IBM's Smarter Approach To India's Smart Cities

by Sandhya Malhotra    Aug 21, 2015


The number of urban residents is growing by leaps and bounds in India, putting the spotlight on building smart cities. The India government’s Smart City project is further becoming a growth avenue for large enterprises, such as IBM. In a recent interaction, Dr Prashant Pradhan, Director, Smarter Planet Business, IBM India and South Asia explains that smart cities projects in India are not generic IT projects. These are extremely domain specific. While many tech companies are already working and implementing smart solutions for a long time, the scale at which the companies are looking, it is far bigger and larger than before, he says. Excerpt.

- IBM as part of smarter planet has done a lot of projects globally as well as in India. Could you share the kind of work IBM has done in this area?

We have a portfolio of 2,500 projects across the globe and in India we are actively working in Ajmer, Surat, Vishakhapatnam, Allahabad and so on. Today, we are doing a significant amount of work in Brownfield and Green fields. We recently completed the Non-Revenue Water (NRW) project in Bangalore which aims at equitable distribution of water in municipal wards to lower the losses. Another example is the collaboration of IBM with the private real-estate developers to develop the townships as smart townships with tech assistance of IBM. Lodha group’s Pallava city has been developed under this initiative.

Smart city development is domain-specific, like waste management would be different from traffic management for a city. Every city or area has a unique character and needs in terms of physical, social and economical infrastructure. So, there cannot be some common solutions to every issue pertaining to every city. Cities need to identify those issues and work out accordingly.

From our vast experience as part of smarter planet the key learning of this experience is that the smarter cities are driven by local priorities and local context. Each city has a specific set of issues be it safety or protecting the heritage of a city. We create unique roadmap for the cities to become smart. Currently, we are putting most of our energy and time with the local and urban bodies of the city, states and in cities like Ajmer , Surat, Vizag, Allahabad. The other element to take into the account is also which of the technology intervention is pragmatic both from the perspective of affordability as well as what can be incremental for quick wins.

- As a technology provider, what role does technology play in smart cities?

There are two broad areas of intervention that technology can do in smarter cities. One is very domain specific like how do you a fix water distribution network, build smart grid and video analytics for surveillance or for disaster management. These are vertical technology solutions. The second part is more horizontal capabilities like integrated city wide command and control where different departments come together to mange the city as a whole. Depending upon the size and city issues, we take the approach. But as per our understanding, India needs more domain specific technology intervention.

- IBM has a huge portfolio of products and solutions. Which are the solutions that you have for smart cities?

The largest part of IBM’s portfolio is in analytics. These are solutions which are going to sit on top of data. Every city has raw data, our solutions refine this data to make it useful. In terms of product portfolio, we have domain specific solution for water, energy, waste management, disaster and public safety and so forth.

- How big are smart cities opportunities for IBMThere are 600 key cities as per the plan. The way we motivate our work in smarter cities in India is by saying on an average 30 people per minute are moving from rural to urban cities and this trend will continue to grow for 20 years. It means 300 million people are moving into 600 such cities. We have to prepare these 600 cities to handle this urbanization. By leveraging all the 6 years of work we have done we think we are in unique position that we don’t have to go for a learning curve and quickly understand local priorities of the city and deploy these pre-built solutions.

- The smart cities project has opened up new frontiers for several tech players. How can IBM create a difference?

IBM’s strengths will continue to be based on our experience and domain knowledge. The smart cities projects are not generic IT projects. These are extremely domain specific be it predicting leakages, managing disaster managements. It is very difficult to build up this domain knowledge capabilities. It’s more of domain specialized game. You have to get the actual smart cities to work and get your hands dirty and add value. We have been doing it for six years at 2500 places and that gives us a unique advantage.