Jaskirat Singh, Founder, Webrosoft, was a nominee at the recently held Start up Stand up India competition in New Delhi. No wonder, because some would say the Citizens´ Reporting and Mapping Tool (CRAMAT) app developed by him is just what India needs.
How did the idea for CRAMAT come about?
Three years ago, we were trying to solve a problem in south Punjab where there were some issues relating to cancer. Someone wanted to do a survey of cancer patients. They wanted to plot some parameters of patients, with water quality samples on a map just to see if there was a correlation between the water and where the patients were living. There wasn´t any good tool to do it which was suitable for the purpose. Since we were in the technology sector and had developed applications earlier, we thought we´d give it a try.
We worked on the problem and it turned out to be a complex one to solve for an Android app but we did solve it. After a few months, we had a solution where we had created a special camera app that could not only take a picture but also show the exact location and time on a screen. This way, we could ensure the accuracy of the location. This was the beginning. We then realised this could also be used for something else and took it to the commissioner of Ludhiana. We told him we could change the parameters of what we are tracking from water samples to roads, street-lights or anything else and that even citizens could use this to report civic problems. He was very excited and we launched in Ludhiana the next week. We then started pitching it to other cities and this is how it all started.
That´s a very engaging story and very well told!
(Laughs) Yes it is, isn´t it? How we then became associated with infrastructure was when our Ludhiana commissioner said the app was proving very useful with citizens reporting problems quite enthusiastically. However, he said the bigger problem was that the grievances were not looked into properly (the basic problem in Government). Nevertheless, while grievance tracking was a small issue, the bigger problem of corruption also needed to be addressed. He requested us for a project tracking system for road and bridge projects. If an app could be installed on the phones that the engineers carried, the commissioner would not have to go around the city to monitor or track large numbers of different projects. He could see reports from his office. That is how we started projects for the municipal commissioner of Ludhiana and this was our first involvement with infrastructure. We realised this was good business and then decided to seriously work on the app to develop it even further.
How exactly did the problem of corruption get addressed by this?
In a particular case, a contractor presented the commissioner with photographs, claiming that the road project awarded to him was complete. However, upon going there, the commissioner found that the road had not been constructed. The same photographs had also been submitted for other projects. They found out that the photographs were of roads from other cities. The commissioner now wanted a system which would allow him to track projects in real time.
After this, you started pitching to other cities?
We were now pitching the app for three things. One was infrastructure since all of them were now doing development and maintenance. Citizen´s grievance was the second one. The third thing which a few cities are also using is our app for attendance and monitoring civic personnel. This includes things like whether the sweepers have arrived on time, swept their area clean, etc.
So, it´s really a smart app, ideal for India´s Smart Cities project.
Our app started before the mission was announced and even before this government came to power. However, we realised we should use this buzzword once it came about since our app is actually a Smart City solution. Why were we not saying it? So, the marketing strategy has been realigned and fits the current context well.
How many cities does the app cover?
These are different use cases. We have about 100 cities covered for grievance reporting. For infra¡structure tracking, we are in two cities. For attendance monitoring in the waste management area, we are in two cities. Every city has at least a few hundred secondary dumping points and from there, it goes to the bigger dumping grounds. Tracking and monitoring is important as it is a citizen-centric issue.
What are the plans to expand your coverage?
We are thinking of merging these three into a single product. Although these three things sound very different, we are mostly targeting civic authorities. We´d like to put them into a package. We´re also planning to pitch to the Union Government since that may help us find a faster route to pitch to the local governments. The biggest problem with local governments they take at least six months to understand and take it to the next level for approvals. Unless this comes from higher up, it is slightly difficult. The Central Government is very gung-ho on Swachh Bharat and Smart Cities, so I am hoping for a push from there. That´ll help us as we can pitch the app with all these functionalities in a single package and that´s my target in the next three months.
It should be easier for you now that you were nominated for this award...
I hope so but I am not in a position to pre-empt the Government and what it may do! We are trying at all levels, wherever we are getting access.
Have you looked at the cities chosen for the Smart Cities mission in the first phase?
Yes. Very interestingly, some of them have got in touch with us because those who are in the vicinity where we operate have obviously come to know about us. Some of them actually wanted to launch it before their deadline to show they had already implemented it! So, I am very hopeful because it looks like governments are waking up to technology. The push has come from the Central Government schemes. Swachh Bharat and Smart Cities have really helped, big time.
How would you classify what this app does?
In India, I do not know if there is anything like this. However, in the US, similar companies are categorised under civic technology. We feel we are closest to that. How many downloads so far?
About 40,000 so far.
Don´t you think it should be more?
It is more than 100 cities, of course, with three cities in Punjab (Ludhiana, Mohali and Hoshiarpur) and over 100 cities in Karnataka. Karnataka was launching their m-governance platform last year and found this product suited them well. The MoU was signed with the state government and we launched it. However, after the complaints started rolling in, the problems arose because as so often happens with government, they weren´t prepared to handle all these complaints!
So, what is the way forward? Are you hopeful of more customers?
Yes, of course. While governments are slightly difficult customers, the problem is worse for us as a start-up. There are issues with cash flows and governments are not known for paying on time or even with a reasonable delay. Even ´reasonable´ isn´t anywhere within reason. However, the government is a very credible customer and it looks good in our portfolio. We still need cash flows and are also targeting the private sector.
How do you envisage a model with the private sector as water, waste management, etc., are all state subjects?
We have a private sector customer already. That happened because the municipal corporation of Mohali wanted to track their cleaning personnel. They floated a tender for a private player to sweep their roads. To ensure their money was spent on the work for which it was intended, they mandated the company to provide a tracking mechanism. So, we´re now a subcontractor for that company and we found that this was much better. Someone actually appreciated our work, paid us on time and listened to our problems and gave us opportunities to optimise things.
- Rouhan Sharma