Digital Cities: The Key To A Prosperous Digital India

Smart Cities are cities run on digital frameworks. The keyword ‘smart’ which relates to ‘intelligent’ draws its significance from a digital adoption angle.

India’s ambitious vision to build 100 citizen-friendly and sustainable cities, popularly known as “Smart Cities” is easily among the most talked about opportunities in India Inc. recently. In PM Modi’s words, "Cities in the past were built on riverbanks. They are now built along highways. But in the future, they will be built based on the availability of optical fiber networks and next-generation infrastructure". Riding on the positive impact of the large-scale implementation of initiatives such as GST, NREGA, and Aadhaar, there is a renewed sense of optimism regarding the ongoing urban renewal mission.

Frost and Sullivan define smart cities as those built on smart, intelligent solutions and technology that lead to at least five of the following smart objectives — smart energy, smart building, smart mobility, smart healthcare, smart infrastructure, smart technology, smart governance, smart education and smart citizen. The keyword ‘smart’ which relates to ‘intelligent’ draws its significance from a digital adoption angle. IoT and sensors form the core of the essential infrastructure required to empower cities and enable several functions to be it traffic control, solid waste management, city-wide lighting, security and so on.

Digital signifies the ubiquitous transformation we are currently experiencing in the way we live and work – in every industry vertical and domain. It is not a future wave anymore, digital is very much the reality of how we function in our daily lives – at home and at work. Everything today has digital enablement wrapped around it and is built on software, hardware and automation concepts are key to solve our complex problems.  Digital initiatives and schemes like Aadhaar, digital lockers, and computerization of land records, are gaining momentum in the country and playing a major role in the smart cities mission. Smart Cities have an agenda to achieve enhanced livability by inducing a “technologically enabled” solution framework which is automated and intelligent. In other words, Smart Cities are cities run on digital frameworks. In view of this, ‘Digital Cities’ can be used interchangeably with Smart Cities, in my opinion.

Digital is evolving to be a critical utility, just like the other essential ones (Electricity, Gas, Water & Waste), and must be treated as such for the Smart Cities dream to be realized. However, digital is unique in the sense that not only is it critical in and of itself, it also connects all the other utilities and breaks down silos.

Over and above this, digital cities can achieve four key operational outcomes:

Agile Cities: Migration of population into cities and rapid urbanization is demanding urban infrastructure. The global population is touted to touch 7 bn in the next 20 years and 75% of this will be in urban areas. To sustain this growing requirement optimally, agility is key to the sustainable and successful functioning of cities, and digital technologies can help us achieve this result faster. Software-defined cities with AI and a high degree of automation enabled by IoT are key parameters to achieve this success.

Secure Cities: Globally, security is the second most challenge our cities are facing today. Complexity in security threats and emerging terror incidents need a very highly efficient, intelligent and robust security framework. This can be achieved by using technology-driven AI/Robotics and predictive analytics. Managing both physical and cyber threats are need of the hour for our cities’ today.

Efficient Cities: With the growing population, waste handling, utility management, and traffic become a significant task for city operators. Municipal corporations on an average spend more than 70% of their budgets on operational tasks leaving them very little with enhancing capabilities. This makes livability of cities regressive as time passes and over few years, the basic civic infrastructure starts crumbling.  Digital transformation has the potential to bring in a high level of sensor-based automation where mundane activities can be managed seamlessly. Additionally, innovative models like cloud-based management, predictive maintenance and robotics are defining further efficiency and productivity in city operations.

Simple Cities: Digital Technologies may be complex to comprehend/implement but the outcome is always simple. App based accessibility to citizen services, online services and 24x7 access with a simple interface are some of the simple ways through which end-user experience can be enriched and streamlined.  

It is predicted that by 2040, 65% of the world’s population will be living in smart cities. India has a lot of ground to cover in this time. Every stakeholder – including government, private entities, and regulatory bodies need to forge strong relationships; and more importantly, speak the same language. The true success of any smart city depends on how the ‘smart solutions’ improve the lives of the citizen. The Digital Indian is without doubt, at the center of all developmental efforts.


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