Are We There Yet? – A Digital Indian before Digital India

India’s claim to be digitised can only be justified by ensuring that each citizen is a Digital Indian with access and digital literacy to utilise technology infrastructure.

Digital India - shutterstock_193919333

With a population of over 1.2 bn people, India is the perfect example of diversity -- different races, religion, language, occupations and interests. Managing the governance and public welfare in a country as vast as ours can be a herculean task on many levels. The Government’s push to digitise governance and public services is a step in the right direction to ease management and maximise efficiency, and 2016 has seen some important improvements and introductions in this regard. The big question, however is, what comes first: The Digital Indian or a Digital India?

With the progress of our digital journey, the country has achieved a $2.2 trillion economy owing to the adoption of key technologies and policies across sectors fueled by the Digital India initiative. India still has a long way to go and consistency will be the key for the country in current times.

Our efforts to digitise and connect India must continue with increased enthusiasm. However, to ensure further success in these efforts, we must focus on looking at technology from the end consumer’s (user) perspective, rather than just in terms of the Government/ Enterprise. The industry and government’s focus should be a bottom-up approach of making technology first accessible across the diverse population of India and subsequently creating a supporting digital ecosystem; only then can we become a digitally powered nation. In my opinion, the three areas that need immediate attention would be:

  • Better connectivity and increased digital literacy
  • Practical technology in key sectors such as healthcare, governance & education
  • Key role played by enterprises in realising the digital dream
  • Enabling India – through better connectivity and digital literacy

Connectivity and digital literacy are the cornerstones towards realising the country’s digital India vision. Though India is said to have crossed the 1 billion mobile phone subscriptions mark in 2016, and 71 per cent of rural India owns a mobile phone, Internet penetration in India is only about 35 per cent. Efforts have already been made to make Internet connectivity easily available to rural India through the introduction of Bharat Net – a promise to connect 2.5 lakh gram panchayats. Google and the Indian government are in discussions through Project Loon to provide Internet access to remote areas, and most recently, a partnership with Railtel to provide WiFi access to 100 railway stations in India. However, more concrete steps need to be taken to ensure that every citizen is digitally enabled.

Along with connectivity, digital literacy can empower Indian citizens with the knowledge to access the basic amenities made available through technology. The railways having identified over 7,000 towns across the country for converting their railway stations into digital hotspots, which will not just offer Wi-Fi services to the local population but will also serve as hubs for ordering and receiving goods from ecommerce portals. The need of the hour is to roll out more such initiatives to connect India.

Bringing Technology to the People

While we talk of digital transformation, the largescale implementation of technology is currently restricted to tier one and two cities. The metros have witnessed the power of technology, but for a larger section of the population, it is restricted to the use of television and mobile phones. With a majority of the population unfamiliar with technology, efforts need to be taken to acquaint and encourage them to use technology. The Government is actively pursuing the agenda of providing easier access to services and making technology easier to use. Access to speedy action to Governance related issues is an important outcome of the Digital India vision. Mobile phone applications and websites such as (a platform for citizen engagement in governance), Swachh Bharat (to achieve the Swachh Bharat mission) etc. are strong proof points to substantiate the efforts.

Additionally, using technology to make for a more interactive and inclusive education system can greatly benefit the country. Children from poorer economic backgrounds will have the opportunity to access the resources earlier only available to the rich and middle-class.

Healthcare is another service that can be improved through technology. The scenario in India continues to be a cause of concern. Efforts towards digitization in the healthcare segment have been poor and the figures show this. Technology can be a great enabler to bring medicine to every Indian and improve access to healthcare in the country, which unfortunately has not been used very effectively.

Empowering Enterprises

Although the digital transformation phenomena is widely discussed in professional environments, studies suggest that many organizations are yet to begin their digital transformation journey. According to a research report by Vanson Bourne & Dell Technologies, exploring the implications of digital disruption around the world, close to 26 per cent of respondents from India mentioned that they do not know what their respective industry will look like in the next three to five years. Another interesting point is that over 57 per cent of the respondents said that customer demand is the driving cause of organisations to transform digitally. Digitally empowering organisations are a vital pillar of realising the digital vision. Having technologically fuelled enterprises which power the nation, demands close attention to three key aspects such as IT, workforce and security transformation.

A deep dive into workforce transformation would be an interesting discussion point in the context of nation building. While 65 per cent of the population is 35 or under, India needs to equip its workforce to develop employable skills and knowledge that can be used to better develop the economy. A report by advisory firm CEB, further stated that almost eight in ten (78 percent) of IT roles will see significant changes to the skills and responsibilities required over the next few years. The report added that over 57 percent of IT staff lack the analytic skills and judgment needed to succeed in the changing workplace. IT companies will play a critical part in nation building through job creation and improving employability rates.

The country’s Digital India vision should be focused on ensuring that every individual is able to serve as the ambassador for the Government’s campaign. India’s claim to be digitised can only be justified by ensuring that each citizen is a Digital Indian with access and digital literacy to utilise technology infrastructure. This, along with a focus on driving innovation and supporting a digitally enabled workforce will take India on a long-term path towards digital enablement.

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