Making Geospatial Smarter for India

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

The idea of Government organisations using GIS as a core technology is now accepted in part or   whole by many Government organisations. Will “making Geospatial smarter” help Government, what is meant by this phrase and what might it look like?

The nation is looking for increased Government efficiency in delivering services at a  sustainable pace; it is looking for increased transparency; it is looking for Government  Agencies and their Partner Organisations 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 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 for Development

GIS, as a technology, has been gaining a lot of popularity in India, with the 11th Five Year  Plan citing implementation projects in Power, Agriculture , Forestry, Mining and ICT sector.  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 and 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 – A Highways and Roads Maintenance Service is provided in India by the NHAI, State and Municipality Engineering teams and their partner organisations. Roads provide no more than transport, but represent  freedom of movement, the ability to work and therefore earn money to many and the ability  to move goods within the country and therefore spread the wealth of the nation among  citizens. They represent that chance to get to educational establishments of choice, shops that  charge us what we can afford and we are, therefore, more free to flourish. Roads are the  Arteries of the Indian nation and its citizens are demanding that, having invested in new  roads, they are maintained and improved.

Roads degrade over time with weather and vehicular use; they need to be inspected, work issued and contractors paid. The Inspection could be planned according to industry data collected over many years so that the roads are kept is a use that makes them fit for purpose.

An industry and profession has been built around the efficient maintenance of roads. In India, the overarching professional organisation is the Indian Roads Congress (IRC) which has developed standards for 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 the (data and function) workflows associated with Roads Maintenance we have smarter Geospatial software  improving efficiency by automating existing manual workflows and adding “where”, then  adding the ability to spatially analyse trends in roads repairs that are not easily seen from  columnar lists:

• The ability to record where defects are spot clustering and repetitive incidents/ defects
• 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.

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”

• 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…the list goes on and on.

A second example, directly involving citizens might be: a person moves home to a new area  with their family. They wish to know where their nearest facilities are, what services are  provided to their home from which organisations and how they will be charged. As they get  used to their area but having a household where all adults work, they can only catch up on  family issues in the evenings and at weekends. This is not uncommon. State provided  government services and Municipality provided government services are a mystery to most  citizens but they will have computers and will link to the internet.

GIS on the Internet, 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, as well as offering a “live-linked” web page (portal) for citizens to  interact. Such systems offer ambitious Politicians potential to create the 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 organisations and focus on improved Citizen experiences
• Bringing India Government Services up to its “Best of World” ambitions

Smarter Geospatial

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  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 will introduce solutions to problems and avoid GIS becoming a solution looking for a problem.