Making geospatial smarter for India

by Dominic McNeillis, Pitney Bowes Software, February 8, 2012

The idea of using GIS as a core technology is now accepted in part or whole by many government organizations. Will making “geospatial smarter” help Indian Government?

The nation is looking for increased government efficiency in delivering services at a sustainable pace -- it is looking for increased transparency and expecting government agencies and their partner organizations to be accountable. 

Against this backdrop of increasing efficiency, transparency and accountability, we can start to pay due attention to government workers, citizens and thence relevant use-cases in India – “Research in India, for India” is the mantra. Something having worked in other countries is not necessarily a good place to start.

The three homes of GIS could be said to be in the office, in the field and on the Internet. Without data and function, a digital map on our screen is of no more of interest than a casual conversation. Relevant data must inform or flow from a function (or workflow); the function must reflect a business need; the business need must offer potential for increased efficiency in a manner valued by users and stakeholders.

An implementation with Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority showed that the driving business need at that time was to avoid paper maps and duplicate effort in multiple departments. It was a cultural change that allowed what now seem obvious efficiency improvements. Today, we might see it as the first stepping stone, providing a platform onto which departmental solutions can be built.  Today, introducing geospatial technologies is less likely to fulfil the efficiency, transparency, accountability needs in itself, but might smarter geospatial?

GIS as a technology has been gaining a lot of popularity in India with the 11th five-year plan citing implementation projects in the power, agriculture, forestry, mining and ICT sectors. There are model projects in India both in the field of rural and urban development -- Department of Agriculture in Punjab has been actively using GIS for agriculture. In Karnataka, Bangalore Development Authority has made it their mission to make Bangalore the “Best Indian City.”

Another case in point is around infrastructure development -- roads degrade over time with weather and vehicular use and need to be inspected on a regular basis. The inspection could be planned according to industry data collected over years. In India, the overarching professional organization for the efficient maintenance of roads is the Indian Roads Congress (IRC), which sets out professional standards for the inspection of roads that differs according to the likely use, the strategic importance and the material used to build the road. Along the road there are many types of assets that also need to be inspected. Bridges are a specialist case of assets that need to be inspected according to a 2 year and 6 year cycle. In India, additional inspections are carried out before and after the monsoon season.

Looking at the case for GIS in relation to the business need, it is clear that the best a GIS could do is to show where the roads are as a series of lines on a map: in itself is very useful.  If we flip this on its head and ask if we built a system that dealt efficiently with (data and function) workflows associated with roads maintenance, we will have smarter geospatial software that can improve efficiency by automating existing manual workflows. It also allows the ability to spatially analyze trends in roads repairs, including:

  • The ability to record where defects are spot clustering and repetitive incidents.
  • The ability to record performance data of which zones repaired roads defects most efficiently (then spread best practice between workforce teams).
  • The ability to decide on more cost-effective measures – resurface a stretch of road rather than repair potholes twice a month.
  • The ability to record a citizen complaint against on a map and then communicate where the inspection or works order should take place to the workforce. Such data can also be published onto a website using Internet mapping software, increasing transparency and accountability.
  • The ability to issue a works order to the nearest workforce team using mobile technology.
  • The ability to provide a citizen portal to report defects, thus providing public services 24/7/365.

To analyze another example, let’s assume a person moves to a new area with his family. He wishes to know where nearest facilities are, what services are provided to his home from which organizations and how the services will be charged. To access state provided government services and municipality provided government services, citizens mainly access the Internet. GIS on the Internet is linked to core government service data but structured with a citizen user interface that works how citizens think: I live at this address, please find my nearest “everything” and then I can click on what I want to and get some extra information about each service.

Crowdsourcing in GIS capabilities can be a huge plus. The revolution is already happening with Google Mapmarker, with users giving their data inputs in mapping. This example calls for smarter geospatial that connects live with multiple departmental systems and their data, offering a “live-linked” web page (portal) for citizens to interact.  Such systems have the potential to create a new wave of transparent and accountable government:

  • Citizen services available to citizens 24/7/365 –The ability for Citizens to complain, request a service, submit an RFI at any time.
  • A “tell me once” government portal (“tell me once” that you have a new child, you move house, you marry, you pass your driving test in State A, B or C etc.)
  • The ability to share non-sensitive data with partner service organizations and focus on improved citizen experiences

Smarter Geospatial could be defined as “new software that responds to business needs where the solutions are improved in part by maps, data and workflow.” In the context of the Government in India, we might add that such software should also provide politically appropriate, and therefore sustainable improvements to the lives of citizens.

By making geospatial smarter in India, we can introduce solutions to problems and avoid GIS becoming a solution looking for a problem.

Dominic McNeillis is Solutions Marketing Manager, Public Sector, EMEA and India, Pitney Bowes Software


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