Smart revolution is the need of the hour for all sectors
Published by : Industrial Automation
Elias George, Partner and Head, Infrastructure, Government and Healthcare, KPMG in India
How uniform is the Smart trend in India given the wide disparity?
One must understand that there is no universally accepted definition of a smart city. The conceptualisation of a Smart City varies geographically, and crucially depends on the level of development, willingness to reform, availability of resources and aspirations of the city residents. Accordingly, In India too, each smart city has its own vision and roadmap, given its set of unique circumstances on infrastructure readiness, financial maturity, and capacity to change and need assessment. In India, a lot of places have made certain components smart, such as transportation and energy usage, while others are still under development. But the importance of smart solutions in the urban context cannot be overlooked especially given the health emergency that we are facing now. The response of local administrations in the ongoing Covid-19 episode indicates that the ones who were already predisposed to the use of data and technology in decision making responded with alacrity to try and limit the spread of the pandemic.At the other end, some cities suffered from inadequate technical infrastructure, which meant dealing with teething troubles in some key areas. Cities where the local public administration and businesses were aligned with the idea of technology enablement have fared better up till now.
What are the sectors that are best prepared for the Smart revolution – transportation, energy, healthcare, etc?
Smart revolution is the need of the hour for all sectors. Looking at the energy sector, it is ripe for some disruptions as it is (1) regulated and formalised, (2) has enough economic impetus to optimise distribution and consumption through smart solutions, and (3) sees enough investment – both by State as well as by private sector. Transport and healthcare revolutions are ongoing and can be characterised as work in progress. While we have had some wonderful successes in the form of metro connectivity and usage of smart cards, public transport may still suffer from a perception issue regarding it quality. At present, expenditure on public transport is insufficient to meet the aspirational goals and therefore there is little impetus to adopt smart solutions. We need investments into Smart Solutions so as to enhance public transport and make it the default choice for people to move within the city.
Healthcare has always been one of the most important sectors where innovation and smart solutions are required. The sector, at present, suffers from non-uniform investments as the public system is geared towards delivery to everyone while the private part of healthcare focusses more on cutting edge technology and methods where affordability becomes a concern. Public policy is limited in its effectiveness in improving State owned healthcare systems due to limitation of resources and is ripe for new solutions to be introduced to overcome the inherent challenges. We are likely to witness a push to tele medicine along with digitalisation of existing processes in the healthcare domain.
Talking of healthcare in general, Covid-19 in particular, can IoT play a bigger role?
The unique selling point of IoT is basically the ability to communicate over large distances and ‘connected’ systems in real time. That capability still holds a lot of potential. Just to put things in perspective – sometime in 2003, a lady from a village situated about 90 km from Chennai in Tamil Nadu – Palaniammal – became the first documented case in India to receive a spot ‘tele- diagnosis’ of a cataract, conducted remotely from a Hospital in Chennai, using a new form of wireless communication called CorDECT (a form of Wireless in Local Loop) developed by IIT Chennai, using a mere 32 kbps bandwidth. Today, both bandwidth and ability to send video, audio and other data has become considerably cheaper and faster. Further, there is nothing that fundamentally prevents epidemiological data from being collected and collated in real time for statistical (and bio-statistical) analysis, yet we have a lag between data reported at the central and state levels. IoT can enable communication on a real time basis, but we need more preparedness within institutions to make it work efficiently.
The COVID-19 episode has seen quite a few interesting things in terms of collaborative computing as well as IoT. As the industry brings IoT to the fore in service delivery, it is important to note that a lot of the technology based on IoT is – as of now – based on “approximation” – that is, “mimicking” a real time industrial strength equipment through sensors and software – much of which could well be prone to errors. A classic example would be, the difference between a full-fledged ECG machine operated by a trained technician and a couple of sensors attached to a mobile app that is to be operated by a marginally trained/untrained person. A lot has to be done in digitising healthcare.
Smart Everything, but still the world appears unprepared for pandemics like Covid-19. Time to factor in contingencies?
We as a race tend to learn from our past experiences. The great financial recession in 2008 was a good lesson in excessive risk taking in the financial markets and since then we have safeguardsin place to ensure that such an event does not reoccur. That said, we need to be in congruence
with the overall environment and contingency planning is one of the tools to protect us against extreme circumstances. There exist protocols under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 – which were originally meant to deal with emergencies – including governance structures, resource planning, etc. However, they need to be revisited in light of the technological advancements to ensure the best possible usage of resources and desired results in case of an emergency. We have done considerably well as administrations across states and centre have responded in time while most people have acted in a responsible manner. While the current emergency is by no means over, we expect to continue on the current path and ensure that the situation does not get out of hand.
Given the shortages of essentials like masks and ventilators, is it possible to have Smart Factories that can at short notice switch over to manufacture something else?
This mechanism has been used in wartime emergencies before, so yes – this is definitely a possibility. However, learning from that experience, one can say that is not about the factory being ‘smart’; this is about quick decision making and commissioning of such factories and the appurtenant activities in the supply chain such as logistics.
For instance, can we list and empanel factories that can quickly adapt to the new manufacturing requirements. Can/should they commence production on a suo motu basis the moment an emergency protocol is declared? Should they maintain a minimum ‘ready-to-deploy’ stock at all
times for which they are compensated? These are some of the key questions that we need to tackle head on as we strategise for success in the global economy.
Will the Covid-19 crisis prove a boon to make a really Smart World?
This event will clearly push the world towards a higher level of digitalisation. Whether this would imply a smart world is still an open question, though we are likely to witness more efficiency across manufacturing and supply chains. This would also imply the inclusion of resilience in the production and delivery of goods and services ensuring running factories in the face of emergencies.
Post COVID, the global economy will likely focus on:
1. Optimising essential and non-essential budget spends. Prioritising their Project Portfolios.
2. Create more avenues for kick-starting economic activities and re-creating jobs. Creating among the existing workforce, new skills
3. Use this time to effectively manage this new wave of Urban Migration that India will witness in the coming few weeks – need to ensure effective rehabilitation of migrants
4. Digitising processes to ensure continuity, and
5. Further, integrating smart solutions in cities infrastructure and services to ensure that we remain well connected.
Elias George joined KPMG in India after a distinguished career in public service as a member of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Over his 32 years in the IAS, he served with distinction in senior leadership positions in urban development, transportation, shipping, energy, water resources, urban transit, industry and labour. He has extensive understanding of evolving policy landscapes in infrastructure and emerging trends, issues and challenges at the national and state levels. Elias has been involved in several policy formulation and project management leadership roles with the union and state governments, and translation of policy objectives into projects on ground.