How GIS technology can be beneficial for enterprises: Agendra Kumar, Esri India

Geographic Information System (GIS) is no longer a term that is alien to us. GIS technology has a myriad of uses in areas such as disaster management, healthcare, emergency management, public safety, and land management among others. The role played by GIS technology in tracking the recent cyclone YAAS cyclone is a recent example that most people are aware of. However, can this technology be utilised by enterprises for their benefit? Agendra Kumar, managing director, Esri India talks to Dataquest about that and more.

DQ: What is the impact of new Geospatial guidelines on the Geographic Information System (GIS) industry in India?

Agendra Kumar: The new Geospatial data (geo-data) policy guidelines is a step in the right direction to strengthen the geospatial infrastructure in the country. By easing collection, generation, preparation and dissemination of geospatial data and maps within the country, the new policy will enable sharing, collaboration, and easy access to data without any constraints. Geo-data produced using public funds can now be ploughed back into the geospatial economy for reuse and value addition, thus improving the availability of data in a big way and also helping bring down the data creation costs and turnaround times. With better data availability, organizations in both government and private sectors will be able to use GIS for more applications. The use of GIS in sectors like Utilities, Land management, Agriculture, Healthcare, Insurance, Financial Services, Manufacturing and distribution, infrastructure development is expected to increase with the easy availability of geospatial data. The new geospatial guidelines are expected to give a boost to the GIS industry and the companies involved in data creation, data management and providing solutions will have a much bigger opportunity in the country.

DQ: What are some of the GIS solutions being offered by Esri India to the Indian Government? Please specify key verticals (like land, water, utility, infrastructure) where you are actively working with the government.

Agendra Kumar: Government has been the early adopters of geospatial technology in India like in many other countries across the world. From its initial applications in space programs in India, today, GIS applications are ubiquitous. Esri GIS is the core foundation in major mission mode programs like Digital India, Smart cities, Clean Ganga Mission, Jal Jeevan Mission, R-APDRP, Svamitva and many more. Most of the national mapping agencies such as Survey of India (SoI), Geological Survey of India (GSI), and National Atlas and Thematic Mapping Organization (NATMO) are using ArcGIS for enterprise production mapping i.e., creating authoritative thematic maps and data for India. In addition, these mapping agencies have developed various GeoHubs which empowers them to disseminate this authoritative data to be used across various programs, state initiatives, policy development and share with citizens & businesses for developing unique & innovative applications. National Informatics Centre’s BharatMaps portal, powered by ArcGIS, is used extensively in various state programs.

GIS technology is being used across various departments such as forest, electric, healthcare, emergency management, public safety, land management, public works, agriculture, water, urban and municipal.

For e.g., Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC) uses GIS-enabled dashboard to monitor the rainfall across the state, in a real-time basis, from the data shared by rain sensors installed at various locations. The live data captured is used to predict any potential flooding incidents due to heavy rainfall, identify affected locations, and push advisories through SMS to the potentially impacted areas.

Most of the state forest departments are leveraging Esri ArcGIS to improve forest management with our solutions for data collection, mapping analytics, and remote sensing. Whether it is a case of illegal timber logging or poaching of animals, our solution is helping in sustainable forest management through mapping of the forest cover, tracking of animals and conservation of minerals and other forest resources.

At Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), our solution is deployed by more than 16 departments including Solid Waste Management, Development Planning, Roads and Traffic, Sewage, Water, Property Tax, Vigilance, Disaster Management Planning, Tree Authority, Healthcare, among others.

More than 40 smart cities are leveraging Esri ArcGIS for planning, implementation and maintenance of urban areas, mobility solutions, utilities, asset management and improvement in their financial resources. A lot of cities including Kanpur Smart City have implemented ArcGIS based property tax collection system and have seen an increase in compliance and tax collections.

Additionally, many of India’s state government departments leveraged Esri GIS technology to manage the spread of COVID-19. 80+ agencies including smart cities (e.g., Varanasi), municipal corporations (e.g., GMDA, BBMP, MCGM), state departments (e.g., Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan), NGOs and national agencies (e.g., NDMA) used Esri GIS solution for COVID-19 response.

DQ: Apart from the Government, how can GIS be beneficial for enterprises?

Agendra Kumar: With increasing digitization, enterprises are capturing more data than ever about their customers, assets, operations and transactions. Most of this data contains location information in some form like area/city name, PIN code, address or very specifically latitude and longitude. Still, location remains one of the most under-utilized assets in enterprises.GIS helps them unlock the hidden potential of this data.

Today, GIS technology has become an integral part of an enterprise’s IT and business strategy. Enterprises are using location analytics to manage their businesses and are integrating GIS with other systems like ERP, CRM, and BI, for greater insights into its data and for business decision making such as where are my customers? Which are the regions with similar demographic profile? How is the accessibility of our branches? Where should we open a new branch? How will the upcoming storm impact our supply chain? GIS dashboards are being used to monitor the pulse of the business and operations in near-real time. Mobile GIS applications are helping drive higher efficiency through better collaboration and sharing of information between departments, field, back-office staff and even with consumers.

Various business segments such as banks, insurance companies, automobile, real-estate, construction, telecom, and retail are already leveraging GIS technology. Insurance companies are using GIS for risk assessment and crop insurance. Manufacturing organizations are using GIS to manage their supply chains and understand the risk of various factors to their businesses.

For e.g., Reliance Jio has used GIS extensively in the rollout of the largest greenfield 4G across India including managing workflows such as network planning and connection feasibility. National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) uses GIS to drive a higher coverage of farmer inclusion into the milk collection. Similarly, we are seeing increased adoption of GIS technology in AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) industry for better planning, designing, engineering, construction, operations, and maintenance.

DQ: How aware are organizations about the benefits offered by GIS? What are the challenges, if any?

Agendra Kumar: Organizations are seeing a significant value and ROI from their GIS investments. This is evident from the trend we are seeing in the past few years. There has been a phenomenal growth and rise in the adoption of GIS across sectors. The scale of GIS deployments has increased significantly, and we have more enterprise-level deployments now across government, states, and enterprises. Similarly, in academia, GIS is becoming multi-disciplinary. There has been a shift in GIS use from departmental level usage to the institutional level. Even start-ups are leveraging GIS to develop unique and innovative applications and solutions.

While the industry continues to grow, there have been multiple challenges that persist. One such challenge is the lack of a geospatial skilled workforce. With the rising adoption of GIS across sectors, there is a need to create geospatial literacy amongst existing working professionals. The need is to create GIS education infrastructure for skilling of students on core GIS technologies and create programs for skilling students of non-GIS courses. Unless they get trained and understand the value of GIS, industry growth would be limited, and we may not be able to leverage the full potential we have as a growth opportunity for the geospatial Sector.

The other challenge is lack of sufficient data and access to good quality data. However now, with the recent liberalization of policies governing the acquisition and production of geospatial data, we foresee an increase in data availability that will further fuel application development.

DQ: Are there enough skilled individuals in the technology? What is Esri doing to prepare a future skilled workforce?

Agendra Kumar: The relevance of GIS technology and its adoption in the technology we use in our daily life is increasing rapidly, however, the availability of a skilled GIS workforce is still a challenge. It is necessary to bridge the skill gap through various initiatives to shape the future workforce. This cannot happen in silos; the government, industry and academia need to collaborate even further to promote reskilling and upskilling to update current skillsets.

At Esri India, our mission is to partner and empower the academic community with the necessary tools and technologies needed to shape future-ready students. We have signed up MoUs with colleges such as Punjab Engineering College (PEC) and IIT-BHU, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, to work towards capacity building with the latest geospatial technologies and to augment their efforts in imparting geospatial education to make their students more employable. Also, during the pandemic, while students were at home with limited access for institutional infrastructure, we ensured uninterrupted GIS education for students by granting them access to download our software without any charges. In India, more than 10000 students have already registered and leveraged this opportunity. In addition, our programs like mApp Your Way and GACI (GIS Academia Council of India), are aimed towards enabling the overall GIS academic ecosystem with GIS skills, technology, solutions, and know-how. We are also working with schools to help students develop geographic literacy, spatial awareness, critical thinking, and analytical skills through various workshops under our K-12 program. To encourage students to learn GIS, we also have the Esri India Young Scholar Program in place. It is an annual nationwide competition that celebrates excellence in geospatial study and provides a global platform for higher education students to showcase their GIS capabilities.

We also work with various government bodies like the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), the Department of Science & Technology (DST), and Institute of Town Planners, India (ITPI) for skilling professionals with the latest GIS technologies.

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