We make GIS acceptable by increasing usability

We make GIS acceptable by increasing usability


As a group, we provide a wide range of geospatial services, mostly to public sector organisations. We have done a work in land information systems for municipal/local governments. Willy Govendern
Willy Govender
Group CEO, Data World

Tell us about Data World’s products and services
As a group, we provide a wide range of geospatial services, mostly to public sector organisations. We have done a work in land information systems for municipal/local governments. We work around property tax valuation and appraisal system, from the ground to building to land registry, integrating it into some of our products. We have lot of domain expertise in South Africa where we have worked with many premier organisations. A lot of times we find that customers have lot of spatial data but they do not know how to utilise it in their organisation. We try to integrate their business data, attribute data with spatial data and present it in a fashion they can use it. We build tools and have search engine type of facilities for bespoke services. We used ESRI platform in the past for this purpose but now we are building Buffalo, an open source platform. One of the areas that we have been trying to focus is human technology because we believe the future of computing is based on human technologies and writing technologies. Leopard is a tool people use to design the digital paper products, utilise digital pen capabilities and process that information and integrate it with back end system. Simply put, it is the tool that allows you to write and as you write gets converted into digital form and you can recall what you have written. This is mobile based and uses GSM, GPRS or WAP networks to transfer data back, converts it to a copy of the document you have completed as well as a text document (html file) which people can download into their databases. This can be used for multiple purposes. In our case, we are using it in the darkest parts of Africa where there is no electricity, no computers. This is being used for disease control and disease monitoring in a UN based project for FAO. We have cut down the information collection at the national offices from three months to three minutes. Its biggest benefit is that one can date stamp, put the location and if you are using the location technology in conjunction with that, we can take the GPS coordinates directly from the field where you collect the information. Document transfer and document management get very easy with Leopard.

Most of the Data World’s clients are of public sector organisations. Do you find any specific challenges to convince and sell this technology to government organisations?
If you look at our biggest projects in South Africa, we are successful largely because of our ability to think out of the box and make things work quickly and efficiently. In South Africa, technology adoption is high. This is purely because the demand for services is first world but the supply in terms of skills is third world so the gap is bridged by technology. Technology is very empowering and enabling agent here. Government is looking for technology solutions because they don’t have people.

Being a strong South African company, can you tell us what brought you to India?
We have been doing business with lot of Indian companies for the past six years. We have been participating in South African Indian CEOs forum, and we get to see lot of Indian companies investing in South Africa and those from South African countries coming to India looking for joint venture operations. We wanted to do something different. We had the capability and the skill and that’s how we set our feet in our first office in Gurgaon. The fruits of that experience has made us expand. As the group is expanding, we want to make India our hub for expanding into Asia and Middle East.

What is your perception about Indian geospatial market?
A: I think it is large and focussed, more as a BPO in the past and has never been inward looking. The only company that I know as a business organisation that has done any thing innovative around the business is Reliance. From this perspective, there is still a lot of opportunity. There is lot of information that we need to collect to data manage anything and it’s not about information system. It’s about data. We look at India in two aspects. One is to service. Secondly and more importantly, we look at penetrating into Indian market in the niche areas, in domains we are already in. The developmental challenges in India and South Africa are pretty similar. On that count, we have lot of experience.

You have said that India has been a sort of BPO to world geospatial market. But it is strong in that. What is the USP of Data World that can enable it stand to its contenders?
Indian market is price sensitive. The two barriers that prevent the uptake of any technology are cost and technology. We are trying to bridge both these barriers with our products. Buffalo is built on open source technology. With this, we have overcome the licensing barrier. We built a platform around open source which is as easy and simple as any other proprietary GIS solution and at the same time more affordable. This removed the price barrier. Our aim is to increase the overall GIS acceptability by increasing usability. We can deliver solutions to larger masses without the need of much technical knowledge. GIS is viewed as a decision making tool but most people use it as a map making tool. We want to enable people to start making decisions, especially in the developing world, where the need is most.