I see application of GIS and Geospatial technologies as the tip of a very big iceberg and it’s a little hard to know exactly all that is beneath the water line.
Ralph R. Peterson
Chairman, President and CEO, CH2M HILL
Q. Where is CH2M HILL positioned today in terms of GIS and Geospatial Technologies?
A. I see application of GIS and Geospatial technologies as the tip of a very big iceberg and it’s a little hard to know exactly all that is beneath the water line. We were involved with the GIS technology in environmental data management for groundwater and soil contamination mapping way back in 1980s using Arc Info. Thereafter, we began to accumulate applications in asset management, for maintenance aspects where we were tracking information about devices which needed maintenance and sequencing, and for conditioning surfaces and road repairs.
Presently, we do considerable amount of work for telecom, military information and civil infrastructure where we deal with critical infrastructure protection during disruption of infrastructure or in case of the military, not only asset management but also Anti-Terrorist Force Protection (ATFP) using geospatial tools.
Q. What are the GIS application projects that your company is working on?
A. We were awarded city management contracts for building new cities in Georgia in what were earlier suburban areas. We did the first one for Sandy Springs a year ago. The other two are John’s Creek and Milton. These cities represent an interesting opportunity to use geospatial tools at the very beginning of the set-up of a city management. In Sandy Springs we used GIS for asset management for parks, recreation and pothole fixing. The GIS system is also being used by the police and fire departments even though these two services are under public purview.
In India, the SEZ’s are similar to these new cities. The application of geospatial technology at the front-end of these set-ups is towards making a very efficient quasi-government unit.
During the recently held at World Economic Forum, India Summit at the session on “Power and Energy Supply for Continuation of Economic Growth in India”, one of the members of the Planning Commission of India shared that sophisticated GIS technology is the key to energy system management in India especially to track loss of electricity from the power systemthrough theft and pilferage. We are also working on some form of power utility system CH2M HILL has a GIS project with the fourth largest electric utility in the U.S, Xcel Energy, using a Smart Grid which is a geospatial data enabled system. It will eventually look into the demand side management process by having intelligent home appliances integrated with the grid through geospatial tools.
Q. As far as GIS applications are concerned, how do you compare the situation as it was in the past with that of today?
A. Over the years, GIS and geospatial tools and applications have become important in every field – power, water resources management, civil infrastructure etc. So, I noticed most profoundly that GIS is present in every piece of our business. GIS is almost like a horizontal application that cuts across all businesses and that’s the way it is structured in our operations. 10-15 years ago, each one of the business lines had their own specialist GIS group. What is happening now is that it is becoming a discipline that has to have its own organizational element that cuts across all business groups.
Q. Apart from projects in U.S, where in the world do you plan to expand city management operations?
A. Besides the largest number of projects in U.S., our biggest overseas operation is a telecom project in Ono, Spain. GIS is a growing area of activity and we want to gain a foothold in India as it is the software capital of the world. We are focused on forming alliances with people who develop and expand applications and also through acquisitions of talented people who suit our requirements.
Q. Do you have plans of business acquisitions in India?
A. We are only interested in acquiring people who want to be acquired and see a brighter future with us. But, the answer is unconditionally YES, we are interested in either alliances or acquisitions in India to help us expand our delivery to what has been almost a geometric growth in application possibilities.
Q. What are the type of companies that you are looking for future acquisitions in India?
A. Well, we are least interested in companies that are doing just back-office digitization work because we can easily source that from outside. We are interested in people that can advance the application technology and can take these tools to expand them in the software creation stage. We do higher-end application consulting and we seek to create people that can advance high-end consulting.
Q. Are your major clients government or private players?
A. At this point, he larger portion is governmental and civil infrastructure because the needs are higher there. Private sector clients include telecommunications and OSS, maintenance management systems and natural resource liability management. The proportion of clientele is two-thirds government and one-third private sector.
Q. CH2M HILL has major operations in China. So, does CH2M HILL work in partnership with the government agencies or on a contract basis?
A. CH2M Hill has been awarded a “Class A Design License” by the Chinese government. It is one of the few American companies licensed in China as a general construction contractor for both general building and public works projects. We are only one of the eleven companies in the world to have that license. We do not require a government partnership. Most of our work in China is for multi-national companies who work on ports and shipping operations. We also do some work for Chinese entities.
Q. How do governments in developing countries view entry of private players like CH2M HILL in developmental works?
A. Developing countries want to achieve efficiency in the new infrastructure that is being created. But, the challenge is how to pay for this because these services are not free. Thus, although the interest levels are high, affordability is a challenge
In the developed countries, the infrastructure has been built without the benefit of a GIS framework. So, even though the interest is high, there is not much scope of building GIS into everything from the beginning. Hence, it’s a challenge to digitize all the legacy information and data.
Q. Are there any policy issues that have created hassles for your company in developing countries?
A. Policies are country specific. In many cases, there is no policy template that prevents us from operating in developing nations. But, it is a challenge working in these countries as there are no clear and uniform policies.
Q. In the light of River Cleaning Project that your company undertook in Singapore, do you see any way to clean up the Yamuna before the 2010 Commonwealth to be held in Delhi?
A. It can be done. We are expecting to do some work on the Yamuna. Hon’ble Chief Minister of Delhi, Mrs. Sheila Dixit is extremely committed towards cleaning up the Yamuna. Public opinion too is in favour of this. It is a daunting challenge. The problem cannot be completely solved by 2010. However significant & visible strides can be made and direction can be defined.
By 2015-2020, Yamuna can actually become an asset. We do not yet have a proposal but we are hoping to do something about the treatment of sewage and industrial effluents going into the river as there is no chance that it can recover on its own course. It is going to be surely an expensive and time-consuming process.
Q. CH2M HILL has been awarded the Programme Management Award for 2012 London Olympics. How do you plan to use GIS?
A. River Leeds runs right through the Olympic site and it is one of the few areas in London where the sewage flows into the river. We have an opportunity to clean it up. The Olympic site can almost be treated like an SEZ or Sandy Spring. We’ll handle every aspect of that site for long term maintenance and asset management.
The biggest GIS application would be for construction of the site. Thousands of workers would be involved and tons of material would be going in and out of the construction site. So, it is going to be a logistics challenge. GIS would also cover the security element, water supply and transport. So, as a programme manager, our work would be to integrate every player. One of the key tools to do that would be GIS.