The noble vision of having paperless governance needs to overtake a mindset and working style of decades. It needs the transition of people more than infrastructure at any juncture.
Digital India, one amongst the other programmes of the government, is the most crucial (first) step towards harnessing technology to improve citizens´ lives and spur economic growth. The recent announcements surrounding this programme included the launch of digital locker, e-sign framework, e-hospital (online registration system), national scholarships portal, digitisation of records, broadband highways and wi-fi hot spots, to name a few. Going digital is no longer an option but has become a necessity if India wants to compete and become a super power in the coming years.
While recent announcements and initiatives are in the right direction and enough has been said about these programmes and what they will do, the government, however, faces a daunting task. One such transformational change will be re-engineering and reinventing a complete generation of infrastructure that is still stuck at computerisation projects and applications in different departments and in different capacities.
What Digital India would truly need is connected citizens, systems and bureaucracy; all tied to a common thread i.e. betterment of lives in all aspects by enabling each of them. For instance, the digitisation of records in government departments has to be completed at lightening pace before the bureaucracy can look forward to utilise digital connectivity for easing citizen services. The digital locker needs to be connected to government departments and more importantly, through easy GUIs that can be utilised by all. The noble vision of having paperless governance needs to overtake a mindset and working style of decades and needs the transition of people more than infrastructure at any juncture. Hence, it becomes imperative that while digital literacy is sought for citizens (and bureaucracy), an additional action plan for government departments is required to make them ready for digital liasion with the public. Maybe, it´s time for the rules to be rewritten.
Providing broadband and connectivity to all (in itself) is the first step towards being truly digital but it is the creation and consumption of digital content that would enable the true value of this connectivity in the long run. Connecting villages, panchayats, universities and schools and providing them with digital infrastructure would only be the foundation (not even the first step). For sustaining this growth, and ensuring that a digital lifestyle becomes a habit, people would need to become digitally literate at a faster pace than this infrastructure reaching their doorstep.
Everywhere around the world, such schemes started with a vision and an aim to provide better citizen services. However, they were sustained in the long run only if they moved to a viable cost control (using technology as a tool) and partnership models for the government to be able to sustain the cost for such programmes. Hence, at some point in time, the government would also need to look at such initiatives in the view of sustainable models to drive the huge programme cost that is being incurred today. Our PM´s vision of government acting as a catalyst (rather than a deterrent) to new projects, PPPs and active growth is bearing fruits in terms of the country receiving active commitments from various global and domestic players to invest more. Complemented by the Make in India campaign, this would also generate the much needed (and stalled) employment opportunities to masses at all levels. Our country, which houses one of the largest labour forces of the world, however, faces an issue with respect to the skill gap that needs to be bridged to address this opportunity. The Skill India initiative is the right step towards bridging this gap. However, once the first step has been taken, we need to look at some aspects to take it to the next level.
Mapping skills and courses to target the need for more specific skills for the digitised processes will require constant attention. For instance, rural nurses will need to know how to use technology to access patient records, maybe using the patient´s finger print.
More importantly, the channel and the ecosystem through which this skilled workforce will get employment opportunities need to be developed. Otherwise, imparting skills would not excite anyone as the ultimate aim to earn a better living would seem distant or far-fetched.
Another aspect of growth that has been rightly taken into account is that of SMEs and start-up (though incubation programmes, etc.). A fraction of our country is on the verge of transition that is ready to counter the (once traditional) modern-day businesses through the innovative use of third-platform technologies. It is this fraction that is taking commerce to the next level (from electronic to mobile and more).
Identifying and addressing their core issues would mean nothing less than growth in all aspects. A framework is now required to address both domestic and international markets more effectively. Financial inclusion for all is one such pillar that is supported by new licenses and infrastructure but would also need transparent, stable and clear, start-up friendly atmosphere of taxation and laws. The structural and legal bottlenecks that a start-up faces, not only when it starts, but when it wants to scale and address a sizeable market, need to be taken into account if we are to witness more stories like Flipkart and Snapdeal.
Everything going digital would provide opportunities for all but it would also create a menace, that, if not addressed from the start, can affect our functioning digitally. The greatest concern with all this growth still remains security. With the number of digital gates becoming multi-fold (anything that is connected, PC, mobile or any system), cyber-security needs to be addressed more than just being perimeter-based and should entail advanced analytics-based techniques. Security (beyond passwords and perimeter) should be one of the key pillars while we achieve our much coveted digital literacy.
Digital India rightly aims to have more citizen inclusion in the functioning of this country and initiatives like Aadhar and high speed digital highways are surely moving us in that direction. For our economy to grow at a pace that is worthy of envy, it is imperative that our government continues the good work to address grass-root level issues now. Whether it´s curbing corruption, facilitating reforms, providing good governance or generating jobs; going digital seems to be the salvation mantra of this new age.
We have taken the first steps on this journey but need to now address the long-stalled issues and the challenges with renewed energy. It is time we also get the fifth national emergency response number (after 100,101,102 and 108) to mark the importance of digital emergencies going forward and achieve the vision of a digitally innovative and collaborative economy and citizens.
This article has been authored by Gaurav Sharma, Research Manager-Enterprise, IDC India