To build cities of the future, which provide good quality of life, improved economic robustness, and harmony with nature, India needs unique solutions that are not only efficient but also offer services and benefits to all segments of society. It has chosen to leverage data in creating these solutions by facilitating the real-time sharing of data among stakeholders through an open, neutral, and secure platform, the India Urban Data Exchange (IUDX). IUDX is all about the use of data for public good and enabling data providers to create innovative services and generate value.
The scale and scope of urban problems in India are much greater than in almost all other countries due to the sheer size, population, and diversity of its cities. India has seen an increasing concentration of population in urban areas inducing immense pressure on public services like housing, health, sanitation, transport, education, and the city infrastructure. India’s urban diversity (economically, educationally, socially, and ethnically) is unparalleled, making it extremely difficult to have solutions that are one-size-fits-all.
To address the above challenges, India has started charting a new path towards urban transformation, data being at the core of it all. India’s cities are sitting on a treasure trove of data generated from the various sensors, smart devices, cameras, and data collection systems installed in its cities. The volume of data generated in a country that has cities larger than some countries in the world is staggering. This data can be harnessed to unlock innovation, catalyse new business models, and deliver data governance and policymaking across urban India. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Data is often present in silos within various government departments, making it difficult for application developers to know who has data of interest. Furthermore, data is often not in standard formats as each department has its own way of representing and storing data. At the same time, the use of data needs to be balanced in a manner that empowers citizens and protects their privacy and security. As a result of these issues, the available data is often not delivering the expected value.
The main objectives were to ensure that data is leveraged effectively for a variety of requirements across urban India and to create data exchange solutions that ensure streamlined access and drive better data-driven decisions across the country. It was imperative that a unified urban data exchange was created that enabled consented and anonymized data access and this was done though the development and deployment of IUDX. A data exchange does not only store data but allows easy access to data stored within the city by various data sources. The goal is to enable sharing of data without losing control. It allows data to be located and identified; ensures the data consumer has authorized access in accordance with the data provider’s policies; and ensures that data is transferred from provider to consumer in an understandable format.
The IUDX software platform has three primary functions- 1) A data catalog service to allow applications to programmatically find and understand pertinent data; 2) A consent service to enforce privacy, security and authorization rules; and 3) a run-time resource services to translate all similar data to a common data format and make it available through standard interfaces. The overall IUDX project is set up as a collaborative open-source effort between the city, industry, entrepreneur, community, and government. All IUDX artefacts including source code, design documents, best practice papers, etc. are available through an open-source license to all parties. The core IUDX project team takes the lead in developing the platform in general and in deploying it in several cities across India. Moreover the team also engages with industry partners to add unique new software features to the platform and to develop various use cases of interest using the data onboarded from cities where IUDX has been deployed. The IUDX project is also active in several research and exploration activities such as Data Policy and Economics, and Data Privacy and Security. IUDX is exploring and deploying advanced techniques of privacy-preserving computations such as Secure Enclaves, Secure multi-party compute, Differential Privacy, etc.
IUDX is designed to have a direct positive impact on citizens’ life and help transform the country into a digitally empowered society and a knowledge-based economy. The various initiatives under the program ensure integrated growth across various aspects of urban development. Within each of the Cities, citizens and the community will benefit through the availability of better, more innovative, and cheaper applications and services. The Cities themselves will benefit from the reduced development cost and faster development times enabled by a standard platform, together with the ability to choose vendors freely and avoid vendor lock-in. They will see new source of revenue through the unlocking of data assets, and will unleash innovation from entrepreneurs and community, without any additional cost.
Industry will benefit enormously through the improved ability to find skills and rapidly ramp up projects. They will also see reduced development expenses enabled by a standardized and open-source platform, and be able to focus on innovation and differentiated value rather than design basic platform software. Start -ups, in particular, will benefit from the decrease in heterogeneity IUDX provides. Third party sources of data (such as private apartment complexes) will have a new opportunity to share and monetize their assets. Academic institutions and research labs will be able to conduct more meaningful research by having direct access to a wide variety of data.
IUDX has been instrumental in enabling a wide variety of data-driven applications. In Pune , IUDX has enabled a citizen safety application , using data about street conditions, lighting, crowds, obtained through IUDX. In Surat , IUDX allows citizens to get an accurate time of arrival and estimated occupancy for buses, using data on bus position, traffic conditions, and ticket sales available through IUDX. Another application implemented in Surat enables citizens to find the best commute option in real-time, using current status of public and private transit options. In Varanasi , data from Garbage truck instrumentation, Garbage bin sensors and citizen input, are pulled through IUDX to deliver a powerful application that optimizes solid waste pickup, reducing costs by 30% in the holy city. In the Agartala smart city , IUDX has enabled conventional traffic signal to be converted into adaptive traffic signals for less than half the cost of a new adaptive traffic signal, by using video feeds from existing traffic violation detection cameras at the traffic junctions. In Vadodara, IUDX has helped create an on-demand end-to-end resistance-free path for emergency assistance by using real-time location coordinates, traffic density, traffic junction coordinates, maps and routes, location coordinates of healthcare facilities, etc.
IUDX is currently deployed in 20 Indian smart cities with each working on creating applications that would benefit the city and its residents. IUDX is an important enabler, however, it cannot be a success without the support of all stakeholders. The concept is also not restricted to urban sector and can be replicated in sectors like education, agriculture, healthcare, finance, and others. In addition, standardization is key to be at par with the best and IUDX has adopted and actively driven international standards.
Ultimately, it is the quality and relevance of the data that will determine the value of a data exchange. The saying “garbage-in, garbage-out” is particularly pertinent here. Thus, three complementary initiatives are essential for the success of such a program. One is a focus on data quality and data curation which ensures that data delivered to the exchange can be used in production applications. This requires a combination of automation, human intervention and domain expertise. Automated tools are rudimentary at best and human effort is often required. The second essential effort is education of the parties involved on the value and potential of data. Transforming the city administrators and private parties into effective data stewards who can capture and deliver high quality data is a long and painstaking journey. Often, the people involved are from non-technical backgrounds and have little or no understanding of the nuances of data models and analytics. But effective skill development programs are available and must be a part of an overall effective data strategy. Finally, the third imperative is a policy regime that encourages or mandates data sharing. Too often, city officials or private companies are reluctant to share data because they are afraid of unforeseen consequences. The seemingly safer way is to hoard data and sit on valuable data, but which can help others and so goes unused. It is incumbent on the various levels of government to make data hoarding the unsafe option, only employed if there are very good reasons to do so.