengthened the position of telcos.
Telcos are uniquely positioned to assume a broader role other than just being a network provider. Their networks can link, create, communicate and liberate data by enabling the rest of the information value loop.
They can be “orchestrators”, bringing together connectivity, applications, platforms, products and services to deliver the symphony required in the smart city ecosystem. Of course, this will require an end-to-end approach across many cross-functional building blocks such as operations, finance, legal and regulatory, and technology. Telcos will be the single largest enablers of this transformation, and their infrastructure will be a fundamental support system and backbone for smart cities.
This provides a significant opportunity, considering the large scale of the Smart Cities Mission. In the first round one of the mission, 20 smart cities were selected. At present, there are 100 winning smart city proposals with a project cost of over $30 billion. Telcos have made significant headway in deploying technologies for IoT such as narrowband and LoRa, which are emerging as key standards.
Given that the Smart Cities Mission is an ambitious and complex task, IoT and other connected technologies along with the right implementation ecosystem partners can make this a successful mission.
Telcos are in a unique position to capitalise on this opportunity. That said, it is important for the telcos to find the fastest path to derive business value. In order to succeed, they would require the right platforms, ecosystem partners and strategy in place. Telcos will be indispensable partners in the Smart Cities Mission.