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How to bring out full potential of geospatial systems? First change the mindset!

Data is the new oil, but oil is a non-renewable resource, while data is ever growing. The plethora of imaging platforms from satellites to UAVs, location data from GNSS systems and in situ data from sensors are flooding the market with more and more data. As we go through our daily routine we are spraying out geotagged data on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, emails and more. We leave a trail with online and plastic purchases. In fact, we would have drowned in data but for the advances in Cloud computing, Big Data handling and analytics, AI and deep learning.

Today, these advanced technologies are transforming the geospatial landscape. Better weather prediction, tracking the effects of Climate Change, improving agriculture through better and timely information, implementation of smart cities and more meaningful engagement with the public through location based apps. As these apps are data hungry the deluge of data is being well utilised. This is what we see on the surface. But there is a darker side. There are many systems that prefer to remain hidden for privacy and security reasons. Health, legal, government and academia are some such systems, referred as the Deep Web. They are perfectly legal but open only to authorized users. Then there is the dark web of hackers and unethical users.

Coming closer home, what is the situation in India? As far as satellite data is concerned it is reasonably good though there are limitations at the sub-meter resolutions which are needed for Smart Cities, infrastructure, precision farming and crop insurance, to name a few. UAVs are in limbo pending the clearance of the UAV policy. A National Geospatial Policy is still hanging fire. Meanwhile users have to tackle 15 different regulations, many at cross purposes with each other. The recently announced Map Policy 2017 is a typical example. Even the Space Act remains in the discussion stage. Clearly there is torpor when it comes to critical areas.

Regulations and resistance to change are holding back the realization of the full potential of geospatial systems in governance. While there are pockets such as power distribution and land records where geospatial has made a mark, many other areas are still to adopt these methods. A strong push by the government resulted in 160 projects being identified nearly four years ago but their impact on the ground is yet to be felt.

Even for demographic analytics, personal data has been harvested and willy nilly exported to companies in the UK and USA for analysis, illustrating the paucity of local talent. There is scant respect shown for such data misuse. Satellite data is restricted to bonafide Indian citizens but personal data of bonafide citizens is free for all it appears.

According to a survey by Times of India, the country is expected to grab 20% of the global IoT market and 32% of the Big Data market by 2025. But the picture of readiness for modern techniques is dismal. In manufacturing import seems to be the chosen path and so, presumably, will it be in other areas, especially geospatial systems. Modern methods are likely to hit the job market very hard but the vocational training facilities in India cater to just 0.8% of the workforce as against China where the percentage is 11.5. Add to this the percentage of skilled workforce at 4.7 as against 24 in China and 96 in South Korea, which leads one to wonder at those numbers predicted for 2025.

There is however, a silver lining in the form of a group of young entrepreneurs who look upon space as a commercial opportunity. These people who form NewSpace India are setting the stage for a more forward looking and enlightened approach to the commercial utilization of space, both upstream and downstream. Their efforts will, amongst others, propel geospatial systems in India to a new level.