"ICT and Geospatial make urban sub-systems more intelligent and interconnected"

Founded in the year 1991, Cyient is a global provider of engineering, manufacturing, geospatial, network and operations management services to global industry leaders. The company believes strongly in streamlining its efficiency with seamless operations that encourage innovation and excellence in execution. In a candid interview with Manali of BW SmartCities, John Renard, President- Utilities & Geospatial BU talks about the role of technologies like Geospatial mapping and IoT coupled with visualisation and analytics upping the smartness quotient of cities and his vision for India’s Smart City Mission.

John Renard, President- Utilities & Geospatial BU, Cyient

What is the unique role of ICT in building smart cities?

The concept of smart cities has existed for around two decades, but it was not until 2005 that leading technology players started referring to smart cities as the integration of information systems with urban processes. While smart cities mean different things to different people, it is a fact that rapid urbanisation has led to an increased reliance on a city’s ability to seamlessly, safely and sustainably deliver vital urban services such as energy, transportation, water, sanitation, emergency services and housing. City authorities across the world are leveraging the power of information and communication technologies (ICT) to make these services more intelligent and interconnected, and by extension, they are increasing the economic viability, enhancing environmental sustainability, and improving the quality of living in their cities. The unique role of ICT in building sustainable and smart cities is indisputable.

How is geospatial data and technology helping cities improve the efficiencies of utility services like power, water and sewerage?

The backbone of any utility is its asset infrastructure. Geo-enabling infrastructure provides a holistic way of viewing of these assets and how they function. Geospatial technology, when integrated with operational and other allied technologies, empowers organisations such as utilities to visualise, analyse and interpret their infrastructure to make informed decisions. These include monitoring the health of their assets, streamline the maintenance of their assets, improve service reliability, reduce operational expenditure and improve the revenue bottom-line.

Tell us more about geospatial mapping and how it can help organisations come up with better governance solutions.

For all the sub-systems, in an urban context, to work in an integrated fashion, a spatial connect is essential. This is achieved through a GIS-enabled enterprise solution for smart governance. To make the enterprise solution intelligent, data should be intelligent enough to perform the required analysis. The relevance of geospatial mapping is increasing in this context given that it is now progressing from 2D to 3D and that we are capturing a greater variety, and more levels of detail on the ground. Emerging technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) are adding a fourth dimension to geospatial data and facilitating real-time mapping, making geospatial technology an even strong pillar of smart cities. Geospatial mapping coupled with visualisation and analytics bring smartness to cities.

What is Cyient doing in this space? What are the projects you are working on or have completed outside & in India?

For over 25 years, Cyient has built competencies in providing geospatial, ICT, and IT-enabled services across utilities, telecommunications, and governance. Cyient’s credibility in service management and assurance, data management, and analytics is well-acknowledged. We have invested in developing innovative IoT-based solutions for asset management and mobile workforce management that add value to urban sub-systems. Building on these capabilities, Cyient has evolved a solution ecosystem to deliver interoperable and standards-compliant solutions for smart governance, smart energy, and smart communications. Cyient has been working with city authorities and other customers in India, and across the world, to provide bespoke solutions to improve the efficiencies of city infrastructure.

What are the challenges in building smart cities in India from a geospatial solutions perspective and how can we overcome these?

Geospatial technology adoption is not mature yet in India. From a city standpoint, the lack of awareness, knowledge, expertise, and an understanding of the applicability of geospatial technology across departments and stakeholders is quite perceptible. Unclear understanding and expectations from the technology are making the stakeholders gravitate towards the OEM players, who are often not capable of the system integration and technology implementation required for good solution development.

Lack of spatial data, which is key to developing solutions, is another challenge. The existing policies, fraught with a litany of approvals and permissions, discourage the development of large scale, highly accurate spatial data sets in the country. Owing to this, we see that many smart city projects are starting from a low base in terms of data availability, which in turn is forcing up the costs and stretching the timelines of the projects. A progressive policy outlook will ease these challenges and support the quick uptake of geospatial data and technology, which is key to the country’s development.

What do you think the government and smart city stakeholders need to do to realise the Smart City Mission?

i. Owing to the complexity of smart city projects, it is essential that all the stakeholders – Central government, State governments, urban local bodies, special purpose vehicles (SPVs), technology players, investors and the private sector — work in tandem as partners towards the success of the projects.

ii. City governments need to open up their channels to consult with a broader range of solution providers (Not just OEMs and MSIs) who can provide profound insights into the technology play.

iii. The success of the Mission is dependent on the viability and sustainability of the cities being built, and so innovative business models are the need of the hour.

In India, there are already many large cities with poor urban planning. How can those cities be made smart?

Yes, from a sustainability and economic development standpoint, it is important to make our existing cities more efficient and better places to live in. For examples of where this is happening, we need to look outside India. A global reference is Barcelona in Spain. Having suffered significantly from the economic recession in 2008, Barcelona, like the rest of Spain, recovered quite slowly. To accelerate this recovery, Barcelona decided in 2012 to transform itself by adopting a data-driven model to urban planning and administration. It integrated several existing projects, identifying 12 areas of intervention including transportation, water, energy, waste and open government. It launched 22 data-driven programmes encompassing 83 distinct projects and started reporting annual savings in energy use, increasing city revenues, increases in water conservation and the creation of new jobs. Barcelona became the world’s top smart city in 2015, and it continues to innovate and increase its “smartness quotient”.

What is your vision for smart cities in India?

With a comprehensive outlook of current industry and technology trends, smart cities are moving towards enabling IOT, mobility, security and surveillance within an ICT and geospatial framework. Cyient has the clear vision of aligning its services and solutions offerings with these technology trends and smart city needs – enabling it to realise its vision of becoming a leading solution provider and geospatial partner to smart cities in India and across the globe.