There is a mood of high expectation created by the early actions and successes of the Narendra Modi government and much is expected to transpire in the forthcoming session of Parliament and the period up to the announcement of the next Union Budget. The “Digital India” excitement and its constituent initiatives – the creation of Smart Cities, the large scale digitisation of all government records and the Digital Shaksharta Abhiyaan or the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) will need to be actioned soon and a robust plan created to realise the benefits.
If the government takes the agenda forward and does not leave any of the constituent parts gasping for funds, the opportunities are huge for the country in general and for willing participants in the IT sector as well. What is important to understand is that like any elephant, Digital India has many parts and each has to be addressed to make the big vision a reality.
There are 5 key initiatives that will need a “Modi push” in the coming days. The first is the National Broadband Mission and the extension of NOFN – the National Optical Fibre Network to all parts of the country. In the last couple of years, NASSCOM Foundation with its “Follow the Fibre” approach and the active partnership of technology majors Intel Google and Microsoft has shown that village-wide digital literacy is possible with successful outcomes in three villages in different parts of the country and more on the way. However, for a pervasive digital literacy movement, it is imperative that each one of 600,000 villages and 250,000 panchayats are fully empowered soon.
The second focus area is another key enabler to make the Digital Literacy Mission an achievable one. The Common Service Centres (CSCs) set up in over 100,000 locations by the government may have reported only partial success so far, but enriching them with a curriculum and methodology to give every interested citizen the skills to access and disseminate information can be the first building block. With the planned doubling of the CSCs and the opportunity to layer on skills programs in a host of sectors where qualification packs are already being created in the framework outlined by the NSDC, the same digital infrastructure can also be used to impart job skills. The government needs to give the CSCs this needed push.
The third initiative would be a clear definition of government expectations and the Public-Private Partnership opportunities for the creation of green field and brown field smart city initiatives in the country. Major multinationals like IBM and CISCO and a plethora of start-ups have developed solutions which need to be integrated and country-wide connectivity initiatives for healthcare, education and small and medium manufacturing enterprises need to be designed and implementation commenced expeditiously so that an eco-system for employment and value creation can emerge through the smart city program.
The fourth initiative would be the comprehensive digitisation of records – the digitalisation of all citizen to government interaction processes in the country. E-government can happen at a faster pace in the country if citizens are empowered. The ability to access and disseminate information needs the digital literacy mission to create capability and also the availability of all data records and information in electronic form. A massive country-wide program needs to be to put in place for this purpose.
And finally, the government, through the Ministry of IT and the Department of Electronics and IT (DeitY), needs to formulate clear guidelines for Public-Private Partnerships in each of these areas. The MoU signed recently between DeitY’s CSC Special Purpose Vehicle and NASSCOM Foundation is one path breaking initiative that holds the promise of a nation-wide program, majorly funded by the government but amply supported by industry CSR funds and volunteering initiatives of the IT industry. In similar fashion, cloud based state-wide networking and connectivity, where governments partner with hardware software networking and systems integrator and cloud broker companies will be needs for the “Make in India” movement to succeed. In other areas like digitisation and mission mode as well as smaller e-government initiatives, a much more inclusive program that enables all the large and thousands of small solution providers to participate will substantially accelerate the progress in the country.
India truly stands poised for a tryst with a digital destiny. How much will happen and how quickly is the question that all of us have in our minds. We look forward to being delighted!
Dr Ganesh Natarajan is Vice Chairman & CEO of Zensar Technologies & Chairman of NASSCOM Foundation