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BW Businessworld

Smarter India – Through Geographic Mapping

In times when data is being termed as the ‘new oil’, the underutilisation of location has been one of the major misses of recent digital transformation initiatives.

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As a country of more than 1.3 billion people, with an ambitious goal of a $5 trillion economy by 2024 and very complex economic, social and environmental challenges, India must use mapping and contextualised intelligence. Ironically, while 80 per cent of data around us has a context of geographic location, hardly 20 per cent of this gets leveraged.

In times when data is being termed as the new oil, this underutilisation of location has been one of the major misses of recent digital transformation initiatives. New mapping guidelines issued by GOI in February 2021 liberalise the use of geospatial data in the country. With the freedom to collect, generate, disseminate, publish and digitise geoinformation, the stage is set for a long-awaited emergence of contextualised intelligence.

Laying The Foundation

Globally private enterprises and governments are leveraging geo-information across their businesses to increase stakeholder value. From site identification to building information management (BIM) to operationalising and managing, GIS is playing a vital role. Harnessing geoinformation, retail chains like Walmart and Starbucks are drawing authoritative insights on consumer spend, supply-chain, and turnaround times helping them in their strategic decisions on consumer engagement, expansions, and future investments.

By integrating end-to-end operations, from sourcing raw materials to delivering the finished product to the consumer, manufacturing is leveraging geoinformation for improved transparency, efficiencies, collaboration, and cost savings.

Banks and insurance companies are using geo-information for consumer profiling, and the development of innovative financial products. UN, governments, and NGOs rely on GIS for decisions to manage natural resources and the environment sustainably and mitigate impacts of climate change and global warming to protect our future.

In India, governments and enterprises have been adopting geospatially powered smart solutions as a part of their digital transformation initiatives. MoHUA’s India Urban Observatory (IUO) for informed urban interventions, Varanasi Smart City and Visakhapatnam Smart City are recent examples where mapping and GIS have been used for improved citizen services and sustainability. Airtel and Reliance Jio for telecom network operations, asset management, workforce management, marketing, and customer service improvement; Thrissur Municipality for water distribution management, and Reliance General Insurance for crop insurance management are other examples of geoinformation being capitalized for smart governance and business operations.

Post the first wave of the pandemic, there is an increasing awareness that contextualised data and analytics offer a huge potential to help organisations and societies deal with disruptive changes and radical uncertainties in a better way.

Road Ahead

The advent of 5G and other ICT innovations are rapidly bringing faster connectivity and data exchange to the centre stage in digital transformation initiatives. With the proliferation of location information and convergence of cloud computing, intelligent devices and sensors, artificial intelligence and machine learning and big data, there is a paradigm shift in the way intelligence is being contextualised in time and space. Boosted with recent policy changes, floodgates are now open for government, businesses, and citizens alike to play a transformative role in accelerating India’s economic growth while reducing the digital divide.

Powered by multiple devices live streaming locations, physical ‘analogue’ objects can now be complemented by intelligent ‘digital twins’. Opportunities for creating ‘digital cities’ and ‘virtual terrain models’ for an immersive experience and their applications throw open new opportunities for businesses to access the metaverse in multiple ways. Once realised, metaverse will be a new way of people interacting with their environment and potentially transform every aspect of business in coming years.

Digital transformation initiatives across the spectrum are focussing on establishing linkages to exploit data and insights through interconnections and interdependencies for improving decision support. This calls for the integration of diverse data and knowledge, spatially and temporally in a unified environment. With its unique ability to integrate data about everything—and provide intuitive understanding through maps, geospatial technologies become an essential tool for organisations.

Unprecedented Answers

With faster computing available at lower costs, by processing and integrating ever-increasing volumes of geo-data from satellites, LiDAR, and other IoT sensors, along with crowdsourced data, organisations will now be able to rapidly transform data into actionable intelligence for informed decisions. Cloud-based rapid processing of UAV/Drone data with quick turnaround times will encourage wider adoption and development of new solutions.

While core sectors of government, infrastructure, agriculture, water, transportation, and utilities now have numerous opportunities to unlock the potential of geo-information, the democratisation of geo-data is redefining the way MSME, manufacturing, retail, banking, financial services, and insurance can contextualise their consumers to improve their operational efficiencies and enhance offerings. Providing a big boost to the startup ecosystem, a liberalised regime can accelerate the commoditisation of geoinformation for mass consumption. Readily available base-map repositories like the proposed national data registry by GOI, ArcGIS Living Atlas, etc along with easy-to-use mobile apps enable organizations to jumpstart their geo-enabled operations in minutes.

Geoinformation driven experiences through mobiles have been transforming the landscape rapidly. Consumer behaviour is being reshaped towards instantly gratifying personalised experiences which are creating demand for new products and services. Be it gaming or navigating, virtual terrains are here to transform future interactions.

A Map’s Worth

To protect our future, the need to address climate change challenges by businesses either as a part of their core or CSR activities is becoming increasingly important and GIS plays a key role here.

With increasing volumes of geo-information, issues around data privacy and cybersecurity will call for legislative and regulatory interventions. These will have to be proactively addressed by industry and governments.

It is not just ‘smart thinking’ and ‘smart solutions’, a smarter India will need smart spatial thinking and smart geo-enabled solutions. It is time for leaders to unlock the power of hidden geoinformation lying dormant in their organisations. If a picture is worth thousand words, then a map must be worth million?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Agendra Kumar.

Managing Director, Esri India

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