"Industry-government dialogue should increase"

Bharti Sinha, executive director, association of geospatial industries (AGI)

ridhima

Ridhima Kumar | July 30, 2015




Founded in 2009, the AGI aims to address the concerns and interests of the Indian geospatial industry. In conversation with Ridhima Kumar, AGI’s executive director Bharti Sinha talks about the changing attitudes of the government towards the industry and its willingness to encourage the use of geospatial technology in India.

As the voice of the industry, how does AGI aim to propel the growth of Indian geospatial industry?

Geospatial technology integrates spatial and non-spatial data, enabling location to be embedded into applications it hosts. This provides users a very personal experience. Let’s take an example of transportation which is about movement of people or things between locations, with many places in between. And it serves businesses, people, organisations and governments, making the location very important. Though many may not understand how this could be relevant to them, the wish to embed a locational aspect into our day-to-day lives is growing.

This is where AGI plays a role. We bring together all stakeholders – from industry and users – on one common forum, enabling an environment where they may explore and define the big picture as well as the strategy to interconnect these.


Has AGI succeeded in bridging the industry-government gap?


Success is relative. The companies that came together to found AGI had a shared vision. They were large players with foresight and rich global experience. They brought in a rich repository of knowledge, which AGI shared with the government. Similarly, the government was also going through its own evolutionary process, coming up with policies as well as increasing interaction with the industry. AGI has been largely successful in engaging with the government, thought leaders and policy formulators. This has prompted SMEs and small companies to join AGI.

We share best practices and suggested frameworks, which help in setting common expectations, keeping in mind both programmes and their interoperability and integration with other systems. These efforts at the government and industry levels are bringing in convergence.


How does AGI ensure this convergence?

Take a look at the Smart Cities Mission. The government approached Nasscom to prepare a document on integrated ICT and geospatial technologies, which in turn requested AGI to prepare the section on how geospatial technologies can be used in smart cities. They also invited Accenture to create the overall ICT framework which would apply to all geospatial and IT applications. Additionally, Orkash and Nasscom had a report on Safe City Architecture.

By working in tandem, we came up with a comprehensive report which integrates every aspect of smart cities – across users, applications, platforms, technologies and communications across the entire workflow, right from data creation and acquisition to processing and dissemination. It also covers the current and continued usage, maintenance and support for sustainability.

While our members bring in expertise of different areas, AGI helps create a fabric in which every technology and solution finds its relevance. Also, companies are busy with the business of the day. But AGI has a long-term view which allows us to present our recommendations with a 5-10 year perspective. These initiatives help our member firms in their planning process.


Is there competition between member companies?

We are in the business of advising, not selling. AGI is technology and company agnostic. Our governing council comprises leaders of top geospatial companies who are also competitors. We have Trimble and Hexagon, Rolta and Cyient, Esri and Intergraph, all sitting next to each other. However, AGI showcases the capability and experiences of all its members in the context of the solution required. At times we do not even mention the company’s name, keeping the recommendations and best practices at a generic level relevant to the user requirement. But, we do provide opportunities to our members at user-specific seminars where they can showcase their solutions and companies. However, when it comes down to the actual product and services selling stage, AGI withdraws. We are like Caesar’s wife; we not only have to be pure, but also need to be seen as pure.


Have government policies been encouraging for the industry?

All things are time-based. What is right today may not be right tomorrow. Similarly, when policies were formulated they were done in a particular socio-economic governmental situation. Today, the scenario has changed. For instance, we need something on data integration. Today location needs to be embedded in every system. Do we have a policy for that? No, we don’t. So, maybe that is an area where we should look for a policy. The remote sensing policy exists, a data sharing policy may exist in certain states, but we do not have a comprehensive policy. But there is a lot of dialogue going on. For instance, standards and interoperability. This is something where initiatives are going on. The important thing is that the policymakers and we in the industry feel that whatever comes up now should stand for at least next 5-10 years.

One advantage which India has had is that it has been slow to adopt geospatial technology in its mainstream programmes. Now suddenly everybody is in a hurry to go ahead. We do not have to necessarily ape what is available abroad. We can create our own policy and the same could probably become something futuristic that others could draw upon.


Has AGI taken any initiative to build a conducive policy environment?

We have given our inputs. In most of the areas we have more than one company, so we take a look at each one’s input and see what best we can derive from these and then we share these with the authorities. The important thing is that everybody is echoing the same sentiments and because we have sent it to the government, it is also being taken seriously.


What are the major challenges before private companies in India?


The challenges are several – from clarity of scoping and speed of decision-making to the availability of right data or expertise and lack of integrated approach or infrastructure. Another problem is that geospatial projects, unlike IT projects, require a longer term and continued engagement between the user and the technology provider.


How has AGI transformed over the last few years?


Earlier, AGI had been focusing on the Indian market. Last year, we embarked on globalisation of our initiatives. India is no longer a cost and labour arbitrage country which has been proved by the evolution of IT and ITeS. Every large geospatial company in India is executing projects globally across the value chain but this is not generally projected. AGI is attempting to correct this perception.

Further the increasing number of programmes underway in India will create opportunities for international companies. A critical factor for them will be to partner with an Indian company which can bring in local knowledge and present a local face. This is important in geospatial since once the engagement starts you are continuously in a relationship with the buyer. These are not fit-and-forget-it situations. AGI can play a critical role in bringing these companies together to create viable partners for local implementation. These are two areas where AGI has expanded and will continue to focus on in the immediate term.


How do you rate India in usage of geospatial technology?

We are certainly on a par in terms of capability and in-house knowledge. Most developed markets have faced different and lesser challenges. India is a large and complex country and has unique issues that must be taken into consideration. Also, most of the developed countries have developed in the last few hundred years only. So there is less of legacy to carry forward. Here, for instance, even the land records are disputed, making our problems and challenges unique. We are at a stage where, if we go forward in a planned manner, we will not be playing catch-up, we will probably go much beyond the rest of the developed world.


Any message for the government?


The dialogue which started in the last couple of years between industry and the government should increase. The two should keep each other abreast of the latest developments, must consider each other’s concerns and look to devise healthy and mutually rewarding engagement models.

(The interview appears in the July 16-31, 2015 issue)

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