“Mapping apps activate our digital infrastructure”
RMSI Pvt., an India-based geospatial technology and solutions provider. ltd. — which develops digital maps for Apple Inc. after working on such projects for Google and TomTom — designs mapping solutions through which machines can understand each other and make sense of space. CEO and Co-General Manager Anup Jindal said a good card today would make all the difference to an entity’s success. Excerpts:
How relevant are cards in the current context and what are the latest trends?
All this shared economy [companies] like Swiggy, Zomato, Uber, Ola, wouldn’t have been possible if there weren’t digital cards and if the cards weren’t supported by a digital platform that facilitates dynamic routing, the exchange of information around the cartographic interface. In the future, cards will be at the heart of any digital infrastructure.
The digital infrastructure itself, whether it’s a federal government, state government, or municipality…the card will be at the core. We see how critical the map is [for such agencies], how they manage their property taxes, rural payments, grants, and how they provide services to their citizens.
Maps are also essential for large utilities, such as gas or electric, to manage all of their operations. Thus, the card has become the enabler of digital infrastructure, which creates new business models, which also enables digital services of government agencies. The second [opportunity] is cards for machines. As we opt for more autonomy and robotics, all these machines must understand and make sense of the space, where they are, where they need to go. Thus, the cards will also evolve in the direction where [they] must be encoded in numbers, so that machines can understand them more efficiently and do their job. It is also a huge opportunity.
The third is the creation of a digital twin of this world. Computing capabilities exist and mapping is evolving to the point where we can now create a true digital twin, which has fundamental implications for how we do our work.
When you have a digital twin, I can better simulate a natural phenomenon. Take the example of earthquakes, floods and other disasters. Now we can simulate how solar, wind and clean energy can be better harnessed and we can better manage our natural resources.
Why have cards become a big differentiator for businesses?
Over the past few years, companies have been competing on cards, which has become a big differentiator. If you’re a Swiggy, Uber, or Ola, you can actually dramatically improve your bottom line and customer service if you have a good map. It’s a gap that we’re helping these big companies fill. So all these big customers are engaging with us on how to improve their cards.
Why do you constantly have to update maps? And how can a good card help improve the bottom line?
The map is now another virtual nervous system. The digital nervous system needs to have that kind of responsiveness and reach. In the past, there were paper maps where the applications were very simple. It was good when you drive and ask directions and read [the map] somewhere. In a digital world, everything happens in real time and you are part of a system. If you are an e-commerce business, the whole network is part of your system, where every component has to respond and there are feedback from every component in the system. So maps now have to be able, they have to be very digital, they have to be very responsive, they have to continuously — minute by minute — adapt to the information you get from your customers or your delivery partners.
If you only have one map and your delivery partner goes and delivers somewhere, and you don’t capture the location, you’ve missed an opportunity to update the address and location on the map in one case.
Today, the map is a form of living digital content that is constantly updated by all users who participate in that map. In the future, it will only get more involved and therefore it will become a kind of open portal. If you’re looking at the Apple Photos app, or any other such app, a common method of finding your data is to search for location. So you go to a map, then you click and you see the photos there, and then you go further and you find more and more photos for that particular place.
Thus, the card has evolved from a mere secondary or auxiliary application, to your objective, to the central element of your entire digital strategy. And thanks to the card, new business models become possible.
What was your involvement with the world majors in cartography?
We had developed maps for Tele Atlas which was later acquired and became part of TomTom [personal navigation device]. Then we helped Google with their [open web-based platform] mapping development initiatives in India. And now, more recently, we are the ones who started the development of Apple Maps in India, which is currently one of the largest map development programs in the world. Apple had been developing its own new cards and RMSI was at the heart of it.
Currently, we provide Apple Maps with all services related to map development and maintenance, and work with them for map deployment. Today, thousands of people are working on the project, and we continue to support Apple in all of its mapping programs around the world. The new Apple Maps has been [well]-received by consumers and even during times of COVID over the past few months, we have started our onsite operations in the US for Apple Maps. In California and Seattle, we now have about 150 people who have started this program. We’re also working with Facebook and Amazon to help improve their mapping apps. Since the mapping industry began to evolve in the early 90s, RMSI has been at the forefront of supporting some of the biggest programs in the world and continues to do so today.
Want to know the size of your mapping business and your global presence?
It’s a pretty big business for us and one that has grown rapidly over the past year, despite the COVID issues. We expect 30% growth this year [globally]. Next year we expect even higher growth. We are growing very rapidly not only in terms of operations in India but worldwide. We have over 5,000 people in the company. Last year, our on-site presence in the United States grew. In the UK last year we recruited 50 more people, then in India we recruited around 1,500 people during the pandemic. We are benefiting from the digitization of the global economy, there is more focus on better digital content, which in our case means better maps, which is a great opportunity and we see more of that in the future.
What are the growth opportunities?
One growth path for us is our business with large technology customers that we already have, and we see that we can do a lot more with them. We work in the field of cartography but we now also want to offer them digital outsourcing services. As a company, we understand digitization and the need for specialist services to support digitization. So we’re talking about digital services that support AI and ML, like specialized labeling, specialized annotations, markup services. Additionally, there is a need for specialized content management services, which we are beginning. This will be a major growth driver for us.
The next growth relay is driven by the evolution of cartography. We spend a lot of time studying the gaps in the maps of India. We still think the cards in India are not enough, they are not of the quality needed for a country like India. We have set up a specific group that will lead our card initiatives in India, you will find out more.
The third major growth area is sustainability where we see potential in agriculture, clean energy and disaster management, and for the three important drivers we have specific proposals.
The fourth driver is network transformation. Whether utility or telecommunications networks, they are also becoming increasingly digital and with digitalization they are creating new opportunities for growth, from data management to analytics and even solutions. software.
What projects for India are in preparation?
We do most of our business outside of India. And the areas in India that we are focusing on in the new generation of maps for India and the second is this whole idea of sustainability that we are working in on disaster risk reduction, Agri tech in the Indian market . In the coming years, we also see India as an important growth driver for our business.
What kind of talent are you hiring? What is the hiring program?
Many hirings have happened in India. Typically we hire writers or young engineers, and then we also hired a lot outside of India in markets where we were starting significant engagement with clients there. In addition, we have hired many in commercial roles, for the expansion of our business across the world. So we invest a lot in sales and marketing.
Build your expansion plan
We will be investing in the United States and Canada, as that continues to be the biggest market for us. In the UK we already have an office. We will seek to expand into continental Europe. We already have a presence in Australia and there are even more opportunities to expand local operations. Southeast Asia is of great interest to us. We want to establish our base in one of the Southeast Asian countries and the Middle East is also where we started to invest. We are looking at Saudi Arabia from where we want to target the African region, where we see huge opportunities.
What is missing from neighborhood maps in India?
In India, we are working on how to make maps available for localities that are thought to be impossible to map, because the next big opportunity in India will not be in the settlements, which we have already mapped, but these will be very dense. urban areas, where there is no map.
Imagine a situation where the delivery guy just calls someone and says, “You come outside and you join me and I’ll give you your package because I can’t get in, I don’t know where your address is.” It is therefore these kinds of problems that we have started to tackle through our specific initiatives.