Geographic information system driving digital transformation in India

Geographic information system is playing a huge role in initiatives such as Digital India and Smart Cities Mission


Cities such as Bhopal (pictured here) use geographic information system for services like property taxation, waste management and public safety. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Cities such as Bhopal (pictured here) use geographic information system for services like property taxation, waste management and public safety. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Around the world, we see digital-first businesses disrupting long-established companies and dramatically changing how business is conducted. Governments are getting it, and they are harnessing these same tools of cloud computing, mobile devices, and configurable applications to extend services to citizens. This change is giving governments greater feedback on the impact of their policies, and it’s giving citizens a more direct involvement in how their communities evolve.

The Digital India initiative is under way with 22 projects on digital infrastructure and on-demand government services.

The Smart Cities Mission aims to transform more than 100 cities to become more citizen-friendly and sustainable. With these initiatives, India is becoming a leader in digital transformation. Its leaders are not just talking about it; they’re doing it.

It’s no coincidence that geospatial technology is a key enabler of this transformation. Geographic information system (GIS) technology helps users unlock the full potential of data to improve operational and business results. At Esri, we call this the ‘Science of Where’.

GIS has evolved and is becoming much smarter. We have engineered advanced analytics that allows users to explore interactions in space and time. We use far simpler maps to navigate daily on the road. With GIS, we create smarter maps that aggregate information and track interactions.

These capabilities are being used across all sectors of the economy, including natural resources, business, transportation, emergency response, health care, and urban planning.

In disaster management and the military, threats are being assessed, and advanced planning is helping to minimize impacts. In health care, GIS was instrumental in containing Africa’s Ebola epidemic. Health care workers are also using GIS to track child immunizations, and they are conducting research to ensure that patients receive effective treatment.

Cities such as Bhubaneswar and Bhopal have defined and are implementing the smart city vision with GIS at its heart. The key innovation has been in institutionalizing the use of GIS across the city functions and citizen services. Cities use GIS for property taxation, water distribution, smart waste management, public safety, emergency response and management, and in health and education services.

The following are some examples of what some Indian organizations are doing with GIS technology:

The Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre provides real-time weather information, forecasts, early warnings, and advisories about natural disasters in the state. The organization deployed GIS to aggregate information coming from 6,000 rain gauges and more than 750 weather stations that transmit data every 15 minutes. This solution automated a system that was largely manual, providing a new real-time visualization and alerting system. The time it takes to generate reports decreased from 20 hours to 30 minutes. The web-based system now allows public users to query and view the weather database.

The National Dairy Development Board applied GIS to dairy planning across India, bringing together all stakeholders down to the village level. It allowed for the analysis of the entire distribution network to maximize coverage and identify new locations for collection centres to improve milk quality. GIS is shared across marketing, processing, and collection departments to better coordinate operations.

Cairn India Ltd, one of the largest independent oil and gas exploration and production companies in India, has been using GIS in its exploration division since it began operations. It has since extended GIS use to its land, projects, environment, operations, and security departments. GIS has improved operations in each department and has become critical in the boardroom, where projects can be visualized and analyzed for quick and accurate decision-making.

The department of ecology, environment and remote sensing for the state of Jammu and Kashmir has deployed GIS to analyse its healthcare network. The department faced problems connecting patients to basic healthcare facilities in far-flung areas. By using GIS to model the rough terrain and travel times based on available transportation, department staff identified 237 new sites for health care centres. The additional facilities ensure that each patient can reach a centre within 60 minutes.

This improved accessibility with the GIS technology ties in nicely with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiatives Startup India and Stand-Up India, which aim to encourage entrepreneurship and spur technology development.

This technology is doing more for governments, businesses, and end users than I could ever imagine. I think it will take off and grow like the internet has.

Jack Dangermond is founder and president of Esri Inc.

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