Sean Chiao, President, Asia Pacific, Aecom said that when the smart cities mission of the country is implemented completely, Indian cities will have much to learn from each other’s successes and failures.
What are the opportunities in India’s smart cities mission (SCM) for an international company like Aecom?
We are quite positive about the concept of smart cities in India. As a multi-disciplinary company, Aecom provides not only design but also project management and operation, to name a few. So a smart city project encourages us to tap a lot of opportunities, especially for downstream works. We promote smart cities from varied perspectives, such as digital, infrastructure, environment, economy, socio–ecology etc. At present, we are working on Srinagar, Port Blair, Tirupati, and Vizag smart cities, where the first three city plans are based on tourism. In the case of Vizag, Aecom is providing the masterplan and sector-specific smart infrastructure project plans, since the city emphasises on flood mitigation. That being said, it is too early for us to talk about the success of smart cities or opportunities because the projects are in the nascent stage. The smart cities mission will take its own time because, right now, urban local bodies are focussing on area-based development (ABD). I think, when all the work related to ABD gets completed, other cities will learn from each other and opportunities would be created.
As you rightly said, the SCM is at its nascent stage. Considering the overall concept and your exposure globally, what role would Aecom’s learning experiences play in India?
There are no global lessons because India is so unique. Each city has its own essence in terms of citizens, planning process, heritage etc. So we work with different agencies, such as Hitachi, IBM, and Schneider Electric, to name a few, as they have huge research and development activities under their belt. This helps us to understand the pain points of the cities. So, to answer your question, sometimes experience is required; however, the cities also need innovation and innovative ideas to implement. For instance, if we talk about the healthcare market, hospitals in India are way different from hospitals internationally. So, while we can use our learning experiences to make a city better, in some cases the city needs design creativity.
Are there any convincing studies being done to understand whether there is a need for smart cities?
Nowadays, we are talking about driver-less cars. Now, tell me, how many cities have driver-less cars? Not a single city in this world has it. But, car makers are developing this concept, aren’t they? Similarly, though the concept is new to this country, what is the harm in developing it? I will give you another example. Five years ago, no one thought of using BIM software for construction and infrastructure projects. But now, most of the smart cities in India are using BIM software. In fact, in one of our projects in the Delhi–Mumbai Industrial Corridor, we are using BIM software for swift action. And now, BIM not only helps us design the structure, but also does cost management, operation, and management.
How do you see execution and revenue growth opportunities coming along in smart cities projects? Where is the ROI involved in it?
Since Aecom is a multi-disciplinary company, return on investment (ROI) for us was never an issue. All of our focus on operation, management, design, safety, compliance, and efficiencies, to name a few, lead to revenue and profitability. We make long-term investments; India definitely has a market for us and we would like to expand in this country. As far as our Indian operations are concerned, I can say we are profitable. We are committed to the Indian market as we see high hopes here. We are quite optimistic about our business model in India because it is inching towards becoming a technologically-advanced country in the world.