‘Geospatial companies will soon be defined by the domains they operate in’

‘Geospatial companies will soon be defined by the domains they operate in’

SHARE
Rajesh Alla, President & CEO, IIC Technologies
Rajesh Alla,
President & CEO
IIC Technologies

Having started and strengthened its operations outside India, IIC Technologies is looking inwards into the India market. Rajesh Alla, President & CEO, IIC Technologies talks about the ample opportunities available for geospatial companies when the industry becomes more domain-specific rather than activity-specific

Kindly brief us about the services provided by IIC Technologies?
IIC Technologies provides a wide range of geospatial services, from data acquisition to application development. We started primarily as a data processing and data management company and moved up the chain into application development. Subsequently, we also forayed into data acquisition. We now undertake both ground-based surveys as well as aerial surveys for mapping. Our ground-based data acquisition technologies include total stations and GPS. We also use terrestrial LiDAR. We also specialise in heritage mapping that involves preservation, conservation and reconstruction of old heritage buildings like forts and cathedrals. For this, we use close-range photogrammetry and LiDAR to do 3D texturing and modeling to recreate the old buildings. In case of events like natural calamities, these building can be reconstructed based on this mapping. Our heritage mapping service spreads across land and water.

What are your activities on the marine side?
As we know, oceans cover 70 percent of the earth. We started off our marine-based services with charting the oceans with the primary purpose of providing electronic navigational charts. It is the responsibility of each country to produce navigational charts and we work with a number of countries to produce them. Surveying is a part of producing the charts. We do marine surveys, hydrography and bathymetry. And in the process, we contribute our bit to make life safe for the mariners: it is all in support of the inter-governmental Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention.

The future of mankind is dependent on oceans. What is the strategy for IIC Technologies regarding the oceans?
Most of our work on the marine side has been outside India – with the navies and ministries of transport of the world. But now our focus is on the intersection of land and sea. And this is where the whole issue of coastal zone comes in. Coastal zone, where the water and land meet, is a very sensitive part of the earth. We are just embarking on our second survey of part of the coastal zone of the southern England as part of the UK coastal zone management programme. We have also undertaken a project with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, India – called ICZM (Integrated Coastal Zone Management), for mapping the entire coastline of India. This project has been recently completed. So now we are moving from the land to the coastline and into the water.

Are you providing maps as part of this project?
The first phase of the project involved only aerial flying and getting the stereo imagery. The second phase will be to extract features – getting the DTM, the contours which allow one to plan things like tsunami preparedness etc.

In addition, we did all the topo features, including roads and urban areas. This will help in maintaining, planning and preserving coastal zones. This has already been tendered. Given the long Indian coastline, the project has been divided into eight blocks. IIC has got three blocks. We are setting up the facilities to start work and the data should be out pretty soon.

What are the key focus areas for your business?
We have always believed that GIS is going to be part of everyday life. Just like the other disciplines such as arts, literature or commerce; geospatial science is also going to evolve into an interdisciplinary science that will have everybody involved. It will touch every person in some form or the other, even in applications we don’t traditionally see as geospatial. Right now our focus is on gathering data to managing and processing that data. The applications we are involved in are geared towards the navies. Once India opens up, we plan to strengthen our presence in land management because that has been our focus in India. Our main work in India has been on NLRMP (National Land Records Modernisation Programme). We have received an award from Gujarat’s Settlement Commissioner & Director of Land Records for our work in the state. We will continue to be focused on that.

Can you tell us about your activities outside India?
We actually started from outside India only where our activities were and continue to be based on data acquisition mapping. We have more than a dozen government ministries of the world as our customers. IIC is probably one of the first companies to be actually working on sensitive data in India using technology. Data resides in the host country, in secure servers. But we will be working from here, on their servers. So there is no compromise on the data integrity.

As IIC is expanding its activities within India and outside and as the company moves from data acquisition to services to solutions, what are your plans in terms of expanding capacities through acquisitions?
We always keep an open mind towards acquisitions. We also believe that no one company can do everything alone – one has to be able to work with other companies and other organisations to accomplish its objectives. That said, we will be looking at acquisitions where they add value and compliment us or fill in the voids that we have, or take us into domains where we do not have a presence. As we move along, in the next five years, the industry will be more and more domain specific. So there will not be a mapping company or a surveying company, rather, the companies will be defined by the verticals they operate in – an infrastructure company, power company, marine company or a defence company. And the opportunities are so huge that we think no single organisation will be able to support them all. There’s enough work for hundreds of organisations to fill in that gap.

Any plans of geographical expansion?
In the next year, we plan to open our office in Brazil. Although we have operations in Latin America, we don’t have our own office currently. We want to demonstrate our commitment to the Latin American countries by being closer to our customers. Having a local office will also facilitate production facilities or secure facilities for data that needs to be produced within the country.

One of the novel initiatives from IIC is its educational arm, IIC Academy. Even many MNCs do not do that. What is the rationale behind it?
The whole GIS sector is very disorganised. There is a dearth of educated or trained people. That is where the concept of establishing a centre for excellence came up. People go from India to other countries for training. We wanted to set up a centre where people from other parts of the world would want to come. The academy will be a centre of excellence for geospatial sciences – both marine and terrestrial.

One of our aims through the Academy is to make students industry-ready. We try to ensure that as soon as the students come out of school, they have the skills that are required by the industry and they are productive as soon as they join.

Secondly, we give certificate courses. For example, if somebody wants to have knowledge about a technology like LiDAR, or get trained in it, give them certificate courses. Third, we want to focus on research. At the Academy, we want to give students challenging projects. We want to be able to guide them, to get them excited about the whole subject.

The Academy is located in Visakhapatnam; one reason why we chose that location was to establish a marine institute. We are currently conducting a multibeam course which is a marine surveying course. It is an intensive training course – we have a boat and our equipment including echosounders and GPS. The students are taught how to integrate and commission the systems. Once the data is collected, they are taught how to process it.

What do you think is the role of an industry association like Association of Geospatial Industries (AGI) in promoting geospatial industry?
We are excited that AGI is slowly taking off. It has taken about 4-5 years but now the government has acknowledged the Association. Once it is recognised by the government, we think AGI can play an important role in forming the guidelines in recommending policies, basically for lobbying. We also hope that this will make the geospatial sector a more organised sector.