‘Cities are under huge pressure and infrastructure indeed needs improvement’

Ajay Gupta, Global Head – Smart Cities, IoT – Tech Mahindra Ltd. Ajay is spearheading Smart City initiative in Tech Mahindra and he is P&L owner for the same. He brings wealth of more than 20 years of experience on digital technologies including smart cities, IoT and telecom domain.

Ajay Gupta, Global Head – Smart Cities, IoT – Tech Mahindra Ltd
  • Client

    Smart Cities, IoT

  • Services

    Digital technologies including smart cities, IoT and telecom domain

  • Technologies

    Planning & Consultancy

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How smart are our cities today? What exactly makes them smart?

First of all we need to understand that we are a developing economy and our cities are facing huge economical, infrastructural or environmental sustainability pressure due to population growth and increasing rate of urbanisation. Many of the cities now under the Smart Cities Mission have started implementing both, key ICT interventions as well as ABD initiatives. Some of the case studies which we have done such as UP Dial 100 which is one of the world’s largest police management system or EMRI 108 which is country’s largest medical emergency management network, has proved to be major positive impact on the society and thus terming those services as Smart. If a city is able to utilise the available resources optimally, have robust trunk infrastructure (in terms of having solid drainage or water supply network) and incorporate required technology interventions to make or improve quality of life of a common citizen, it will truly make a city smart, in our opinion.

Grappling with poor infrastructure, is it possible to make our cities smart?

As I have highlighted in response to the previous question, cities are under huge pressure and infrastructure indeed needs improvement. Having said that, GoI has taken certain strategic initiatives like Smart Cities Mission, Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan and also the way the construction and development of road infrastructure is happening, is indeed a good sign. These are transformational programs, takes time for the implementation on the ground and would have impact will be seen in long term.

Gathering data is one thing, sifting through it is another. Implementation is most important. Do we have the mechanism in place?

In my opinion, data gathering and using its strength for the analysis and forecasting would be Wave 2 or the next step, once the key infrastructure and required technology interventions are done. In Wave 1, all the required technology elements are getting in place; say in terms of video sensors, parking or environment sensors so on and so forth. The data from these sensors would be aggregated and analysed over a common platform in the city, being called as centralised control and command centre. Understanding the data and analytics forms the backbone of the overall solution approach. Implementation, as you have said, like any other program of such scale, has its own challenges and there are certain issues on the ground. Having said that, there are many implementations which have really impacted and contributed in improving quality of life of common citizens as highlighted in my earlier responses and initially we all need to go through the learning curve and keep sharpening our saw.

Utilities, especially water and electricity, are low hanging fruit, perhaps?

In a way, yes because these are the basic needs of a citizen and thus the most important ones. We all are aware about the programs like Ujala or the initiative led by EESL who are replacing PAN India halide street lamps into LED lights and in process achieving major reduction in CO2 footprint and energy savings. Apart from utilities, the safety quotient is also an important parameter for the cities. That’s why industry is seeing a spurt in such kind of requirements from the municipal authorities in the cities.

But such networks can also be vulnerable to cyber attacks. Are we prepared for that?

There is already reference architecture of Cyber Security in Smart Cities Mission as suggested by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This suggests strong security framework across all the key layers of reference architecture starting from sensing layer to application layer. This also highlights how the data should be handled (encryption) which is either in motion or in rest or transit. There are published standards as well such as ISO 27001 which clearly highlights the way information technology (IT) infrastructure should be deployed. There is no denying the fact that there are security threats but we must be prepared, have regular security audits and keep training our manpower continuously in tune with the times.

(This interview is part of the series on Government of India’s Smart Cities Mission and the progress made so far.)