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Paving way for smart cities

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“We prefer to work by what I like to call the ‘bottom up, sleeves rolled up’ approach, where we do everything from the basic planning to preparing the tenders,says Ravi Kant Malhan, Director-Head Business Development-Smart Cities and Special Projects, Schneider Electric India. In conversation with Heena Jhingan.

How would you describe a special project?

A special project, by definition, is something complex, hugely diverse in customer environment and involving multiple stakeholders. One special project that comes to my mind is the one that we did for the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd. We evaluated the work that they did in each and came to the conclusion that the sub-stations could easily be automated. In fact, Power Grid could have unmanned substations. We designed solutions through which it is possible to get a single window view of 200 sub-stations. This was a special project, not only because of the number of sites where the solution was implemented, but also because of the complexity of technologies being deployed. To execute this project four different business units of Schneider worked together the energy division for the energy component, the power unit for the power machinery, the IT unit for the power in the APC and the UPS supply and the video business unit for the automation of the video surveillance.

The Prime Minister has presented his vision for setting up 100 smart cities in India. What kind of opportunities do you see in the area of smart cities?

We see a vast opportunity in the area of smart cities. But in order to deliver the right kind of technologies and systems, we must have comprehensive understanding of what is being envisioned, what is desirable, what is doable and what is the optimal cost of the project. We prefer to work by what I like to call the ‘bottom up, sleeves rolled up’ approach, where we do everything from the basic planning to preparing the tenders. The wonderful thing about this smart city project is that we don’t need to go to the market in this case, the market will come to us. There is a positive change in the way the decisions get made in the government. You don? have to knock continuously at the doors of the authorities to be seen or heard. Decisions get taken swiftly.

IT is obviously the key pillar of smart city projects. How well prepared is Schneider? IT business unit to fulfill all the new requirements?

The IT that is required for smart cities is already embedded across various business units. So the IT BU does not need to do anything specific for the project. The energy business unit at Schneider is currently handling the smart city vertical, and every solution here has got IT in it. We have the systems to ensure that there is smart use of energy, smart transportation, smart metering, etc.

What kind of engagements with the third party partners are you developing to strengthen your grip over the smart cities business?

We are a big a company and we like to do a lot of things ourselves, but the needs of the smart city projects is so complex that no single company can fulfill all the requirements on its own. Hence we have forged global partnerships with companies like IBM, Cisco and Accenture for planning. With Microsoft we have partnership for the cloud. These are serious engagements with companies that have a proven track record to deliver what the customers want.

The government is hopeful that smart projects will lead to lot of work going to the IT companies based in India. Please tell us about the partnerships that you are building within the country?

The success of the smart city projects will depend on how successfully we can localise the production of the hardware components. For instance, smart lights, smart meters, etc., will have to be manufactured in India. We will have to work with the manufacturers, who are capable of provide quality assurance. Only the best quality products can be used in smart cities. Partnerships are, by nature, very dynamic, some partnerships can be global, while others will be local. Even the local partnerships can at a later stage be scaled up so that they are global in scope.

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