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Reifying ICT in Smart City Initiatives

Prasun Dutta, Advisor, Gaia Smart Cities,,

Prashun is a veteran with over three and a half decades of work experience, across India and overseas. His experience is a mix of management consulting and industry. As a management consultant with the National Productivity Council and later with TCS he has worked in the areas of strategy, structure and systems for an array of business and governmental organizations.

The peripatetic human race has been migrating into urban centers since the beginning of civilization. Earlier trading hubs and governmental offices formed the kernel of urban areas which were greatly bolstered after the industrial revolution. Prognostication based on current trends suggests an alarming celerity of growth and an urbanization level of around 64 percent by 2050. The shortage of land, water, good quality air, and the desire for better quality of life, will continue to put limitations on economic growth. Globally, therefore, an appropriate management of such cities will become a sine qua non.

'Smart cities' should be able to provide its citizens with a superior quality of life and render governance a lot simpler. It should enable participatory and inclusive management of cities and ensure the safety and security of all its denizens. Cities are modeled today as complex organisms.

Various parts of the cities, its administration, businesses, people are all interacting with each other to keep the city functioning. These Systems models of cities and the subsequent design of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) system can en able the city to function as one integrated entity. In todays cities,we often encounter situations where different aspects of a citizen's life appear to be sequestered from each

other. Each department of local authorities has their own requirement and information flows from one department to another is non existent.

Simplifying Complex Cities with ICT
ICT systems greatly aid in the handling of the varieties that are inherent in such a complex con- text. In the great diversity that characterizes our cities, monitoring behaviour and ensuring adherence to rules, or identifying potentially dangerous or disruptive situations are the causes of is management that can be redesigned with intelligent use of ICT systems. Imagine if you could get reports of incoming patients from all the hospital/medical centers in a city; one could easily identify any incipient trend that could grow to be an epidemic, or one could identify the location from where a particular disease seems to be originating and take corrective measures to avert the further persistence of the cause. A similar analysis could identify accident spots or occurrence or origin of crime. Such systems will equip the local authorities to monitor the city on a real-time basis there by providing information to the persons concerned.

ICT Systems Greatly Aid In The Handling Of The Varieties That Are Inherent In Such A Complex Context

As one may have assessed from the above, the potential of using ICT systems in providing an excellent quality of life to citizens is extensive. However, at the cost of belabouring the obvious, it is essential to note that technologies as an 'enabler', a facilitator, perhaps, by itself, cannot build the city 'smart'. Several concomitant steps are required to reify the smart city concept as described. These action points include, interalia, designing and implementing adequate processes to take advantage of the technology, building and continuously strengthening the character of the city and what it stands for, enhancing awareness of citizens, engaging the common man in the management of the city, building organizational capability to actually operate such a city,and putting in place an excellent governance mechanism.

In conclusion, one may point out that cities are critical constituents of any nation,even today, but their importance is likely to grow substantially in the not so distant future. Their roles as centers of economic activity will draw people from all over the world and as global barriers to people’ movement there by, turning urban cities as major population hubs throughout the world. Systems thinking about smart cities will allow us to have deeper insight, understand components and their links in the system and thus giving us a way to understand its behaviour. It will also provide more effective and long term support by changing the entire system using the simple introduction of small change in the right place. Systems thinking will help us to identify and change the limiting factors in any complex situation.

As the main nervous system of any city, ICT holds tremendous potential to augment governance and improve quality of life. System thinking, however, provides a more holistic perspective that is essential for success and will collectively deliver the promised benefits.

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