After smart passes and smart lighting, smart video analytics is going to be the next big thing to understand the movement of people in the city. The cloud is going to play a huge role because video analytics will require a lot of computing for processing and rendering the data generated, says Piyush Somani, Chairman & Managing Director and CEO, ESDS Software Solution Pvt. Ltd
What is remarkable about your firm is that it is not based in Bengaluru or Gurugram, but Nashik. So, did you launch ESDS a decade ago with the foresight that technology solutions provider like you would one day be location agnostic?
We launched our outsourcing hosting support business in the UK nearly 16 years ago. When it was successful, we launched two more offices in the UK and one in the US. They also did well. Especially in the UK, we witnessed 150 per cent growth in 2006-09. But after launching here in 2010 we realised that you needed to have an office and data centre in a metro city as without that large Indian enterprises wouldn't do business with you! We launched a data centre in Mumbai in 2016 and are currently in the process of starting another one in Bengaluru. Compared to the west, the mindset here was very different. Here, clients wanted to come over for meetings, check out things for themselves and often suggest one-on-one interactions between teams at their locations. The situation is now changing and will probably also lead to a shift in people's behaviour.
Following the March 24 lockdown, what has been the impact on providers of data centre services? Also, what kind of changes do you foresee coming about?
People have finally understood that digital is the way forward. Like, even in the case of publications like yours, you would have realised its potential. With everything being consumed digitally, there will always be a machine interface in front of every person and through that, they will communicate with multiple other machines, who in turn will communicate with other humans. In the future, there are going to be at least two machines between us while communicating. Similarly, there would be a lesser workforce and more machines in factories with the deployment of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, automation and video surveillance analytics. Like, when liquor stores were opened to the public after several weeks, there was large-scale chaos at multiple locations. Videos of such incidents were widely shared over messaging services like WhatsApp. That showed the importance of conducting video surveillance and analytics so that even before visuals start trending on WhatsApp, immediate action can be taken in terms of deploying additional law enforcement personnel for crowd management.
After smart passes and smart lighting, smart video analytics is going to be the next big thing to understand the movement of people in the city. Imagine, something goes wrong in the city of Mumbai and you have 3-4 million out on the streets. At the moment, none of our cities are equipped to handle such a situation. The cloud is going to play a huge role here because video analytics will require a lot of computing for processing and rendering the data generated. A lot of other things like your utility meters will also be supported by the cloud as the data would be digitally recorded. India's largest IT project for installation of 250 million smart meters by Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL) will be going live on our cloud platform.
Another related development is the concept of work from home (WFH) that both Indian companies and their employees have discovered in a big way in the weeks following the nationwide lockdown. What growth potential do you see in that area?
Some time ago, Maharashtra Industrial Development Corp. (MIDC) allowed 150,000 industries all over Maharashtra the permission to run with only 25 per cent staff.
However, there is no restriction on the deployment of machines. That's the way forward and WFH is a reality. A lot of systems are required to be put in place to make the concept successful. There are different digital suites available and as a company, we have also given services like the virtual desktop to our staff as well as some of our customers in the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) segments. Ultimately, the human race will prevail and all things that were damaging the environment will have to either shut down or diversify to complement Mother Nature. This is nature's way of enforcing the Paris agreement and whoever rejected it earlier has been badly hurt!
The rollout of the Integrated Planning Office Automation System (iPAS) for Maharashtra's 36 District Planning Committees is your most significant initiative recently. Tell us more about the programme.
We started pushing for the implementation of this solution from 2015 onwards. It was implemented in Mumbai and Nashik in 2018. In 2019, the Maharashtra government gave the order to roll it out across all districts in the state.
Did you face any resistance before its launch and how did you go about prepping government personnel at the district level?
To be honest, the concept of iPAS was the brainchild of Pradeep Poddar who was posted in the Nashik district collectorate. He and district collector Deependra Singh Kushwah were very passionate about the project and wanted it to be done at any cost. There were lots of challenges along the way. They had to re-tender the project several times after some allegedly unsavoury elements participated in the process and quoted unrealistic amounts to win the order. But the officials believed in ESDS's ability to deliver and said that they would like us to handle the project even if that meant paying us something extra. Suddenly Mr. Kushwah got transferred to Mumbai. He called me over for a meeting and asked us to do it in Mumbai. We then reached out to Nashik's new collector and explained that it was originally conceptualised for his district. We were finally able to implement it there as well.
After the project was successful in the two districts, we were called over for a meeting with the additional chief secretary, Debashish Chakraborty, who was so impressed with our presentation that he sought the project's implementation in all the remaining 34 districts in the state. Last October, we conducted training of 200 people from among the IT staff of all district collector offices in Nashik. Thereafter, our team of 25 people went about implementing the project all over the state. Information technology department officials posted in some of the most backward districts like Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, Yavatmal and Jalna asked our officers to first implement the project in their areas. However, before that, we had to identify people in our office who would travel all over Maharashtra for on-site training and implementation. You will be surprised to learn that our own clerical and kitchen staff with no previous connection to software development volunteered for the task! And they were the ones who even travelled to Naxalite infested areas like Gadchiroli and Chandrapur to successfully implement the project.
Which other states are you looking at for iPAS?
We are currently in talks with various state governments, airport operators and a company that manages railway platforms for the implementation of iPAS. The Tamil Nadu government has asked us to expand our cloud operations in the state with a data centre. We are also looking at setting up such centres in the cities of Kolkata, Delhi and Hyderabad.
Your views on the prime minister's Rs 20 trillion stimulus for the economy.
The booster package announced by the prime minister is a much-needed move for the Indian economy. This positive development brings us one step closer to normalisation in these trying times. The role of digitalisation has increased multi-fold in the lockdown and will be crucial to the implementation of this package. As banks will play a vital role in the smooth distribution of funds, technology would help in ensuring seamless achievement of the defined objectives. The relevant software would enable the banks to endorse and ratify payments to the deserved set of people. The need for migration to digitalisation is now more than ever and we stand by the government to offer our complete support.
- MANISH PANT