— Agendra Kumar, President, ESRI India
Esri India is the country’s leading Geographic Information System (GIS) software and solutions provider. Established in 1996, as a joint venture between Esri Inc., USA, and NIIT Technologies, India, the Gurgaon-based enterprise offers its cutting-edge ArcGIS technology to customers in India. Agendra Kumar, in an email interaction with Prashant C. Trikannad, discusses the increasing relevance of GIS technology in key areas like infrastructure development and disaster management.
Can you briefly explain Geographic Information System (GIS) technology? What are the various software and solutions under its portfolio?
Making decisions based on geography is basic to human thinking. By understanding geography and people’s relationship to location, we can make informed decisions. A geographic information system (GIS) is a technological tool for comprehending geography and making intelligent decisions.
GIS organises geographic data so that a person reading a map can select data necessary for a specific project or task. With an ability to combine a variety of datasets in an infinite number of ways, GIS is a useful tool for nearly every field of knowledge. A good GIS program is able to process geographic data from a variety of sources and integrate it into a map project.
Esri ArcGIS is a platform for sharing geospatial intelligence. It provides open geospatial capabilities to any user and allows access to an application on any device anywhere, anytime. This facilitates sharing, and use of geospatial content, maps, and data within groups and across divisions of an organisation, as well as between organisations and the public. It is already creating an ecosystem and community of GIS users who are leveraging each other’s resources and knowledge. ArcGIS also includes a large library of applications and templates that are used to access and apply this content in multiple settings, including mobile, tablet, and desktop environments.
Can you elaborate on ArcGIS?
The ArcGIS platform is designed to support three different user communities:
ArcGIS for organisations: Professionals can use the platform for mapping, geographic analysis, and data management and sharing. The new ArcGIS Online framework enables organisations to easily share their information in a common environment while respecting the emerging policies and interests of providing open data. This technology has been carefully designed to integrate with traditional GIS workflows, as well as non-GIS geospatial systems. This includes users who wish to enable geospatial access across organisations with common platform technology, sharing services, content, applications, and related knowhow. Over the last two decades, geospatial professionals have expressed this vision as a spatial data infrastructure (SDI). The ArcGIS platform allows the SDI vision to come alive with modern cloud/web architecture and, at the same time, integrate and respect the policy initiatives of governments around the world.
ArcGIS for developers: Developers can use the platform to leverage its content and services to make their own applications and services that embed or interact with the core ArcGIS platform capabilities. Developers can extend the system into new areas and provide new focused workflows and tools for GIS and non-GIS users. We believe that enabling developers on the ArcGIS platform will be important to all our users.
ArcGIS for location analytics: Businesses and IT organisations can use the platform to integrate mapping and geospatial analysis into business systems (e.g. BI, ERP, CRM). We call this ArcGIS for Location Analytics. Esri has solutions with direct integration of the ArcGIS platform with a number of business systems. These include Microsoft Office, SharePoint and business intelligence solutions through IBM Cognos, MicroStrategy, and SAP. This integration is transforming the applications of GIS into other dimensions of IT within organisations. This technology pattern not only allows anyone in an organisation to easily make maps with their business data but also supports the integration of traditional business data with the other types of GIS information traditionally housed within GIS organisations.
What role can this technology play in infrastructure development in India?
India is likely to invest $1 trillion on infrastructure in the 12th Five-Year Plan. GIS is and will be one of the enabling technologies for infrastructure projects. Several state and central government departments have successfully deployed GIS across domains like water resource management, urban planning, municipal administration etc. GIS and specifically Esri technology plays a major role in helping the infrastructure developers plan and manage the projects more efficiently and effectively.
Modern infrastructure projects are very complex, span over multiple years, and require very careful planning and execution. Very often this means access to large amounts of data in real time and very effective information management. It is proven that close to 40 per cent of engineering time in major engineering projects is spent on locating and validating information. It is also proven that poor communication between systems wastes up to 30 per cent of the project costs.
Effective data and communication management is, thus, very important for not only saving on the direct costs of the projects but also in ensuring statutory compliances (e.g. environmental), timely completion and avoiding associated penalties and levies. The engineering information systems benefit a lot by using GIS, and today, many major global projects leverage GIS over the whole lifecycle — planning, survey, construction, operations and maintenance. The studies also show that the ROI in terms of savings on project costs can be up to 7 to 10 per cent, which is substantial, considering the scale and the total investments involved.
In India, most of the mega projects such as like PMGSY, highway development, R-APDRP, and JnNURM are already using GIS extensively.
Can you provide some examples of GIS-based projects?
Recently, the Indian government announced its plan to set up 100 smart cities across the country. A centralised information system based on GIS provides an IT framework which integrates every aspect of a smart city – starting from conceptualisation, planning, and development to maintenance. City planners can use GIS technology to create digital cities that actually exist, or will be developed – essentially allowing them to visualise the future.
Smart 3D solutions such as Esri CityEngine can produce a ‘real life’ depiction of how a city would look before and after urban developments, such as light rail infrastructure or higher residential buildings. The technology can also show the impacts of these developments on a range of areas including carbon footprints and water usage. Numerous scenarios can be modelled to see what would happen if certain development paths were taken or not taken, which helps to refine decision-making and choose the most successful path forward.
Utilities, for example, can use GIS to manage and map the location of millions of miles of overhead and underground circuits. Within GIS, utility’s assets can be linked directly to customer information system, allowing proactive monitoring of work orders and outages. GIS also enables utilities to identify vulnerabilities that cause outages, weigh asset investments and better manage customer satisfaction.
For city management and operations, GIS can provide multiple operational views to meet the needs of the people responsible for delivery of various services.
Where in India is GIS widely used? Which are some of the dominant sectors?
The use of GIS in India spans across government, private sector and academia. Departments such as land management, infrastructure, disaster management, telecommunications, urban and municipal bodies, transportation, utilities, defence and natural resources have been using GIS for many years.
GIS is being used for monitoring environmental change, a great challenge to our world today. Sea levels are rising, habitats are changing, and all these things are being mapped and analysed using GIS. It is helping us in measuring change dynamically, as we are able to wire up change with sensor networks in addition to making maps for it.
Organisations are using GIS to discover energy potential of various energy technologies, especially renewables such as geothermal, solar and wind. It is also being used for conservation and land use planning, redevelopment planning and managing land cadastre. It is being used for the management of land records, details of ownership and collection of property tax. It is also being used to design transportation systems and manage them, which not only means just managing roads, railways and air traffic, but also understanding the interaction between these different modes of transportation. Organisations are using technology to manage utilities such as telecommunication and power.
GIS has become an enabling technology for several mission critical projects like R-APDRP, NLRMP among others. Location analytics, which adds the location, a new-dimension to business intelligence, is emerging as an important component of the corporate decision support systems (DSS) which will open up use of GIS in many new industries and applications.
Can you site one or two recent instances where GIS has been used in our country?
GIS is becoming pervasive and is finding applications across a wide range of applications. Two very recent examples of GIS usage in our country are in the areas of disaster management. GIS is an ideal platform to be used for disaster management and emergency planning e.g. with the recent examples being Hud-hud cyclone.
Another example is GIFT city which is first-of-its-kind technology based urban development. In GIFT city, spatial and other information related to urban planning, infrastructure planning, transport planning, architecture and engineering, has been integrated into a single GIS system. The GIS system gives a holistic view of the upcoming GIFT City as a Smart City. In GIFT city, GIS is used in benchmarking of master plan, 3D visualisation for urban skyline, geometric network of power utility and landscape management. Also, CCTV live feed to the GIS software helps in security surveillance by providing a secure work place to our various stakeholders.
How exactly is the technology beneficial in disaster management?
Disaster management encompasses a wide range of activities. Government at all levels (central, state and local) has primary responsibility for disaster management. There are multiple agencies that are regularly involved in monitoring, planning, executing and managing the activities related to disaster management.
Technology can really be an enabler in building a common operating picture for all stakeholders to increase the preparedness and effective decision making. Most emergencies do not allow time to gather resources. Personnel often need detailed information concerning evacuation routes, building layouts, electrical and water distribution systems and so forth. During an emergency situation, it is critical to have the right data, at the right time, displayed logically, to respond and take appropriate action. GIS provides a mechanism to centralise and visually display critical information during an emergency. Most of the data requirements for emergency management are of a spatial nature and can be located on a map.
By utilising a GIS, all departments can share information through databases on computer-generated maps in one location.
What is the extent of the Indian government’s involvement in GIS technology?
Geospatial industry of India has come a long way in the last couple of decades. Initially the focus was on building spatial data sets and several projects were launched by national mapping agencies to digitise available paper maps. Around the same time various GIS-based projects were launched by various government departments e.g. NRIS, Zoning Atlas for Industrial Siting etc. Research institutes carried out pilot projects to demonstrate applicability of GIS in different domains like natural resource conservation and management, environment protection and watershed modelling etc. Indian Remote Sensing program gave a fillip to the deployment of GIS by making available high resolution satellite imageries as an input to the mapping projects. Several universities have set up GIS labs and introduced courses to create a pool of high calibre GIS and remote sensing professionals.
The recent announcement of the ‘Digital India’ initiative by the government is an important step in reforming the governance through the use of information technology with an aim to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. Digital India program, which spans across ministries and departments, will enable electronic delivery of services to the citizens and will become the platform for the engagement between the government and the citizens.
GIS is a key component of governance and service delivery. GIS will play an important role in the rollout of the Digital India vision. Various ministries and departments are being encouraged to use Geospatial or GIS technology in their programs for planning, implementation and monitoring of the execution.
Programs such as National GIS will enable the central and state governments to take a holistic view of the issues and help them in planning and monitoring of implementation. It will enable the government to deploy this technology to form the basis of all future planning and monitoring activities. National GIS will be the platform for implementation of various government programs and monitoring of the flow of the benefits to the targeted recipients.
What kind of costs can companies expect while adopting GIS systems?
Key components for adopting any GIS system are imagery/basemaps, data and technology to ingest that data, perform analytics and decision making i.e. GIS. These components can be procured separately for e.g. in India imagery is available through NRSC and data from various data providers. It is very hard to project specific investment required in building GIS systems. The costs will vary depending upon the area covered, data needs, number of users, applications etc. Cloud based solutions such as Esri’s ArcGIS Online can help in reducing the investments very significantly. Esri’s ArcGIS platform integrates all the components together via a single window interface.
What is the growth forecast for the GIS market in India? What is India’s market share vis-à-vis the global market, particularly USA?
As per ARC Advisory research report 2011, Esri has 40 per cent + market share globally for GIS software. Esri India’s market share is even higher in India.
Can you tell us something about ESRI India, its formation, and what it does in the GIS sector?
Esri India is a joint venture between Esri Inc., USA, and NIIT Technologies Ltd established in 1996. Its extensive customer base spans government, private sector and academia covering various industry verticals such as land management, utilities, infrastructure, disaster management, telecommunications, urban and municipal, transportation, defence and natural resources and many more. Worldwide, Esri software is used in more than 350,000 organisations including two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies, and more than 7,000 colleges and universities. Esri applications are currently running on more than one million desktops and thousands of web and enterprise servers, providing the backbone for the world’s mapping and spatial analysis need.
Esri India brings the cutting-edge ArcGIS technology to its customers in India. Esri ArcGIS is a complete platform for designing and managing solutions through the application of geographic knowledge. Esri helps to build and manage great information products by providing the ultimate platform for geospatial integration and application. Esri is the only vendor that provides complete technical solutions for desktop, mobile, server, and Internet platforms. In addition, we also offer specific complementing solutions built on ArcGIS to our customers in India. These include ArcFM, Network Engineer, CellularExpert and ENVI for image processing.