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Akhilesh Srivastava: Pioneering Digital Highways in India

Ever wondered who’s behind the seamless toll transactions with FASTag that save you time and fuel on Indian highways? Meet Mr. Akhilesh Srivastava, the architect of this revolutionary system. As a trailblazer in e-governance and digital transformation, Mr. Srivastava’s initiatives, including FASTag and the NHAI Data Lake, have set new benchmarks for efficiency and innovation. His relentless drive for modernization has not only improved toll collection but also paved the way for smarter project management and enhanced road safety. Join us as we delve into the journey of the man who is transforming India’s highways and making travel smoother for millions.

BRL: Mr. Srivastava, your initiatives like FASTag and the NHAI Data Lake have set benchmarks in e-governance and digital transformation. Could you share your vision behind these projects and discuss the major challenges you encountered during their implementation?

The vision behind FASTag and the NHAI Data Lake was to modernize India’s highways infrastructure and make it more efficient and user-friendly. The goal was to leverage technology to reduce congestion, enhance transparency, and improve the overall user experience for travellers on our highways. 

With FASTag, we aimed to introduce a seamless toll collection system that would minimize human intervention and errors. The NHAI Data Lake was designed to centralize and streamline the vast amount of data generated by our national highways for better decision-making and governance. These two provided 3600 transformations to NHAI (National Highways Authority of India). While FASTag was an outward B2C intervention, the NHAI Data Lake was an in-house digital transformation

The impact of both has been phenomenal. FASTag reduced the average waiting time at toll plazas from 12 minutes to less than 40 seconds, saving a lot of fuel and carbon emissions and enhancing commuters’ efficiency part from a huge jump in toll collection; the NHAI Data Lake reduced the NHAI decision-making time drastically and improved operational efficiency so much that since implementation of NHAI Data lake, NHAI has been creating world records in constructions. As the system is getting mature, the pace of construction is increasing. In FY 2023, they constructed 6655 Km of national highways, the highest ever.

Here are the key challenges I encountered during the implementation process:

Infrastructure Readiness: One of the major challenges was the lack of existing infrastructure to support such a technologically advanced system. Many toll plazas and highways needed significant upgrades to accommodate FASTag readers and data collection systems.

Public Adoption: Convincing the public to adopt a new system posed its own set of challenges. People were accustomed to the traditional cash-based toll collection system, and transitioning to a digital platform required substantial awareness campaigns and incentives.

Data Management: The NHAI Data Lake required complex tasks, including managing and integrating data from numerous sources while ensuring its accuracy and security. The sheer volume of data required robust systems and protocols to manage effectively.

To address these challenges, we adopted a multi-faceted strategy:

Infrastructure Development: We invested heavily in upgrading toll plazas with the necessary technology and infrastructure. This included deploying RFID readers and setting up a robust network for data transmission.

Public Awareness and Incentives: To encourage public adoption, we launched extensive awareness campaigns highlighting the benefits of FASTag, such as reduced wait times and cashless transactions. We also introduced incentives like cashback offers and mandatory FASTag policies for all new vehicles.

Collaborative Approach: We worked closely with banks, digital payment providers, and technology partners to ensure a seamless rollout. This collaborative approach helped us leverage the expertise and resources of multiple stakeholders.

Data Management Systems: For the NHAI Data Lake, we implemented advanced data management systems and protocols. This included using big data analytics, AI, and machine learning to process and analyze data efficiently.

BRL: Based on your experience, what are some key takeaways that would be valuable for leaders undertaking digital transformation initiatives?

Stakeholder Engagement: It is crucial to engage all relevant stakeholders early in the process. This includes not only the technology providers but also the end-users, who need to understand and buy into the new system.

Scalability and Flexibility: Building systems that are scalable and flexible is essential. The ability to adapt to new challenges and scale operations as needed can significantly impact the success of a digital transformation project.

Data Security: Ensuring the security and integrity of data is paramount. Implementing robust security measures and maintaining user transparency about data usage can build trust and protect against potential breaches.

Continuous Improvement: Digital transformation is an ongoing process. Continuously monitoring performance, gathering feedback, and making iterative improvements are necessary to keep the system effective and relevant.

As such, while the journey of implementing FASTag and the NHAI Data Lake was challenging, the lessons learned and the benefits realized have been substantial. These initiatives have not only transformed our national highways but have also set a precedent for future digital transformation projects in India and beyond.

BRL: NHAI’s AI Data Lake boosted efficiency and decisions. How can others leverage similar tech for better project management?

Establishing the NHAI Data Lake, which leverages AI and Big Data, has significantly transformed project management at NHAI by enhancing efficiency, accuracy, and strategic decision-making. Here’s how these technologies have made a difference:

Improved Project Efficiency

Data Integration and Accessibility: By consolidating data from various sources into a single platform, the NHAI Data Lake has streamlined access to critical project information. This has eliminated data silos, allowing for more cohesive and timely project management. Project managers can now access real-time data on project status, resources, and potential bottlenecks, enabling faster response times and more efficient project execution.

Predictive Analytics: AI-powered predictive analytics have enabled more accurate forecasting of project timelines and costs. This has helped identify potential delays and cost overruns before they occur, allowing for proactive mitigation strategies. For instance, by analyzing historical data, the system can predict the likelihood of adverse weather conditions affecting project timelines and suggest alternative plans.

Automation of Routine Tasks: Automation through AI has taken over routine and repetitive tasks such as data entry, reporting, and compliance checks. This has freed up project managers to focus on more strategic aspects of project management. Automated workflows ensure that tasks are completed consistently and on time, reducing human error and increasing overall productivity.

Enhanced Decision-Making Processes

Data-Driven Insights: Data integration allows for the analysis of vast amounts of information, providing deep insights into project performance and trends. Decision-makers can use these insights to make informed choices backed by concrete data.

Real-Time Monitoring and Reporting: Real-time data monitoring ensures that project managers have up-to-date information at their fingertips. This has improved the accuracy of progress reports and has enabled more responsive decision-making. Instant alerts and notifications about critical issues allow for immediate intervention, minimizing the impact of potential problems.

Enhanced Collaboration: The cloud-based nature of the NHAI Data Lake facilitates better collaboration among stakeholders. Data can be shared seamlessly across departments and with external partners, fostering a more integrated approach to project management. Collaborative tools and dashboards provide a unified view of project status, promoting transparency and alignment among all parties involved.

Key Considerations for Adopting AI & Big Data in Project Management

Invest in Quality Data Infrastructure: Ensure that you have a robust infrastructure in place to support data integration. This includes high-quality data storage solutions, powerful processing capabilities, and secure cloud services. Data quality is paramount. Invest in data cleansing and validation processes to ensure the accuracy and reliability of your data inputs.

Focus on Training and Change Management: Train your workforce to understand and effectively use these technologies. This includes not only technical training but also educating staff on the benefits and new workflows associated with AI and Big Data. Implement a comprehensive change management strategy to ease the transition and foster a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.

Start Small and Scale Gradually: Begin with pilot projects to test the integration of AI and Big Data in your project management processes. Learn from these initial implementations and refine your approach before scaling up.

Identify key areas where these technologies can have the most significant impact and gradually expand their use across the organization.

BRL: I understand you championed public-private partnerships for tech progress. Can you give specific examples of these collaborations under your leadership, and how businesses can use them to innovate and streamline operations?

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are a key element in driving technological advancements and enhancing operational efficiencies in various sectors. I have always advocated this, and we have successfully implemented several PPP initiatives that have yielded significant benefits. Here are a few examples:

FASTag Implementation: The FASTag project is a prime example of a successful PPP. This initiative was a collaboration between the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), various banks, and technology providers. The private sector was crucial in providing the RFID technology, managing digital payment platforms, and ensuring the smooth rollout of the system.

This partnership has revolutionized toll collection in Indian highways, reducing wait times at toll plazas, decreasing fuel consumption, and enhancing the overall efficiency of the national highway system. The project has also led to a significant increase in toll revenue collection due to the transparency and efficiency of the system.

NHAI Data Lake: The development of the NHAI Data Lake involved partnerships with highway construction firms, highways operating firms, consultants & engineers, and technology firms specializing in data analytics and cloud computing.

The NHAI Data Lake has transformed project management by providing real-time data insights, predictive analytics, and automated reporting. This has led to more informed decision-making, improved project timelines, and cost savings.

Green Corridor for Emergency Vehicles:

Leveraging Public-Private Partnerships for Innovation and Efficiency

Access to Advanced Technology: Businesses can leverage PPPs to access cutting-edge technologies that might be too costly or complex to develop independently. Collaborations with the government often come with incentives such as grants, tax breaks, and regulatory support.

Shared Expertise and Resources: PPPs allow for the sharing of expertise, resources, and best practices between the public and private sectors. This symbiotic relationship can drive innovation and operational efficiencies.

Enhanced Public Trust and Market Reach: PPPs can enhance public trust in new technologies and solutions, as government endorsement often lends credibility. Additionally, such partnerships can help businesses reach broader markets by leveraging the public sector’s extensive network.

Sustainable Development: Public sector collaboration often focuses on sustainable and inclusive growth. Businesses can align their objectives with national and societal goals, contributing to long-term sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

BRL: At the International Road Federation, you’ve promoted using new tech to improve road safety. What specific technologies have worked best in pilot programs, and how can we scale these up to make roads safer around the world?

I have been privileged to witness firsthand the transformative impact of next-generation technologies on road safety. Here’s a breakdown of our most effective tech solutions, pilot program outcomes, and our strategy for global implementation.

Effective Technologies in Reducing Road Accidents

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS): ADAS includes technologies such as Collision Prevention Alerts, Driver Monitoring Systems, Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Departure warnings, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Blind-Spot Detection and Alerting. These systems significantly reduce the likelihood of accidents caused by human error by providing real-time alerts and automatic interventions. In pilot projects, vehicles equipped with ADAS have shown a reduction in accident rates by up to 40%. For instance, automatic emergency braking has been particularly effective in preventing rear-end collisions.

Connected Vehicle Technology (CV2X): CV2X enables vehicles to communicate with each other (V2V) and with infrastructure (V2I), providing real-time data on road conditions, traffic signals, and potential hazards. This technology enhances situational awareness and allows for more informed decision-making by drivers, thereby reducing accidents. Pilot projects are planned to demonstrate impact in cities like Bangalore and Delhi, where CV2X will be used to create Green Corridors for emergency vehicles.

Intelligent Traffic Management Systems (ITMS): ITMS uses AI and big data analytics to optimize traffic flow, manage congestion, and detect traffic violations. By analyzing traffic patterns and predicting congestion, these systems help in proactive traffic management, reducing the likelihood of accidents in highways and other areas, due to traffic snarls and erratic driving behavior. Implementations in several metropolitan areas have reduced traffic accidents by 25% and improved traffic flow by 30%

Smart Road Infrastructure: This includes deploying smart sensors, cameras, and IoT devices on roads to monitor conditions and provide real-time data to traffic management centers. These technologies help in the early detection of issues such as road blockages, adverse weather conditions, and accidents, allowing for quick responses and preventive measures. Pilot projects in smart city initiatives have shown a 20% reduction in accident response times and enhanced overall road safety.

Scaling and Broader Implementation for Global Impact

Standardization and Interoperability: Develop global standards for the deployment and integration of these technologies to ensure interoperability across different regions and systems. This will facilitate widespread adoption and seamless functioning of technologies across borders, enhancing global road safety.

Public-Private Partnerships: Foster collaborations between governments, private sector companies, and non-profit organizations to pool resources, share expertise, and drive innovation. Such partnerships can accelerate the deployment of road safety technologies and ensure that they are accessible and affordable.

Policy and Regulatory Support: Advocate for supportive policies and regulations that encourage the adoption of next-generation road safety technologies. This includes providing incentives for using ADAS and CV2X technologies in vehicles. Regulatory support can drive higher adoption rates and ensure road safety technologies are integrated into standard vehicle manufacturing processes.

Public Awareness and Education: Launch comprehensive awareness campaigns to educate the public about the benefits of road safety technologies and how to use them effectively. Increased public awareness and acceptance are crucial for the successful implementation of these technologies. Educated drivers are more likely to use these systems correctly and consistently.

Pilot Projects and Case Studies: Continue to conduct pilot projects in diverse environments to gather data, refine technologies, and demonstrate their effectiveness. Successful pilot projects provide compelling evidence of these technologies’ benefits and can serve as case studies to encourage broader adoption.

Investment in Infrastructure: Invest in the necessary infrastructure to support smart road technologies, including high-speed internet connectivity, sensor networks, and data processing centers. Robust infrastructure is essential for the reliable operation of advanced road safety systems and can significantly enhance their effectiveness.

BRL: Your awards recognize your work in tech and governance. How do they motivate you and fuel your passion for innovation? What guidance can you offer aspiring leaders who want to use technology to make a big difference in their fields and society?

Awards are a powerful validation of my efforts. They show me that my work is impactful and valued by the community and industry. This validation fuels my passion to keep innovating and using technology for the greater good.

They also increase visibility for my projects, attracting support from governments, businesses, and the public. This translates to more resources, stronger partnerships, and a higher chance of success for my initiatives.

Finally, awards position me as a role model, inspiring others to pursue excellence and innovation. This motivates me to maintain high standards and set a positive example for future leaders.

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Kanika Mahtoliya
Kanika Mahtoliya
Kanika Mahtoliya, currently pursuing a Bachelor's in Journalism and Mass Communication at Graphic Era Hill University. With a strong passion for storytelling and a focus on business journalism, she is currently serving as a features writer at Business Review Live.