Bengaluru, the capital of India’s southern state of Karnataka. For the rest of the world, it may be the country’s version of Silicon Valley and a bustling South Asian economic hub. But for me, it is still the Garden City, where I had spent some of the most memorable years of my childhood before I moved to Germany for higher education in the early 80s.
The mention of the place never fails to bring back fond memories: our leisurely morning cycle rides to St Joseph’s Boys’ High School on Museum Road, weekend hangouts at Bangalore Club and Cubbon Park, shopping at Brigade Road or Commercial Street, savouring delicious South Indian cuisines and of course, the celebration of all festivals with the vibrance of the rich Indian heritage. So, the fast emergence of the city as an epicentre of digitalization strikes a chord with me, both as a computer scientist and a former Bangalorean.
With the foundation of the modern-Bengaluru laid on Deccan Plateau in the mid-1500s, the city had always been the melting pot of cultures and ideas. Its pleasant climate and commercial prospects have captured the imagination of all including the British who considered the place to be Little England. But even post-independence, the city’s urban momentum continued attracting businesses, government institutions and research establishments alike. Among all of India’s economic nerve centers, Bengaluru has been most successful in latching on to the global IT boom, transforming the metro from a Pensioners’ Paradise and a Garden City to a high-tech IT conurbation within a few decades.
However, as the urban sprawl continues, owing to the lucrative career opportunities and the earning potential that it offers, estimates by the United Nations project the population of the city to hit 18 million by 2035, up from the present 12 million. To support the optimum living standards of its inhabitants and portray a conducive business landscape, it will be imperative for Bengaluru’s municipal leadership to reimagine services delivery through a sustainable and digital transformation of the urban infrastructure, alongside legislative evolutions. The path right paved by the National Smart Cities Mission of the Government of India when it selected Bengaluru in June 2017, as one of the seven cities from the state to be developed into a Smart City by 2023.
As a poster child of India’s globalization and harbouring a third of the country’s science and technology talent, Bengaluru’s potential to become the ground-zero for digitalization has been echoed in The Digital Cities Barometer published by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The city topped the list scoring 8.25, beating 45 global contenders including San Francisco, capitalizing strong investor confidence on its infrastructural capabilities to incubate and accelerate advanced business operations. It is why over the years, we have found several frontline companies, including elite Fortune 500 members shifting strategic business processes to Bengaluru.
It is further predicted that as businesses in India’s immediate neighbourhood searches for greener pastures owing to domestic regulatory complexities and geopolitical unrests, Bengaluru will be their favourite destination for relocation; thanks to its proactive and positive governance and a sustained journey towards a full-scale digitalization of its urban infrastructure and amenities offering unprecedented operational and cost advantages.
We have observed the State Government of Karnataka and Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) working with The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) to frame projects under the National Smart Cities Mission seeking to address the city’s priorities in areas like urban mobility, water supply management, solid waste management, communications, housing and law & order. We have not witnessed any sort of a cultural shift as departing from traditional modes of urban planning. Data, meticulously sourced from thousands of touchpoints across the urban continuum is being increasingly harnessed to drive and measure the impact of a series of projects including rainwater harvesting, B-TRIPS (Bengaluru Travel Related Information and Planning System), Open data portal for citizen information and innovation, Grievance Management, Central command centre for accepting citizen queries and Improvement of Neighborhood Safety and integrated mobility.
Steering Bengaluru’s crucial integrated mobility engagement, a team of experts and engineers have installed our Dynamic Traffic Control System embedded with Smart Sensors and AI-assisted monitoring at specific traffic hotspots in the city. Based on predictive analytics that evaluates multiple scenarios and parameters, the system can operate the signal-cycle intervals intuitively, ensuring a smooth traffic flow and road safety. It can also broadcast real-time traffic updates for drivers through a mobile application.
We are also partnering with the operators of the Kempegowda International Airport, ranked the world’s fastest-growing airport in terms of passenger volume, to improve customer experience and safety. A cloud-based IoT operating system has been designed to boost operational efficiency across diverse verticals, from intelligent logistics handling to the management of critical infrastructure functions.
Rather than incremental progress, Bengaluru believes in quantum leaps to realize the vision of a hyper-connected and high-performance digital urban ecosystem with exceptional people and business-centricity. It is this sustained commitment to Smart Infrastructure as a vehicle for improving quality of life and ease of doing business that has featured the city alongside London, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Singapore and Taipei in the Atlas of Digitalization by Siemens. It is a data-driven exercise that attempts to demonstrate how these cities are employing digital technologies as a means to adapt to the new normal by unleashing renewed system efficiencies and productivity while simultaneously mitigating their impact on the infrastructure, environment and economy. Scoring substantially in the Digitalization readiness and potential indices, the city is a role model not only for its national cohorts but also for many other aspiring urban bodies in all parts of the global south.
Bengaluru’s urban management leadership and those all over the country can
benefit immensely by taking a page out of the playbook of its Asian peer,
Singapore – where I also lived for five years. Compared to other cities in
India, Bengaluru features better water and sewage management systems. Almost
73% of Bengaluru’s wastewater is treated for reuse, and 7% of the effluent is
recycled into industrial processes by applying technologies like decentralized
wastewater treatment systems (DEWATS). Also, it is the first city in India to
achieve 100% metering of its water supply. But it is true that recently the
existing water reserves of the city have come under severe pressure due to its
inflating population and need for better resource stewardship. Bengaluru can
follow Singapore’s model in discounting unaccounted water usage, which is
currently at 40%. Moreover, automated meter reading and billing systems can be
used to optimize human resource bandwidth. It has been estimated that smart
water management can reduce energy consumption and costs by up to 15% for the
it is interesting to observe that Singapore has enforced congestion taxes and
automated parking systems to maintain traffic flows for managing vehicular
air-pollution within safe limits. With 1,752 new vehicles added to the roads of
Bengaluru every day, the transport sector contributes 40% to the city’s
Particulate Matter (P.M. 2.5) emissions. The city can opt for a progressive parking
policy and leverage mobile apps for real-time collection of parking fees and
Having spent some part of my childhood in Bengaluru, the city is close to my heart and it gives me immense pride and a bit of nostalgia to behold the resolute stride of my Garden City towards a Digital Future. As India embarks on a mission to realize its dream of forging a $5 trillion economy, the metropolitan will serve as an indispensable engine of growth, providing the much-needed traction through its entrepreneurial spirit, high-quality human capital and of course, technological preparedness. The spirit of Bengaluru is indomitable. Collectively, it can embrace change, improvise and prosper in the face of adversities.