Build an ecosystem of innovation

Build an ecosystem of innovation

BVR Mohan Reddy, CMD, Infotech Enterprises
BVR Mohan Reddy
Infotech Enterprises

What do you envision for geospatial in the future? What role will Infotech Enterprises play in achieving this vision?
I believe there is an enormous amount of opportunity for the GIS industry. With more development happening around the world, the number of applications and demand for data is increasing. At one point of time, we were concerned that after converting paper-based information to digital maps, there would be nothing else to do. But we were pleasantly surprised that our concerns are not valid. We seem to be not just creating the data, but the amount of work going in improving the accuracy of data, in updating the databases is enormous. Today, we see quite an amount of verticalisation. For example, a sewage water company has its own land, and has expertise in waste management, pipe lines etc. The sewer company has its own database, which it can actually use in telecommunications or power, if it chooses to get into them. The facilities are different but database remains the same. Points of interest and end users too would be the same. This is true in many industries across the world. In the early stages of development, you will find systems which are disparate and discreet as opposed to one integrated system. Integration definitely creates more opportunities and associated challenges, because from handling small databases, there would be an interesting need to handle large databases. The number of users increases. There is a challenge with the databases themselves as they would be vertically integrated and their sizes increased. Technologically too, there would be challenges in terms of parallel processing, cloud computing , paper usage, type of applications. There is an enormous amount of evolution happening at this point of time.

I look at global market as three different subsets. One subset is the traditional market or the market which is governed by the governments, including municipalities, States and for example, the Indian government. Governments are keen on applications like parcel mapping, land digitisation and much more. They want to map crop patterns so that they could plan exports/imports ahead of time. Agriculture has become a new area of focus and concentration. Equally important is the area of defence systems. Countries now recognise GIS as a critical element for their defence systems. But the third and recent phenomenon which has become an important issue is national security, where again GIS plays an important role. India is a unique country with a long coastline to guard, dense forests harbouring naxalites, high range mountains with threat from neighbouring countries. Internal security is very critical.

The second subset of application is largely driven by regulators. There is no denying that where ever asset management and profitability are key drivers, there is a regulator who plays an important role. Applications like power, water, sewer, telecom and cable television – all of them have one common attribute that they are all networked. These require more planning and work for customer satisfaction, whose level increases by the day making the world more competitive.

The third part of the opportunity is what I call commercial GIS. If you look at each one of the three things I have talked about, the sequence is a reflection of growth opportunity in each one of them. The government sector is growing downwards, the regulatory stuff is growing but not at a steady pace, and we see an enormous amount of growth in commercial GIS. Commercial GIS is related with location based services, where there is enormous innovation happening. And there are exciting applications with players like Google and Microsoft driving the market with innovation. This is a growth market and we are upbeat about this. In spite of the downturn we are rock steady, the reason being that people/companies look for efficiency when money is tight and it sure is the place for GIS technology to be.

My vision cannot be different from the industry perspective at this point of time. It should probably move faster than what it is moving now. It is gratifying to see that some countries have moved faster, identified immediate areas of development, while in some countries the pace is much slower. There is a need for us to create a level of awareness to ensure that the industry paces faster.

What role do you see for Infotech to realise this vision?
Infotech plays an important role in several areas. We are involved in creating accurate information. We have as many as 3,500 digitisers, who are tirelessly creating quality data for our customers around the world. We also have a team of 500 software engineers who are involved in creating application environment. For example, North Delhi Power Limited (NDPL) is using GIS as a back bone for better asset utilisation, better customer satisfaction, customer management systems and ERP. There are many databases which need to be integrated. Infotech did enterprise integration for them. We are running a major application environment with Bharti Airtel, called Unified GIS, where all applications get together into one environment. We are contributing our part by developing applications for our customers.

We are a service providing company, not a product company. So, innovation is very important. To me, innovation comes in two forms. One comes through process innovation and second comes through product innovation. To achieve process innovation, we do a sizeable amount of work primarily to make sure that whatever product, as in digital databases and software that we produce for our customers is more accurate and doesn’t have any policy challenges associated with it.

What do you expect from the stakeholder community – be it government, users or research and academia?
The key thing for any innovation to happen is, that you need to have is an ecosystem. Innovation does n’t happen in isolation anywhere in the world, the environment that you create is very important. The essential ingredients of one such ecosystem are – primarily, our education system has to get briefed to suit the GIS industry. The quality of education is low and does not meet industry requirement.

The second step there after is, if innovation has to be achieved, more research has to happen. There should be a number of initiatives and motivators that have to come for research repertoire. On behalf of NASSCOM, we are working with the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, to find ways to produce more PhDs in the country. And one of the key findings is that people are not motivated to take up research primarily because they get paltry amount as stipend. So, we now have a scheme by which we subsidise the stipend. Students wanting to go abroad to study geospatial, geo-engineering or software will get subsidies. We are promoting the research part of it. There is another critical parameter with which we are knocking the door of the government. In any part of the world, it is always cheaper, easier and faster to grow in a domestic market before going international.

But as far as IT and GIS industries are concerned, we see a reversal of role in India. If this industry has to prosper, we need to have hands-on experience in domestic market and the government has to play an important role in giving a boost to the ecosystem. I am not absolving the industry from its responsibility. Industry-academia interaction has to increase.

Any plans for Infotech to expand into the product space?
No, we are not doing anything major in that area. In some instances, some of the projects we do for our customers can transform and translate into products. I may be wrong but I believe that services business is different from that of products. Services require a completely different mindset and products a completely different one. We are good in providing services and the basic paradigm we have learnt in business is doing what we are good at.

What in your view is the role of media and publications like GIS Development?
The level of awareness I was speaking about earlier has to be brought about by the media. That’s the role I would like you to keep playing. Produce articles that can increase the level of awareness and make geospatial mainstream. GIS is here to stay and is the integral part of industry, academia and the government.