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On locating COVID-19 testing and quarantine centers on a map: Q&A with MapmyIndia’s Rakesh and Rohan Verma

MapmyIndia is backed by Qualcomm Ventures, Flipkart, and Japanese map publisher Zenrin Co. Ltd.

Coronavirus by fusion medical animation on Unsplash

In March, when the number of COVID-19 cases started to rise at an alarming rate in India, and when the government scrambled to set up dedicated hospitals and quarantine centers, Delhi-based digital mapping company MapmyIndia took the initiative to digitally pin these locations on India’s map for people who needed to locate them quickly.

The company has created a live dashboard that maps out critical information such as testing centers, sample collection centers, relief camps, and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases by state, as well as other useful information. MapmyIndia claims it has partnered with central as well as state governments to share coronavirus related information with each other. Various government departments are using its API to upload new information that can be utilized for several purposes.

The company, which competes with Google Maps in India, was co-founded in 1995 by the husband-wife duo Rakesh and Rashmi Verma, who returned to India in 1990 after working for companies like IBM and General Motors in the US.

“We started the company with the vision that in the near future, 80% of all data will have some location component, which would be valuable and useful to businesses, government agencies, as well as the general public,” Rakesh Verma, chairman and managing director of MapmyIndia, told KrASIA.

According to Rakesh, the company is spending more than a couple million rupees (over USD 26,000) each month to update its COVID-19 dashboard. This initiative, he said, is spearheaded by his son Rohan Verma, who recently took on the mantle as CEO and executive director at MapmyIndia. Rohan had been working with his parents since 2007, taking on different roles at the company.

We got in touch with Rakesh and Rohan to learn about how they linked up with India’s government to create a useful portal that relays information about COVID-19.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

KrASIA (Kr): When did you start developing the dashboard? And what are the features that it offers?

Rohan Verma: It must be close to four weeks since we started working on this.

A lot of the tools that we’ve built are developed on top of MapmyIndia’s various capabilities around maps, navigation, analytics, and tracking. About a month ago, when we started to read about coronavirus-related worries that people were having, we anticipated that the first thing people would want to know about is their closest testing center for COVID-19, and other similar places like isolation centers and government-recognized hospitals where coronavirus treatment is happening.

We already have all the hospitals mapped across the country as a part of our maps database. But a month ago, our team started to track particular hospitals that were designated by the government for coronavirus testing, and started adding details on the map such as the kind of facilities they offer, the number of beds they have, and other useful information.

A screenshot of the COVID-19 dashboard created by MapmyIndia.

Secondly, we realized people were complaining about isolation wards being in bad condition, so we added a feature to allow people to report, review, and update the conditions of different facilities.

The third thing we are doing is to give people a sense of the geographical spread of the infection. We have prepared an interactive map that shows where the infection is and the number of cases in each state. This is updated in almost real-time.

We have been updating the map with recent activities. For example, when the lockdown was announced, people started to face challenges. For example, some people were not getting their grocery and medicine deliveries. We released the feature to allow people to report lockdown-related issues on our map based on which government officials were taking immediate actions.

We’re also helping a lot of the government agencies in terms of geo-analytics. We’re letting them use our APIs and tools to upload their own data so they can plot the health infrastructure, as well as track the number of beds and ventilators available at each hospital.

Kr: What was your motivation behind this effort?

Rakesh Verma: It was launched because of two reasons. One is this: as Indians, we would like to do something for the country. The second reason is that if we do a good job in this as a business, people will remember us for this, and we would get some soft corners from the government as well. I wouldn’t call this a hidden agenda, but it has its own advantage in the long run.

Kr: MapmyIndia is a B2B company. Has this initiative translated into extra business for MapmyIndia?

Rohan Verma: We’ve seen about a 300% jump in the usage of our services.

As people are becoming aware of citizen-centric tools, we’ve had a lot of users who have come onto our platform and are reporting cases, such as information about a crowd gathering in a certain area where they shouldn’t be. Many of them are getting in touch with us with similar information, which we verify and publish.

Kr: Can you tell us a bit about MapmyIndia and its business model?

Rohan Verma: MapmyIndia is a 25-year-old company. We are the pioneers in digital mapping, GIS (geographic information system), navigation, and geo-analytics.

Our core IP is in two parts. One is the most comprehensive mapping database of the country. It is hyperlocal and detailed down to building-level information.

And the second part is location-based technologies that we have built-in terms of the software, be it routing, search, navigation, or GIS. Our products and solutions serve the needs of customers from the automobile sector to FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) companies. Some of the largest government organizations in the country also rely on us for geo-governance—leveraging maps for governance. Then, we have a lot of corporate customers, enterprise customers, like banks, telecom companies, even tech companies like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, PhonePe, Paytm, Flipkart, and Ola—they all leverage our map APIs.

We have about 5,000 enterprise customers.

Kr: You have a varied list of customers. What are the use cases for, say, FMCG companies and automobile companies?

Rohan Verma: FMCG companies like Britannia use our tools to understand their micro-markets in terms of where the target segment population is, where their own stores are, and where the competitors’ stores are, where their field workforce is located, and where the maximum sales are happening. They use our tools for geo-analytics, to understand the market, and design strategies accordingly.

Automotive companies basically embed our portable navigation devices. Whether it’s a Maruti or a Hyundai, these cars use our built-in map system. Fleet companies like Ola put our GPS device in their vehicles; it also manages billing and other matters.

Most of the tech companies [in India] in the last year or two have started to use our map APIs instead of Google’s.

Kr: Why wouldn’t a company use Google Maps and instead opt for MapmyIndia?

Rohan Verma: I think there are two or three things at play: one is when it comes to the maps’ quality or accuracy, people find ours to be better. Google is definitely much more well-known, but if you go by the product quality, many people find MapmyIndia’s detailing to be better.

Commercially, we are better because Google Maps’ API is quite expensive.

Lastly, we offer a lot more flexibility, customization. We are hyperlocal, and update our maps according to changing needs. For example, our maps are currently showing coronavirus-related information that you can’t find on Google Maps.

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