Survey of India – A view from abroad

Survey of India – A view from abroad

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Clare Hadley
Clare Hadley
ordnance survey of great britain
Email: [email protected]

The Survey of India and Ordnance Survey were formed in 1767 and 1791 respectively as military organisations for similar strategic reasons. Whilst the discipline of military doctrine was hugely successful in the earlier years with strict processes and consistent controlled procedures creating products renowned for their detail and accuracy, the legacy of that approach has left organisations that are seen as inflexible, bureaucratic, and slow to respond, with a lack of clear focus on the evolving requirements of today’s customers. One part of the SOI response to this challenge was a Workshop held during November 11-15, 2002 at Jim Corbett Park, Uttranchal, India entitled ‘Survey of India: Towards a Contemporary Renaissance. Here are some observations.

The world is changing very fast. And the expectations of the customer change exponentially. This pace of change presents a phenomenal challenge to all those working in the GI industry. The boom in mobile and internet technologies continues to grow the importance of Geographic Information whilst customers demand better quality, consistency and accuracy of geographic data in the location based market. At the same time technological innovation is enabling us to collect, integrate, store, manage, manipulate, enhance and distribute this information more and more effectively in hand with a growing customer requirement for real time data update. So the challenge presented today to the Survey of India (SoI) is part of a global phenomenon.

In UK, Ordnance Survey has had to confront these self same issues. Indeed it is easy to identify some very strong similarities in the two organisations, and the parallel journey that they appear to be travelling. By understanding this there may be learnings for both organisations that will illuminate the path ahead, suggest strategic options, and make a resolve to succeed.

The Survey of India and Ordnance Survey were formed in 1767 and 1791 respectively as military organisations for similar strategic reasons. Whilst the discipline of military doctrine was hugely successful in the earlier years with strict processes and consistent controlled procedures creating products renowned for their detail and accuracy, the legacy of that approach has left organisations that are seen as inflexible, bureaucratic, and slow to respond, with a lack of clear focus on the evolving requirements of today’s customers. In short they are seen as difficult to do business with. Being in a monopoly position in the past may possibly have made them complacent, arrogant, and out of step with the customers changing needs, and when a worthy competitor emerges they become very vulnerable. Within these organisations there is an immense sense of history, tradition and pride, but past success and tradition begin to count for less and less. Recent surveys of Ordnances Survey’s customers have shown them to be increasingly promiscuous in their selection of business suppliers with previous customer loyalty melting away quickly. Even though the organisation itself sees history and tradition as important these same customers say that it has no importance in their decision making process when selecting a potential provider.

Governments are increasingly seeking greater effectiveness and efficiencies in the delivery of services to the citizen. This growing agenda to reform public services has provoked a shift to be more customer and output focused. This in turn has added another dimension to the requirement for change together with some changes in funding and the need to become more commercial. The initiative set by the Departments of Space and of Science and Technology with regard to a NSDI recognises the requirement for readily accessible digital spatial information and its importance in underpinning every aspect of socio-economic activity.


Ordnance Survey grasped the nettle of change by agreeing a clear vision for the business: “Ordnance Survey and its partners will be the content provider of choice for location-based information in the new information economy”. The vision then drove the creation of an e-business strategy of five strategic initiatives supported by 21 projects to deliver the required changes across the organisation. Fundamental to this was the requirement to create the environment in which the e-strategy could be successfully delivered. This meant introducing new ways of working, new technology, and tackling cultural issues.

The response of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to the challenges facing SoI has been, in turn, to challenge it to do no less than re-invent itself as a relevant and progressive organisation. As in many countries, the national mapping organisation is seen as a key player, if not a natural leader, of such an initiative. SoI clearly considers that it should take on that role, but is more than well aware that it is not currently suitably structured, or indeed meeting its existing customers’ needs. For the Survey of India the NSDI Strategy could provide that unique catalyst to change the organisation.