Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Railway budget: Tech world excited about data monetization plan

Railway minister Suresh Prabhu said the Railways plans to monetize more than 100 terabytes of passenger data

New Delhi: The Railways’ plan to monetize more than 100 terabytes of passenger data has got many in the technology world excited. On the face of it, the options seem limited but the potential is there.

“We are exploring the possibility of monetizing our data, software and some of the free services provided by Indian Railways such as PNR enquiry, currently being commercially exploited by other players, but at the same time ensuring that no compromise to customer privacy is made," railways minister Suresh Prabhu said, as part of Thursday’s speech outlaying the railway budget.

Currently, the Railways has to pay the telcos for the service that the consumer is getting for free. One way to monetize it is to make the customer pay for it. “If it does become a paid service, where the consumer pays for it, then the service levels will improve significantly. Currently, the quality of service is very poor," Vishal Malhotra, partner, tax practice, at Ernst and Young, said.

Another option is if they tie up with a telco, or a third party, to offer pre-recorded advertisements, while the customer waits for the requested information. In this case, the telco and the railways can have a revenue-share model where it would get a cut from the proceeds.

Given that the railways boasts tens of millions of daily users, the potential revenue is very high.

Another option is if the railways goes the app way. The app would provide all necessary information, make revenue through advertisements as well as its database of registered users.

The move would be similar to the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd (IRCTC) website that has tied up with Amazon and OYO Hotels, among others. These sites can be accessed from the IRCTC website which also displays advertisements.

There are always other options. “They could charge consumers an extra 5 per ticket for SMS alerts as an enquiry fee. This SMS could also have advertisements," a Mumbai-based telecom analyst said.

Railways can also explore analytics. The significant quantum of data that the national transporter has could be one of the most lucrative sources of new revenue. However, the privacy issues could play a dampener on this, says an analyst.

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