Interview: Agendra Kumar, Managing Director, Esri India
“GIS offers more than just visualization; it is one of the most powerful analytics tools at hand” – Agendra Kumar.
This interview was originally published in AGI’s Mar-Apr 2022 Newsletter Special Edition on the theme of India Geospatial Leadership Summit: Geospatial Technologies Supporting Economic Growth. To download the full newsletter, click here.
Q1: Esri India is a name to reckon with in the GIS industry. You have also recently completed 25 years of services to the country’s government, business, academia, and non-profit users through end-to-end GIS solutions. What are some of the major economic sectors that Esri India has been able to impact with its innovation and offerings down the line?
Esri India is proud to have completed 25 years of collaboration with various government, academia, and private organizations. Our end-to-end GIS solutions have helped solve challenges across several major economic sectors, including governance, urban development, utilities, natural resources, and workflow improvement.
Considering our country’s administrative structure, where groundwork takes place at the state level, bottom-up governance is paramount. Esri India has worked closely with several State Governments, including Rajasthan, Karnataka, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana, using GIS to solve grassroots challenges, such as uplifting education levels, boosting industrial development, optimizing water resources, and so on.
Esri India has worked with various Smart Cities and ULBs towards urban development, including Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, Gurugram Metropolitan Authority, Delhi Jal Board, and more. We helped implement GIS-based applications in these cities for tax collection, drainage and water supply, road networks, traffic and parking management, etc.
The utility sector is critical to the entire economy, where Esri India continues to play a pivotal role. Besides improving IT infrastructure for electricity management, we have worked on several gas distribution projects, using GIS for asset management across city-level networks and pipelines. Esri India is proud to have had strong relations with two of the largest private sector players in the Indian landscape – Jio and Airtel – using GIS to build new, robust applications for customer acquisition, customer satisfaction management, asset management, network management, and area mapping.
Water supply is a sector that where Geospatial technologies together with IoT have immense potential, be it for distribution of 24×7 clean water, water source availability analysis, water and pipe quality testing, water purification, leak checks, monitoring pressure to understand health of different pipeline components or more.
Apart from this, we have catered to numerous organizations in the water, forest, and land sectors for efficient natural resource management. Esri India’s robust products have been at the forefront for providing authoritative data and maps that multiple government departments can use. Our collaborations with the Survey of India (SoI), National Thematic Mapping Organization (NATMO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI), National Informatics Centre (NIC), and National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) towards fundamental mapping of the country are based on enriched and improved workflows.
Q2: Small businesses are at the heart of the economic development of India today, employing around 40% of India’s total workforce. Uncertainties around business planning is one of the major fallbacks to their growth. How can Geospatial technologies pave the way?
GIS offers more than just visualization; it is one of the most powerful business analytics tools at hand. Each organization, big or small, has lots of data that they work with. Interestingly, around 80% of this data has a location component attached to it, including data on vendors, components of the distribution network, dealers, bank branch locations, ATM locations, and so on.
Location data combined with other types of information – demographic, organizational, market, etc – can lead to more efficient business decisions and effective monitoring the impact of these decisions over a period. GIS-based workflow management can help streamline actions taken by different departments within an organization, allowing all business functions to be monitored from a single virtual platform.
Other traditional examples of small businesses benefitting from GIS include mapping and monitoring different stores/branches, supervising logistics, route planning, payments, distribution, etc. GIS is also being used by several organizations for risk management, thanks to its potential for predictive analytics.
Q3: India’s national development agenda is centered around the principle of inclusive growth for the ‘whole of society’. And yet, carrying out targeted actions to improve ease of living through universalized access to nutrition, health and education is no easy task. What role do Geospatial information and technologies play for such a vision?
Nutrition, health, and education are, undoubtedly, three of the most instrumental areas for national development, where there is tremendous scope of work and improvement in the country.
Starting with health, the importance of GIS has best been realized in the recent couple of years during the global pandemic. GIS-based space maps and dashboards are being used extensively by national, state, and local governments to understand the spread of COVID-19, determining quarantine zones, delineating red, amber, and green areas, and analysing the impact of such decisions in the short and long terms. Hospitals have started using GIS and other technologies as analytics tools to assess the distribution of health facilities and assets at the city or state level, so that they can augment their services suitably.
Nutrition and health might seem interconnected, but the former requires very specific set of data, such as family income, availability of resources, allocation of support, and so on. The government has started using Geospatial technologies to understand specific needs from region to region, and judiciously allocating subsidies and targeted interventions, that can later also be tracked using GIS. The ground level data so assimilated can also be used to draw up region-specific pictures, culminating in more informed decision-making at the higher levels of government.
Education is another key focus area for us, and we have been working with several degree-granting universities and colleges in the country towards much-needed dissemination of Geospatial-related knowledge and research. The need for qualified manpower in the field is at an all-time high, which makes it important for institutes to include at least one dedicated GIS program tied to engineering, computer, or science courses.
Q4: One of the biggest challenges to Geospatial adoption and implementation for problem-solving is the lack of well-researched, updated datasets usable for Indian geospatial applications. How is Esri India taking on this formidable challenge?
Esri India has taken on this challenge very well, with a lot of advanced work has been done over the last 18 months. We started looking at various datasets, including non-spatial data from government departments and private sector, and consolidated what we call the Living Atlas.
The Living Atlas is a global framework, the Indian counterpart of which is hosted in the country on a public cloud and managed by the Esri India team. The Living Atlas has published over 500 over the last few months, starting from accurate international, national, and district-level boundaries to constituency delineations, population data, employment and income characteristics, land use patterns, forests, natural resource deposits, disaster patterns and damage, disease spread, health facilities, transport infrastructure and assets, SDGs, and more.
Further developments are in the pipeline, such as a population projection for 25 years, starting from 2011 to 2036, mapping the entire railway network in the country for future industrial development and logistics planning, including the part under construction, and ward and municipal boundary data for better ground management at the urban local body level.
Esri India is perhaps the only organization in the entire country offering such a wide mix of data layers freely accessible to all. This huge value offering is aimed entirely at offering well-researched, up-to-date datasets usable for Indian Geospatial applications, and we look forward to forging new partnerships with various government organizations for advancing this initiative.