IT-OT Integration | A Big Enabler for Smart Cities

As Smart Cities aim to improve citizens’ lives, the integration of IT and OT systems is indispensable in making this vision a ground reality.

In the year 2015, the Centre announced an ambitious program to establish 100 Smart Cities by 2022. The need to build mega and modern-day infrastructure was necessitated due to a combination of rising population and the migration from rural and semi-urban areas to bigger towns and metropolitan cities in search of better livelihood. According to one estimate, 66% of the world population will be living in cities by 2050. In the case of India, 600 million of the nation’s 1.5 billion citizens will be living in cities by 2030 compared to roughly 400 million now. As we are aware, the pressure on the key infrastructure of overcrowded cities is already intense. With the migration to urban areas rising year on year, a combination of turning existing cities smart and building new smart cities is the most feasible way to improve living conditions in urban areas. Smart cities are both sustainable and citizen-friendly and aimed to operate with optimum utilization of resources. 

To begin with, smart city solutions have been divided into six distinct categories to transform the urban landscape – Infrastructure, Buildings, Utilities and Transport, Environment, and Living conditions. Despite the COVID headwinds, there has been considerable progress on smart city projects with Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCCs) now functional in 53 cities and helping the administration manage those urban centers in a planned manner. The effective execution of several ICCCs has been made possible through Command and Control Application (CCA) bringing in a unique integration of the Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) platforms. Importantly, the Smart City is widely seen as a model that offers post-pandemic recovery. The key elements in Smart City include adequate water supply, assured electricity supply, round-the-clock security, sanitation including solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, affordable housing, especially for the poor, robust IT connectivity, and digitalization.

The Key Enabler 

The building blocks for cities of the future are driven by a confluence of modern-day technologies with efficiency at the core of their operations. This means that the robust technological architecture, which binds multiple services and infrastructure together, must enable real time communication and transmission of data so that the smart city works in convenient, sustainable, and cost-effective manner. This also means using less energy and reducing a smart city’s carbon footprint. It is here that an integrated command and control center works as the central nervous system and literally keeps a hawk’s eye on the city’s various infrastructure and services. 

While every utility operates in silos in the case of traditional cities, a smart city is operated by an integrated control and command center. This covers all public services such as orderly transportation, surveillance & law and order, healthcare services, solid waste management, end-to-end water management, and end-to-end smart grid solutions, citizen applications, and integrated building management. Its centralized command and control center also helps in managing emergency responses. In the current COVID pandemic, these command centers have been converted into 24x7 dedicated COVID war rooms to help administrators combat the virus based on real-time data and data analytics. This helps authorities track cases, identify hot spots, and take corrective action, share information about the availability of beds at hospitals, and reach out to needy patients.

However, upgrading an existing city to a Smart City is a complex task since it already has a huge amount of operating technology in its existing framework, with a myriad of ICT devices and systems. Since a city cannot do away with its existing technology layer, it must therefore optimize these systems to only improve their fundamental performance but to also integrate them with new-age information technology as a first step towards turning smarter. While information technology drives all data-centric computing and number crunching in real-time, the operational technology monitors events, devices, and processes that facilitate changes in enterprise or industrial operations as per requirements. Thus, the convergence of IT and OT allows the city to function in a dynamic manner as these systems transmit data between each other. 

A classic example of IT-OT integration is smart metering, where physical meters are pretty much part of the electricity distribution network but the real-time management of data in terms of consumption of electricity and other back-office functions are all IT-driven applications. Similarly, the Smart Water Management System is real-time remote monitoring, Analytics, Optimization of Water flow from water Source to treatment to distribution network of NRDA on parameters like Flow, Pressure, UGR & SUMP Levels, Energy Consumption, and Water Quality, etc. 

Another crucial area where IT-OT convergence works effectively is the elimination of any unplanned downtime. Cities along with their vendors can collect OT data and analyze it with their IT tools to determine when this equipment will need maintenance. This ensures there are no sudden outages or disruptions in the water supply. SCADA or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition ensure all processes are aligned. If not, it takes corrective measures to optimize the output. 

Whether it is power generation, transmission, and distribution, wastewater treatment, or other functions, SCADA ascertains methodical integration of up-to-date technologies, allowing users to enhance efficiency. In turn, this facilitates management processes by assisting supervisory efforts and greatly simplifying them. SCADA sifts through mounds of data generated from multiple processes, providing only relevant and vital information in an organized manner that can be examined when required. Since a smart city would generate enormous data every day, this would aid city managers in making data-driven decisions offering better outcomes. 

As India pushes ahead with its Smart Cities, some global statistics highlight why this is imperative for societal and national well-being. Whereas cities only account for 2% of the global surface, they harbor half the world’s population while consuming 75% of the energy resources and emitting 80% of CO₂ emissions. Since smart cities help in saving up to 30% of resources such as water and electricity and are being built to run on renewables and even hydrogen, these will be essential for long-term sustainable living. 

Undoubtedly, smart cities are the best option for the well-being of both the people and the planet – be it in India or across the world. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

Tags assigned to this article:
schneider electric smart cities bw businessworld