The Ministry of Urban Development’s Smart Cities initiative is opening up a new industry of its own- leading India to a blazing new business opportunity. By Jan 11, 2017, 60 smart cities have already been announced and remaining 40 will be added shortly. Most definitely, the automation and ICT play major roles in the development of typical smart solutions for management of Energy, Water, Waste, Mobility, Environment etc.
ISA Bangalore is holding CityNext2017, a National Symposium on Automation & ICT in Smart Cities, to assist the initiative undertaken by the Government of India, in May. Covering the use of automation and ICT technologies in the standard application defined in the Smart City guidelines, and also cover the synergistic ones that can enhance the overall effectiveness of the investments made for such infrastructure development.
IA speaks to Mr. Rajesh Rathi, President of ISA, to know more about the behind the scenes, the realities, challenges and hopes, looking for achievements:
- While smart cities are the government’s buzzword, what impact do you see on the Indian enterprise with this hectic activity around government encouraged automation?
- We see a huge impact of the accelerating Automation and InfoComm technologies not only on urban life but also on the life in villages. The government has taken a visionary step by allocating it the due significance in its ambitious programs. Imparting smartness to every walk of our day-to-day lives will necessarily need lot of innovations as well as their scaling up for mass adoption will create many new jobs. The impact on the quality of life will be tangible and the consumer demand for the new goods and services will rise quickly. We see the overall impact on the Indian enterprise very significant.
- Do you see the percolation of automation to areas where smart city initiatives are not being pushed?
- Yes indeed. Currently automation initiatives for Smart Cities are being announced only for selected cities but the cities that are not in the program will not stay untouched by the success of the implemented applications. By encouraging the competition among the city administrations the distribution of funds has been cleverly restricted to the cities that have proactive teams in place for planning and implementation. However, the secondary effects on other cities and even villages will be visible soon.
- Smart city concept is very expensive. What aspects do you see developing faster than others?
- All transformations are expensive but if they are done at larger scales, the costs come down. Also in due course the implemented programs will pay for themselves in variety of ways. The funding allocated by the central government and matched by the states can only seed the activity. For the enterprise to pick up steam fresh private capital will have to be introduced. The modernization of centralized city utilities like energy, water, gas and services like transportation and pollution control will lead the smart city program
- Directly, do you see building automation technologies being applied in buildings across the country or it will stay the forte of rich, premium buildings? What can be done to make it a pervasive technology?
- In developed countries building automation technologies cut across all segments of population. We are essentially still a developing country with large portion of the population below poverty line and middle classes. However, the good news is that we are upwardly mobile and we will increasingly see the fruits of building automation reach the lower end of the society.
- It must be understood that not all building automation is directed towards luxurious living but a big percentage is focused on energy efficiency and security. Such applications can be made all pervasive.
- How will the rise in automation affect the employment structure? Smart cities will generate more employment, it would appear. How will the government handle the dichotomy?
- Every transformation in human living has affected the employment structure. One thing that is permanent in human life is ‘change’.
- Smart Cities will generate new jobs but they will require newer skills. While younger population will learns these skills first hand, older population has to retrain itself to sustain through change.
- Concerns in this regard cannot be denied as the pace of change has now accelerated geometrically. Nonetheless technological changes cannot be sowed down artificially. The social scientists must ponder over how to adapt to the changing situation.
- Are our educational institutions ready with courses for various aspects of smart city requirements? Are we in a position to train our young people to actually do the makeover professionally?
- No our educational institutions are not geared up to deal with the manpower requirement for running the Smart Cities.
- However, we need only few people to design the right systems. Many more required to run such systems can be trained more easily through vocational courses at ground layer institutions. However, we are a younger nation and such adoption should be easier. The problem is no different than that faced by other areas of employment such as the industry.
- There are huge investments being made for technologies that will drive a smart city. What time frame do you see it bearing fruit?
- As per the last census in 2011 India's 27.8 percent urban population lives in more than 5,100 towns and over 380 urban agglomerations. This % is fast rising. At present only 100 cities have been taken up under the Smart City program. While we will only get to see a show case of automation applications in these cities in the next 3-5 years, a real mass impact will be seen when such applications start proliferating on their own momentum over the next decades. Much depends on the tenacity of our governments to keep pursuing the right policies regardless of the political ideology.
- And a controversial question. As far as industry is concerned, the Smart City initiative has given a huge new market. Do you think it is sustainable? What is plan B for all the investments that have gone into it?
- Yes the market for Smart City applications is highly sustainable. It should be clear from the above statistics. Recent spread of mobile phones and future plans in connecting the remote parts of the country with electricity and data connectivity should create large opportunities for new applications for changing life style. The growth of Digital infrastructure is the highest priority not only of this but many governments all over the world. However, for the size and type of economy we are, we are lucky to have the right agenda in place despite all financial challenges.
- There is no need for plan B. As in any business some investments will go astray while some will reap less benefit than expected. However the push in the direction of the Smart Cities to keep pace with the technological advances is now inevitable.