I believe technology's transformational power is bigger than any of the challenges we face today. This belief is especially relevant to India which is pegged to become the fastest growing economy for this decade through 2024. With exciting developments in Cloud, Mobility, Social Media and Analytics, India should grab the opportunities provided by digital technologies and leverage their impact to propel itself as the leader of the new economic order. In other words, e-governance in India has reached the tipping point and citizens and policy-makers alike should take note of it.
The average citizen is now familiar with digital payments, e-governance initiatives, digitization of land records, etc. People are hoping for better utilization of taxpayers' money. They believe technology will close the loopholes in governance through greater transparency and accountability. Their beliefs are not misplaced. But what exactly can they expect?
Digital India: The push to accelerate the adoption of e-governance
Digitization, unless comprehensive, is useless. Until recently, India's digitization efforts were piecemeal and sporadic, taken up by random government departments. Unsurprisingly, the benefits were limited and the cost, high. Digital India, launched almost two years back, aims to bridge this segmentation by seamlessly integrating all government departments, and linking all government schemes. Aadhaar, or the UID program, is the bedrock of this initiative. The demonetization drive and the subsequent push to use digital modes of payments through apps such as Paytm and Bhim reflect this sentiment.
Already, the Employees' Provident Fund Organization (EPFO) has been hailed for providing better services to citizens. The National Knowledge Network (NKN) and MyGovt projects have provided citizens with a voice and a convenient channel to interact with the government. We can soon look forward to an improved national population registry, judiciary services reform, improved state crime research, government collaborations registry systems, and a better system for the registration of staff. India can succeed in all these endeavours and more by leveraging the four pillars of the modern technological revolution, namely social media, mobility, analytics, and the cloud.
How the humble mobile is the key to digitizing India
India is a unique case as far as technological innovation is considered. While the rest of the world is still transitioning from desktops and laptops to mobiles, in India, the mobile has become the first gateway to the internet. According to the latest Mary Meekar Internet Trends report, the internet penetration rate in India is at a staggering 40% YoY. Furthermore, of the 355 Million Indian internet users, almost 80% access the internet on their mobiles.
This affinity for the internet has been fueled by decreasing data costs. In 2015, data cost 3% of the annual average GDP per capita; an expensive proposition to most Indians who subsist near the poverty line. However, by March 2017, the cost has plummeted to 1.3% and is continuing the spiral. In fact, data prices fell by 48% in the past year!
So, what happens when the ubiquitous mobile phone meets affordable data services? The explosion of mobile generated Big Data.
How Social Media, Mobility, Analytics, and Cloud can transform India
- Mobile generates Big Data in a variety of ways:
- User-generated content on social media channels, forums, and blogs
- Personal data is shared voluntarily by users while installing apps such as email ID and public profile
- Anonymous data collected with users' permission such as device type, location, etc.
- Data collected by cookies while browsing websites
Imagine millions of mobile phones in use 24X7. The constant stream of data being generated by citizens debating on social media channels can fuel better governance. Their digital footprint across e-commerce stores, websites, and forums can support better business decisions. The data provided by public utilities about energy consumption, water consumption, traffic and transportation patterns can support urban planning. The data generated by government authorities such as the video streams from surveillance cameras, police databases, and inputs shared by the intelligence agencies can improve surveillance.
Storing this Big Data is a challenge which can only be resolved by using cloud technologies. Especially suited for India, public clouds offer scalability and affordability – two basic requirements of startups and SMBs. Data scientists can then derive insights from this data to help build safer and smarter cities. These technologies would also help implement GST at scale, providing the desired benefits to all stakeholders sooner than later.
Beyond SMAC: How IoT can help nurture smart cities
While today belongs to the mobile, tomorrow belongs to the Internet of Things (IoT). If mobile generated Big Data seems enormous, imagine the Big Data generated from billions of connected devices! With the help of Cloud technology and Analytics, this data could reveal useful and timely insights about the status of a city.
Visualize the data transmitted from transport vehicles – their routes, fuel consumption, drivers' performance, etc. The insights derived from this data could make the transportation industry more efficient, sustainable, and safer. Similarly, the data generated from telecom towers could help map gaps in data connectivity, enabling telecom companies to improve their services. The data generated from consumer appliances could help manufacturers understand real-world usage insights and thus design better products. Together, the data collected and analyzed from disparate sources in real-time can help build cities that consume less energy, offer a higher quality of life, and support innovation.
eGovernance – The pre-requisite to building smart cities
eGovernance, or the use of information and communication technology to deliver government services, nurtures a transparent, productive and efficient form of governance that improves the quality of life and bolsters the economy. While barriers to efficient e-governance are many, social media, mobility, analytics and cloud technologies can make all the difference. Notably, since we live in a connected economy, the benefits of e-governance shall not remain restricted to the 100 smart cities that are to be built within the next few years but will percolate to other urban areas and even rural areas. That is why I believe that technology is the great equalizer that India needs.
The author is Sales Director, Government Sector, Hitachi Vantara. Views are personal.