C.V. Ramdas, Ex-General Manager, IT, BMRCL

Enterprises in the transportation sector are increasingly leveraging ICT solutions to improve their overall efficiency and deliver world-class services. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic further accelerated digital adoption among enterprises in the transportation industry. Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), big data and cloud are making inroads into the sector as organisations are discovering newer use cases around these new-age solutions. .V. Ramdas, Ex-General Manager, IT, BMRCL talks about the role of ICT in transforming the sector, the key technology solutions deployed by his company, deployment challenges and the way forward…

How has ICT transformed the transportation and mobility sector?

The transport sector, as we all know, deals with a complete spectrum of operation and maintenance (O&M) activities. These activities have been impacted by the digital transformation.

This digital transformation picked up speed during the pandemic. Lifestyle transformation is subjective in nature and ICT can only be an enabler in the hands of people who understand its benefits and are read to unlearn old habits. E-office, e-procurement, e-stores are some terms that are in use today, highlighting the transformations enabled by ICT.

On the O&M side, asset management systems with mobile and remote workflow management capabilities have been put in place. This involves enhancing the IT infrastructure, including the communication net­work, purchase of new tools, and training of personnel. The end result is the im­plementation of a good work-from-home policy, remote ticket booking without the need to visit ticket counters in metro rail stations, and more information on mobile phones.

What are some of the use cases of technologies such as cloud, big data, AI and IoT in the transport sector?

ICT technologies are used to create more powerful data centres and communications infrastructure, and more organised data repositories. In addition, there is some amount of intelligence built into ICT solutions using better search engines and AI.

The first use case that comes to my mind is contactless travel booking. This includes provisioning of mobile apps to commuters for travel card top-up, multi-modal transport information to plan and schedule end-to-end trips, and real-time service information.

The other use case is the digital transformation of office activities. Many physical file movements for reviews and appro­vals have been digitised. E-mail approvals, digital scanned copies of files and support documents, and implementation of effective access control in this system have enabled the digital transformation.

The next use case is attendance and screening at access control gates in statio­ns. Digital contactless temperature scanners have neem deployed at all entrance gates. Further, new image processing and AI techniques have been introduced to identify people not following the Covid-19 guidelines.

What are the key technology solutions deployed by your company? How have they helped improve business and operations?

IT infrastructure including the communication fabric has been upgraded to implement the digital solutions required in the organisation. Providing a better tra­vel experience to commuters with the mobile application, Namma Metro app, helped in reducing the need for ticket counters in stations. This has improved footfalls, and commuters are better in­formed about the journey they undertake.

Digital thermal scanners at station en­trances that have the capability to do di­gi­tal video recording when required have been deployed. These scanners are made in India by an MSME. This has reduced the staff requirement at the entrances.

Also, the maintenance workflows has been revamped for periodic sanitisation of physical assets, and implementation of safe-distancing rules along with other Covid-19 guidelines followed by the or­ganisation. The fear of travel in comm­u­ters has been reduced by implementing the­se solutions.

What are some of the challenges faced while deploying new-age technologies?

Any change needs effort and involves unlearning, which is more difficult than learning. Instilling confidence in staff to start using digital information that is not available on physical paper in the form of files being moved around and between offices with the use of office boys/girls, has been a challenge.

There were many hiccups initially in implementing the mobile application for commuters as this involved new engagements with service providers, payment gateways, and banks, and integrating it with the closed-loop automatic fare collection system (AFC) to enable online top-up/recharge of travel cards.

Most of the digital transformations have to be done online and not offline with minimal disruption in real-time activities. This has been an implementation challenge that has been handled well by the IT team.

Going forward, what technological trends are expected to shape the sector?

Hands-free interfaces using voice and gesture recognition is a trend that will continue. Dependency on our mobile phones/ devices will increase for day-to-day living. The use of AI solutions on large databases will grow to provide useful and contextual information to users. The work-from-home trend (remote working) will increase as its benefits have been recognised by many organisations during this pandemic.

A faster, safer and more convenient travel infrastructure will grow in the country. There will be an increased application of ICT in signalling systems and AFC systems. IT budget allocations will grow. These are some of the trends I see that will stay in the coming half a decade or so.