In­dian Rail­ways Next Big Sta­tion—Big Data Junc­tion!

The In­dian Rail­ways gen­er­ates ap­prox­i­mately 100 ter­abytes of data each year. This is set to in­crease even fur­ther with Google’s ini­tia­tive of of­fer­ing free WiFi across 100 rail­way sta­tions

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How’s this for thought? In the NDA’s maiden Rail­ways budget pre­sented in 2015, the word ‘tech­nol­ogy’ was men­tioned only once. There were an­other 13-14 ref­er­ences to Braille fa­cil­i­tated coaches, etc, but noth­ing more. In the light of this, the 2016 budget wasn’t pre­dicted to be any dif­fer­ent. Suresh Prabhu’s 2nd budget how­ever more than made up for the ab­sence of tech­no­log­i­cal ini­tia­tives of last year’s with about 21 spe­cific ‘tech­nol­ogy’ men­tions.

In his speech, Suresh Prabhu used terms such as an­a­lyt­ics, drones, and geospa­tial tech­nol­ogy—ter­mi­nol­ogy one doesn’t gen­er­ally as­so­ci­ate with the budget and so far cer­tainly not with the In­dian rail­ways. So in that sense it was a pleas­ant sur­prise and many of these ini­tia­tives, if taken for­ward, will be vi­tal to the larger plan of trans­form­ing an old-econ­omy mam­moth into a mod­ern-day, fast, ef­fi­cient, safe, and con­sumer-friendly en­tity. Get ready for In­dian Rail­ways 2.0.

What was even closer to the heart was that the min­is­ter, in the course of his speech, also men­tioned that his min­istry plans to set up a ‘com­mit­ted, cross-func­tional team’ called the Spe­cial Unit for Trans­porta­tion Re­search and An­a­lyt­ics (SUTRA) to over­see this task.

The clear high­light for the Rail­ways in re­cent years has been mon­e­ti­za­tion. The writ­ing is on the wall—the Rail­ways needs to grad­u­ally pay for it­self and there is no rea­son why it shouldn’t. Ac­cord­ing to me­dia and other re­ports the rail­ways in­curred a loss of over Rs 26,000 crores in 2014. With no fare hikes and an in­creased wage bill start­ing from Jan­uary this year, that loss will only in­crease. Boost­ing ef­fi­cien­cies and crosslever­ag­ing as­sets, re­sources and op­por­tu­ni­ties is a so­lu­tion. In light of this, the an­nounce­ment of SUTRA makes a lot of sense. It’s about time that the rail­ways made sense of their data and then looked at ways of mon­e­tiz­ing this.

Just think about it. The data that the Rail­ways gen­er­ates is mind-bog­gling and here I’m not just speak­ing of data stored through on­line book­ings. Add to this the enor­mous quan­ti­ties of data gen­er­ated through GPS, AEI read­ers, elec­tronic data in­ter­change, video in­spec­tions, hand­held field tablets, and mul­ti­ple other sources. The In­dian Rail­ways gen­er­ates ap­prox­i­mately 100 ter­abytes of data each year. This is set to in­crease even fur­ther with Google’s ini­tia­tive of of­fer­ing free WiFi across 100 rail­way sta­tions (Mum­bai Cen­tral was the first sta­tion to be of­fered this). At one glance the In­dian Rail­ways will know ex­actly what millions of In­di­ans across so­cioe­co­nomic spec­trum con­sume on­line, on a real-time and daily ba­sis. The au­thor is Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, Ter­a­data In­dia www.dqin­dia.com 71

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