Sep 13, 2016

Google offers to build IT platform for Indian Railways

A team of Google last week made a presentation to senior railway officials and promised to prop up the transporter’s brand leadership

New Delhi: As Indian Railways is enhancing customer experience, tech giant Google has offered to build an IT platform for the national transporter that will have features like voice search, maps and local language, to name a few. Next on the partnership is monetising the web traffic and sharing revenue with the public transporter, which is ready to part with its colossal data for money.
A team of Google last week made a presentation to senior railway officials and promised to prop up the transporter’s brand leadership, make it easier for travellers to access rail info and bring millions of rail users to its platform.

“The proposal is to completely overhaul the IT system for rail reservation system. They would design a new mobile app, which would greatly enhance user experience. Google will also help in showing Indian Railways’ website as the main source of railway data,” an official privy to the development said.

The search engine giant has proposed bringing in many of its offerings for the railway users and presented a blueprint for the shift to the new system. As a benefit to the railways out of this partnership, Google has also offered to deepen loyalty of railways’ tech-savvy customers.

Once the railways’ partnership with Google is finalised, the state-owned public transporter would launch its drive to block all private portals that are profiting from the railway data while its custodian looks on.

Dozens of websites now offer services like seat availability in train, PNR status, train running status among others and commercially exploit the traffic to earn advertisement revenue.

As passengers provide all their personal details while booking train ticket, railways collect huge amount of data every day. Internet ticketing for trains has grown rapidly over the years. Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a railways subsidiary that handles online booking of tickets, sees almost 1.5 million travellers buying tickets through its web platform. As a result, it receives data containing personal information of the people, their preferences and ticketing pattern.

“We are exploring the possibility of monetising our data, software and some of the free services provided such as PNR enquiry, at present being commercially exploited by other players, but at the same time ensuring that no compromise on customer privacy is made,” railway minister Suresh Prabhu had said in his budget speech this year.
With railways eyeing various sources for raising non-tariff revenue to fund its capex and expansion, it hopes that the Google-based platform will multiply the traffic flow to its site and mobile app. The additional hits and links provided by its brand new IT platforms are set to rake in the moolah too. “It shakes to the core the existing working practices and methods that the industry has relied upon for the past 165 years,” he said. “And it challenges almost every facet of the industry. We are doing something new here – it’s an ambitious plan on national scale.” Delivering the digital railway is not only about new technology, but also new attitudes. “The cultural nature of the rail industry tends to find innovation a challenge, especially around technology. Adopting new products quickly is difficult, partly due to the length of time and cost it takes to get from prototype, testing and then to operational use.