The world is being swept away by certain forces in technology that are bringing people closer than ever before—and India is no exception. Together with telecom, certain emerging technologies are set to create a huge impact on how people connect with each other, how enterprises produce goods and serve customers, and most significantly, how governments engage with citizens for various purposes.
The industry has even coined a term for the new technologies coming together to shape how businesses and governments work: the 3rd Platform, which is driven by social media, mobile, (Big Data) analytics and cloud computing (together called SMAC). The 3rd Platform can indeed play a major role in delivering effective citizen services in tune with the ambitious agenda for e-governance under the Digital India initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With a planned outlay of R1 lakh crore and the goal of providing high-speed Internet access to about 2.5 lakh of the total 6.4 lakh villages in the country by 2019, Digital India envisions multiple government services to be made available on the Internet as well as through mobiles.
Under Digital India, various government ministries and departments are expected to come up with their own ICT projects for health services, education, judicial services and other areas that touch citizens on a day-to-day basis. It has been reported that, wherever feasible, the government will prefer to adopt public private partnerships (PPP) to speed up the rollout of programmes and services.
One way to enable such partnerships quickly and effectively is to build those public-private bridges through cloud computing, especially hybrid clouds. A hybrid cloud incorporates public clouds for access to a variety of applications and services, and private clouds for reliable performance and security for critical applications and sensitive data. The benefit of the hybrid cloud model is that the government can roll out applications more quickly and cost-effectively while at the same time, keep sensitive citizen and other confidential data secure and hosted on servers kept within its own data centres or premises.
Another 3rd Platform technology, social media, can help the government respond to the needs, complaints and suggestions of citizens on its schemes and programmes. Like mobile, social media is fast reaching a critical mass (around 100 million Indians are said to be on Facebook, for instance)—and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be used by the government optimally. Social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can be effective medium to deliver effective services during natural calamities. An alert mechanism can be built using Twitter, for example, to alert people of the neighbouring area about a disaster that has just struck a town or city. And within the disaster-hit city, the government can enable outreach for assistance through various social media sites in addition to, say, telephone helplines (which often get clogged in such times). The idea is to provide multiple means of interaction to address citizen issues and concerns.
On the mobile front, India has one of the fastest adoption rates in the world, be it in terms of smartphones or mobile apps. At present, we have roughly over 900 million subscribers in India. The government must tap into the opportunity of providing services such as healthcare by hosting the applications on the cloud and making the same accessible through mobile apps. In a country where tens of thousands of people shift base among various cities for jobs or other reasons each month, the mobility of healthcare will be an added advantage to those citizens, who will be able to see their health data and access the services irrespective of which city they are in.
For India to be a truly connected society, the various modes of communicating with and serving citizens will need to be integrated in a cohesive manner. Such an approach will not only increase citizen-government interaction and make life easier for citizens, it will also avoid duplication of efforts and reduce expenditure on service delivery. Mobile banking, for example, is already bringing down the cost of serving customers significantly for banks.
There is a lot of potential on the Big Data front too. As the government collects ever-larger amounts of structured data related to various schemes and unstructured data through citizen engagement on different platforms, analysing and using that “Big Data” to derive insights for more effective planning and implementation will assume even greater significance.
The real key for the government will be to adopt a holistic approach to embracing the 3rd Platform in order to accelerate the realisation of a truly Digital India.
By Rajesh Janey
The writer is president, India & SAARC, EMC