India: Smart cities and smart talent

India wants to remake 100 of its urban centres into 'smart cities', and it's going to both draw on and change the talent landscape in the process.

Mumbai skyline

India: Smart cities and smart talent

The notion of 'smart cities' has attracted a huge amount of buzz in recent years. Built up from 'Internet of Things' technology (which involves internet connectivity being built into a huge range everyday objects), the concept revolves around new systems that will improve cities in fields ranging from transport to energy to basic infrastructure by collecting and using data to optimise them.Few countries have been as aggressive in pursuing smart city programmes, however, as India. Prime minister Narendra Modi has spearheaded the country's '100 Smart Cities' scheme, through which he aims to have 100 mid-sized and satellite Indian cities created or remodelled in line with smart city concepts.India is ripe for such a programme. Around 31 per cent of India's 1.25 billion residents already live in cities, with projections putting the country's urban population at 843 million by 2050. The urban population punches above its weight economically, generating 60 per cent of the country's GDP, a figure that's expected to to climb to nearly 75 per cent by 2030.Meanwhile, many Indian cities are still developing, presenting both needs and opportunities not present in most Western cities. "Since many cities lack basic infrastructure, institutional framework and proper governance, smart city initiatives will have to focus on providing basic needs through IT enabled solutions," says real estate professional services firm JLL in its Smart Cities report. Many of India's smart cities will not only use data to improve existing systems, they will have data-driven processes baked in to their basic infrastructure.JLL notes that the initiative presents significant opportunities for a range of parties, including investors, developers, designers, service providers, academia and consulting firms. UKTI estimates the total cost of the project to be to the tune of £445 billion (a projection it considers conservative), including 91 'brownfield' sites at a cost of £2.4 – 4.8 billion each.Indeed, British prime minister David Cameron has said that he hopes to see the UK become India's "number one partner" in raising finance for the scheme, and Indian and British scientists are working together in a new £10 million research collaboration into low-cost, low-carbon energy sources for the cities.While the '100 Smart Cities' initiative presents opportunities across a number of sectors, one obvious benefactor is the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. India's National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) says that the scheme is worth $30-40 billion for the sector over the next five to 10 years, assuming that 10 to 15 per cent of the financial outlay will be spent on IT.

'War on talent'

Talent is a key component for the initiative in two respects. On the one hand, the Indian government sees the '100 Smart Cities' project as a way to attract and retain key talent in Indian cities. On the other, the availability of the right talent is crucial in driving the project forward.JLL claims that smart cities can create "crores of jobs" (a crore is a unit in the Indian numbering system equal to ten million) within the Indian economy. It notes 'enhanced workability' as one of the key benefits of smart cities, saying that, "Enhanced workability means accelerated economic development. In other means (sic), creation of more job opportunities, attract investments, which will increase local GDP as well as national GDP. In the smart city, people have access to the foundations of prosperity – the fundamental infrastructure services that let them compete in the world economy. Those services include broadband connectivity; clean, reliable, inexpensive energy; educational opportunities; affordable housing and commercial space; and efficient transportation."The cities will include skill development centres as well as working women hostels and crèches, while Modi's "Skill India" project, which aims to provide training and skills development for 500 million Indian young people by 2020, will also feed the skills base.But before smart cities can attract talent they will need to be able to mobilise it to see Modi's vision realised.Deloitte said in its November 2015 Smart Cities report that, "A Smart City can only exist when it is able to attract and retain high-tech and creative talent. These people are vital for a continuous renewal of the economic infrastructure through creative destruction and innovation. They are the foundation for new initiatives, start-ups and a climate in which innovation can flourish. As traditional jobs disappear, talent is required to be the catalyst in a process that creates new businesses and new jobs. The megacities of the word are therefore competing for this talent."In particular, the report notes that, "The new job of 'data scientist' has been named as the job of the 21st century and smart cities need a lot of them. Furthermore, as smart solutions aim at changing the behaviour of people, cities need experts who understand the mechanisms of human behaviour and changing human behaviour, e.g. by using concepts like gamification."India is certainly off to a good start when it comes to having tech talent in place. Linkedin mined its data to see which cities were attracting fresh tech talent and four out of the top five cities were Indian, with Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai all beating San Francisco.Linkedin said that for the 52 cities it looked at the median number of new residents with tech skills was 16 per cent, but that several Indian cities had more than double that. Indeed, for Bangalore the figure was 44 per cent, Pune and Hyderabad both clocked in at 43 per cent and Chennai had 38 per cent.Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that India's brain drain that saw top tech talent heading to the US is beginning to reverse. Last year India's Economic Times declared that the brain drain was becoming a 'brain gain' as talent returned to the country to work with its new start-ups.India is still at the beginning of its journey to create 100 smart cities, and talent will be crucial in realising the huge opportunities on offer. The pieces are moving into place to create huge opportunities.For more news and articles about technology, see Re:locate's technology section and for more about India, click here