GIS for efficiency and transparency in infrastructure in India

GIS for efficiency and transparency in infrastructure in India

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Dominic McNeillis
Solutions Marketing Manager – Public Sector, EMEA and India
Pitney Bowes Software

GIS is proliferating throughout the world and, just as the common use of the pen heralded a new age of mankind, so the common use of digital maps may table a renaissance for the third millennium. We all seem to intuitively understand a map when addressing the question “where.”

The four key stages of infrastructure – planning, designing, building, maintaining – all happen “somewhere.” “Somewhere” is often important to citizens and consumers. “Somewhere” is critical to the service delivery organisations. A map can provide an accurate and shorthand way of describing “where” or “which one of many nearby assets,” when talking about inspections, repair work and citizen complaints. A map, added to the plan, design and build phases, allows commissioning organisations to electronically pass through accurate data to the custodians of the future.

Once built, infrastructure enters the longest phase of its life, often an assumed perpetuity: roads, rail, waterways and docks are examples of what we assume will be continuously maintained and updated. For this phase, infrastructure assets are inspected against an asset database that can also be the foundation of upgrade work in future decades. The accurate location of infrastructure provides a shorthand language that assists all the stakeholders.

Maintenance workers based at the “custodian’s” office need to analyse conditions and safety inspection data to organise and plan work remedial work. Field workers need to carry out different types of safety and condition inspections, which may require specialist equipment and/or be in a secluded place. Users should be able to comment and complain about infrastructure assets and services. Map provides the shared shorthand that gives confidence that the right asset, in the right place, is being discussed. Compare that to a non-map situation – eg in Delhi, Deshbandhu Gupta Road, forty fifth lamp column from Delhi Metro station going west on the left hand side. How confident would you be? Have any lamp columns been added lately? What if you arrive and the forty seventh is damaged?

Public money is well spent by ensuring that the location of the asset, complaint or service is associated with each action – a citizen first clicks on a map, then completes a form; an inspector receives his daily work log on a device with maps; the office staff look for spatial patterns when planning work, perhaps optimising the inspector’s daily beat using a map so that costly trips to remote areas are effective.

Modern GIS allows public sector organisations to “embed” maps into their asset management, works management and enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools or to purchase commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software with this capability. Modern GIS can also be embedded within field software and on web pages.

GIS is a “right-first-time” tool and has hidden value especially relevant in ambitious India. Citizens can feel confident if their on-line queries or complaints start with an asset located on a map. They started with the organisation’s own on-line map and its own database of assets or services. They know that inspectors receive the right data and have a map of their own in the field. They know that officers in an office making decisions will recognise their report as worthy of consideration. Should the public sector organisation be brave enough to publish on-line data about such reports, citizens will see transparency in action.

India scenario
Given the ever-increasing demand for infrastructure in developing countries such as India, companies are looking forward with the philosophy ‘advancing GIS for infrastructure’ to develop applications that use geospatial technology extensively. GIS as a technology has been gaining a lot of popularity in India, with the 12th 5-Year Plan citing implementation projects in power, agriculture, forestry, mining and ICT sector. There are model projects in India in both rural and urban development – Department of Agriculture in Punjab has been actively using GIS for agriculture while in Karnataka, Bangalore Development Authority has made it their mission to make Bangalore the “Best Indian City.”

The geospatial sector in the country has been growing with the entry of private and international companies utilising data generated from space-based platforms like remote sensing and near-earth orbiting satellites about various features of natural resources and developing GIS. Recently, Kapil Sibal, Minister for Science and Technology, Human Resources Development and IT and Telecom emphasised on the growth in the geospatial sector in India, saying that the idea is to provide 3D information to citizens. The government believes that 75-90 per cent of all information should be made available to the public.

The question is not whether Infrastructure can benefit from GIS, but can Infrastructure do without GIS…at any of its four stages?