Interview: Anal Ghosh, Senior Program Manager at Google India
“Access to reliable and updated Geospatial information can bring benefits to a host of businesses. When consumers have better visibility into the services around them, they are better able to make decisions on when and where to access them.” – Anal Ghosh
This interview was originally published in AGI’s Mar-Apr 2022 Newsletter Special Edition on the theme of Location-Based Services. To download the full newsletter, click here.
Q1: The digital economy is now at the forefront, eCommerce being one of its most prominent drivers. And yet, challenges around last-mile delivery and fleet performance exist, including increasing demands, driver shortages, poor address data, steep fuel prices, and so on. How can Geospatial analytics provide a respite and remedy?
Access to Geospatial analytics is a powerful way for businesses to leverage real-world insights to boost success, especially when an increasing number of products and services rely on the delivery of real-world goods. When consumers have better visibility into the services around them, they are better able to make decisions on when and where to access them. This in turn enables businesses to estimate location-specific demand, optimize delivery times, and plan for more efficient logistics.
Google Maps Platform helps solve one of the most challenging aspects of segments like ridesharing and deliveries — from figuring out how to guide a car to an office location, or a cargo vehicle to a building’s doorstep. Google Maps Platform enables businesses to create better experiences and improve operations with rich, detailed geospatial data, helpful mapping tools, and industry-leading reliability. It delivers features such as Map Tiles, Address Geocoding, Traffic Layer, and Driving and Walking directions, delivering a powerful and scalable way for businesses to implement last-mile delivery solutions that can reach their customers across the country.
The challenges around last-mile delivery are exacerbated in India with millions of households lacking addresses that can be precisely geocoded. Plus Codes – the free, open-sourced, digital addresses for any place on Earth – is a solution for consumers and businesses to use accurate addresses for their locations. This can help e-commerce, logistics, and delivery companies better meet the growing needs of today’s consumers and reach them at locations that were not addressed properly.
Q2: One of the major lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic for organizations in the public and private sectors is that a resilient economy depends on building sustainable supply chains. With the Google Earth Engine now having become commercially available, what role could Geospatial data play in shaping this vision?
Access to reliable and updated Geospatial information can benefit a host of businesses across the ecosystem, including logistics, food and medicine delivery, transportation, and more.
Google Earth Engine, in particular, has a long history of enabling sustainability impact by providing academics, scientists, NGOs and govt partners access to the world’s largest archive of open Earth satellite data, a computational platform to analyze and visualize geospatial data. Commercial partners also get access to a collaborative ecosystem of tens of thousands of monthly active users and the collective knowledge of research and science in climate research, natural resources protection and building sustainable supply chains using geospatial data.
For 10 years, Google Earth Engine has been a free offering and it will continue to have a free offering for research and non-profit use cases. With the commercial availability, access is not just limited to non-profits but opened up to more organizations in the public sector and businesses who can use insights from Earth Engine to commit to knowing where their raw material is sourced from, invest in deforestation-free lending, prepare for recovery from weather-related events and reducing operational water use.
Our work with Unilever to help them achieve a deforestation-free supply chain for their palm oil is a great example of the potential impact for businesses in India.
Q3: Floods are a serious risk for hundreds of millions of people in India today, especially during the monsoon season, leading to extensive loss of life and property. In fact, floods are among the leading causes of death due to natural disasters in the country. What has been Google’s Flood Forecasting Initiative’s impact so far in transforming this scenario for good, with advanced technologies such as Geospatial and AI at hand?
Since 2018, the Google Flood Forecasting Initiative has been working with governments to develop systems that predict when and where flooding will occur—and keep people safe and informed.
In the first three years, we started our pilot in Patna, Bihar, and quickly expanded our program to cover much of India and Bangladesh, working in partnership with the Indian Central Water Commission and with the Bangladesh Water Development Board. This initial outreach covered an area with about 220 million people, and we sent out 40 million potentially life-saving alerts. Then in 2021, our operational systems were further expanded to cover an area spanning over 360 million people. Thanks to better flood prediction technology, we sent out over 115 million alerts — that’s about triple the amount we previously sent out.
Using crisis alerts, we are also able to give people information about the actual flood depth: when and how much flood waters are likely to rise. And in areas where we can produce depth maps throughout the floodplain, we also share information about the depth in the user’s village or area. These alerts show up on Google Maps, on Search, and even on the Android lock screen, in various formats so that people can both read their alerts and see them presented visually so it is earlier to understand. These are already available in Hindi, Bengali, and seven other local languages.
To enable this critical information to reach affected users more reliably, we also partner with on-ground NGOs such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to create local networks that can help deliver disaster alert information to people who wouldn’t otherwise receive smartphone alerts directly.
As we continue to evolve our AI and machine learning approaches, we will continue developing, maintaining, and improving technologies and digital tools to help protect communities and save lives.
Q4: Google Maps was a key enabler for the success of the Swachh Bharat Mission, with around 60,000 public toilets being listed across 2,300 cities in the country on the platform. Its integration with Google My Business for delivering powerful location-based analytics to enterprise owners, and the special “eco-friendly driving” feature to help drivers make more sustainable route choices have also created quite the buzz. What more can we expect from the platform in the near future?
Thanks for highlighting some of the key milestones in Google Maps’ journey – it’s truly been a privilege to be such a trusted companion for users as they explored and navigated their world, and for businesses, as they grew their digital footprints.
At Google, we are continually looking for ways to add value in India — for our users, local businesses, for our partners across industries, and local authorities. We want to push the boundaries of people’s perceptions of what a map can do for them, of the types of questions we can answer about their world, and the tasks we can help with.
In the future, you can expect innovation and investments across three broad categories:
First, ensuring Google Maps is fresh and updated as the world around us keeps changing, and building next-gen immersive experiences for users across the spectrum.
Second, partnering closely with local government authorities and entities in expanding the scope of geospatial service and unlocking opportunities across multiple sectors.
And finally, contributing to the geospatial ecosystem in the country through open datasets, developer tools and sustainability initiatives.