100 Smart Cities in India – Smart Utilities

In my previous post, we had discussed about a conceptual understanding of Smart City and its relevance from India context. Coincidentally, there was a a meet up organized by DevThon on the same subject this weekend. Though the participation was limited, I was excited to see that people are thinking beyond the hype of “technology” adoption to make cities smart and are actually talking about on the ground challenges and their solutions.

Given the fact that there is a serious gap between the basic necessities on electricity, hygiene and clean water in most of our cities, straight away going for a high technology solution for solving problems will not work. For example, it will not help to put thousands of sensors on the roads for capturing city information, if we are not sure how long those sensors will work and till the time, we have a robust ecosystem to maintain them and use the information from these sensors.

Its heartening to see that there is a group working on creating awareness on the different sources of information and city level grievance redressal agencies. Their approach to disseminate the information gathered through printed pamphlets is also taking into account that a large portion of the residents don’t have smart phones or access to internet.

Another interesting aspect that came out was that with such a high population density in a city like Hyderabad, a traditional approach of “smart city” will not work. Citizen participation and involvement in this exercise will be a key parameter. Building greater civic sense and a paradigm shift in how residents see their role in overall livability of the city and management will be the critical success factor for any initiative to be successful.

Though, this is not the theme of this blog, so lets get back to the next dimension of Smart Cities – Smart Utilities :)

There are two key areas of within utilities where there are significant challenges and scope to be made smarter for better results

Smart Grids

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 8.27.21 PM

India has one of the weakest electricity grids in the world. Being the 5th largest grid systems and having the dubious distinction of one of the highest distribution losses [24% average and in some states going up to 62%] the state utilities losses itself are 1.5% of the GDP.

Therefore there is a a huge opportunity of modernizing our grids and in the process making them smarter. There have been multiple initiatives in this direction for more than a decade and some states have made very good progress in that direction. What is needed is a multi year and multi pronged strategy that would involve not just modernization and using latest technologies but also improving the execution capabilities to drive such huge initiatives. This might also involve privatization of the utilities that are still under the control of states and driven more on political angle than efficiency and effectiveness.

Some of the key aspects of smart grids deployment and its relevance and initiatives in India are:

Priorities

Impact

Smart Grid Initiatives and Application

Meeting Demand Shortage
  • Augmentation of generation capacity; efficiency improvement
  • Power evacuation and grid access
  • Demand side management
  • Demand response
  • Peak load management
  • Crew management
Clean Energy Deployment
  • Require smarter systems for power balancing to deal with variability & unpredictability
  • Renewable energy integration
  • Demand response
Operational Efficiency Improvement
  • Need for ability to control and monitor power flow till customer level
  • Theft management
  • Asset monitoring
  • Meter data management
  • Substation automation
  • AMI
Enhancing Consumer Service Standards
  • Real time system to enable better system visibility and consumer participation
  • Power quality
  • Work force management
  • Outage management
  • Automatic Billing

Smart Water Management

 

Having access to clean and sufficient water is one of the major problems in a number of Indian cities. Lack of long term planning, distribution losses to the tune of 40% and above and red tape in state managed water utilities have lead to rapid depletion of ground water, which remains as a major mainstay of water supply in the cities. Lack of proper rain water harvesting and concretization of cities are further contributing to loss of this invaluable natural resource.

Smart Metering is an obvious and a proven solution that can bring in a significant discipline and accountability on water usage and management. Polluting and exploitation of existing water resources and water bodies is the other big challenge that the cities currently face and is having a large impact on the health of the residents. Innovative usage and deployment of Internet of Things for better monitoring and control for water and waste water management can provide significant help in meeting these objectives. Organizations like Aquamatix have done some very good research in this area and come up with end to end solutions that provide a holistic solution for smart water management.

There are many such application of Internet of Things in the utilities space that can be explored make Utilities and cities smarter. Signing off now, more about other Smart City dimensions like the following in my next blogs in the series.

  • Smart Buildings and Homes
  • Smart Transport
  • Smart Traffic Management
  • Smart Health
  • Smart Waste and Ecology Management

Axelta as an organization has been focusing on evangelizing adoption of Internet of Things in India and is working on a number of projects, community initiatives and competence development in collaboration with private and government educational institutions to help make the vision of 100 smart cities in India possible. Our IoT Academy that does a 2 days boot camp to equip social and technology entrepreneurs to understand and incubate ideas is also a step in the same direction.

 

IOT start-up/Any start-up: the prerequisite. Part-2

1. Financing: 

Continuing from where I left yesterday, there are many ways to make a system  that can help you manage the start-up costs at least for some time. Please do remember that you have to finance your family as well as start-up.

a)      Look for quick ways to make revenue come your way. If a part of service offering has a market, launch it. This gives valuable feedback plus gets something going. Nothing matters more for a start-up than the first revenue. This could be in the form of getting a small outsourcing piece from someone you know to develop or launching training for some technology that you have mastered. Think out of box. Lots of people out there can use some of the things you have built. Delegate as much of the work for these revenue enablers as possible to your staff. You never know, one of this small offering might turn out to be a major branch of your business.

b)      Moonlighting is easier said than done but is possible. I have seen successful start-up owners continue to moonlight till they get financial independence. This could mean taking your boss in confidence and/or working part-time. In India specially, it is possible to launch at-least the initial part of the business while moonlighting as your initial costs are low. Having a working spouse also helps a lot in meeting household expenses.

c)       In India Fixed return deposits interest rates are very high (you get nearly 10% in fixed and guaranteed returns. If you have substantial savings, keeping a bulk portion of money initially in bonds etc. with monthly interest options and taking monthly income from them is also a viable way to manage expenses.

d)      Go for financing when you have the initial work done and have a good grasp of business. You will get a better deal from investors and everyone (including yourself) will have better visibility and confidence.

e)      DO NOT take BANK LOANS: Especially in India. Interest rates are very high and interest pile up so quickly that it will add lots of pressure. Try and look for family/friend loans if you cannot avoid it.

2.   Delegating work

For hands on technical guys who get into start-ups, getting into the delegation mode is tough. They are so used to doing things themselves, solving issues themselves that they jump into tech challenges the team faces and try and resolve the same. Definitely this is required sometimes when major bumps come in the way. Try and avoid it. Two major disadvantages of this are:

a)      Your mind gets diverted into these issues and not able to focus on huge challenges of running a business, marketing, strategizing, connecting, recruiting, planning, etc…

b)      The team starts depending on you to solve issues rather than do it themselves, and gain the required confidence and learning.

3.  Go To market strategy

How do you launch your product? How/When do you test the waters are essential questions plaguing all entrepreneur. This is also one of the major economic decisions as sales and marketing are sure to burn a whole in your pocket while being unavoidable. I will suggest if your business idea can be launched in small scale, please do that now. Do it slowly and use the feedback to continuously make improvements. Going for a bigger launch should wait till you have captured your local market first, especially when you are in your first start-up.

4.  1+1=11 and not 2:

Kept the best to last. One basic requirement for a start-up is to have a partner (Not 3 or 4 or more but just the 2 of you). Partner need not be of same wavelength but you should feel that he is reliable and honest and together you should share the vision for your start-up. This is crucial as it helps in all areas from dealing with stress, sharing workload, sharing cost, sharing connects to sharing ideas. You should have trust in each other and should have some deep, old connect (could be family, alumni, domain knowledge etc.).  Complementing each other’s strength and weaknesses is an essential part of start-up. You are almost guaranteed success in some form if you can get the above kind of partner.

Wishing all my start-up friends a very exciting and fruitful journey ahead. Best of luck.

 

IOT start-up/Any startup: the prerequisite’s

The world has woken up to the tremendous potential of IOT devices. There are literary hundreds of start-ups springing around us across the world. Some will succeed, many will fail. What is it that start-ups in General and IOT start-ups in particular should focus on to succeed? This is a million dollar question. Let me try and answer some of the things I have learnt:

1. Focus on the business problem/Use case you are trying to address. Many start-ups start making a very specific product but somehow end up making a very generic product. They want to take care of all possible scenarios and cover everything. Especially start-ups making software products put in a lot of energy and time in making generic solutions. This path is fraught with danger of delays, overspending and many end up making a product which does not fit anywhere. My suggestion is focus on your use case. Bring clarity in it. Make your solution work covering 70% of the use case requirements. Launch it ASAP, learn from the feedback and improve. This is especially true for IOT where you have several companies making generic device management platforms, very few focussing on specific use cases. Number of such platforms that will finally win will be limited, but if your use case has specific relevance, it will win in that market.

2. Focus on technology but… Define the technology you are going to use as soon as possible and do not get carried away with recent advances. Many of the recent developments are not yet stable/usable enough to be good for you. A company can lose lots of valuable time in travelling on these new unchartered paths only to realise that the technology either does not meet their ultimate need or is not mature enough. Developers might lose lots of valuable time in learning these new technologies only to get disheartened and I have seen this leading to attrition etc. Let others use them first and then you can follow at a much faster pace. IN IOT space this is critical as so many new things are happening daily. Keeping the clutter out should be clearly high in your thought process. Get that device working first, fully and make it robust.

3. There is no such thing as stud.. As a start up, already lots of pressures are there to get a good team in place. What I have seen is, getting high end tech talent is extremely difficult and is generally not needed. Especially in IOT space, everything is so new, that getting excellent people in any area is difficult. My suggestion is hire good people who have the right attitude. For the electronics side (if you are into device building) you can get good electronics background people in India who have experience in working in those 100’s of electronics companies in that are cluttered around Govt undertakings like BEL, BHEL, DRDO etc. They are good and have manageable salaries. Similarly on software side, target those thousands of MOM and POP companies having 1-2 clients that dot in Hyderabad/Bangalore/Pune etc. Make sure in the interview that they understand that in start ups, real returns will come in only after some time and lots of hard work needs to be put in. Do not hesitate to negotiate hard on salary.

4. Financing (Angel investors, crowd sourcing etc..) Recently I met a guy who was co-founder of a start-up that grew 20 times in 2 years. He has just quit. Why? Could not handle financier’s demands and growth targets pressure, direction financier wanted the company to go. Although financing might be mandatory at some point of time, In India, it’s very much possible to run the show on a very shoe string budget. DO NOT spend your live savings but develop some mechanism so that basic requirements can be met. I will speak about it more in a subsequent post.

TO BE CONTINUED….