Cloud reaches rural India

Written by Diksha Dutta | Diksha Dutta | Updated: Sep 3 2012, 15:11pm hrs
If you think e-governance is all about electronic transactions in different ministries, it is time to reboot your thinking. New-age technologies like cloud are now being deployed in the rural hinterland of India too. German enterprise software maker SAP lays a lot of emphasis on the public sector globally and wants to do the same in India. A couple of months ago, it launched a unique project in a small desert village called Soda in Tonk district, Rajasthan. The project seeks to link residents with the best that technology has to offer: faster access to records and services, a stronger system of governance, and a virtual classroom in the centre of town. The German software major has now deployed a cloud based governance solution for a village panchayat in Shillong, Meghalaya.

Without computerised records, leaders of Indias rural villages must rely on a bureaucracy that can be slow, onerous and lacking in transparency. In addition, with little access to education and training, many residentsincluding the young people who are needed to fuel a healthy local economyare unemployed or unable to read and write.

In this backdrop, the German software vendors efforts to take e-governance to Indian villages and its various initiatives to improve efficiencies in the countrys government agencies are praise worthy.

Peter Gartenberg, managing director, SAP India says, Cloud is still starting to develop in the public sector and is a relatively new thing for the government to adopt. We are trying to solve extreme cases in the rural areas of India by providing them cloud solutions. One such example is the work that we do for panchayats in handling land records. I agree that it is easier to reach a village in Punjab probably, but we want to reach the rural areas which are difficult to approach and want to help the panchayats administrate better. Going forward, he stresses that SAP will be going to even smaller and backward villages and will be helping them to govern better.

First, a look at the work so far. SAP has partnered with Soda village in Rajasthan to help it marshal technology to support its 10,000 residents. Specifically, SAP has worked with the sarpanch, or leader, of the village to create an intranet and internet portal, as well as a technology education lab. Company executives reckon the portals make answers to critical questions accessible with only a few clicksleaders can now see how much funding is allocated to the village for such services as a community center or eye care. Land records are posted online, and birth and death certificates have become computerized. Whats more, the village portal is linked to state government websites, connecting residents to vital information.

Beyond this access, the e-lablocated in the centre of the village where people can easily walkoffers basic computer training and eventually will expand to offer courses in a range of subjects. The goal: a virtual education system that is accessible to all.

The impact: Soda village has become a model for a blending of the old and the new. The villages sarpanch, Chhavi Rajawat, aims to make government more accountable and seeks to tackle her regions unemployment and illiteracy rates. Computerisation, she says, is really about creating opportunity and equity. For SAP, such opportunities translate to a more educated workforce, as well as healthier local economies that may drive demand for the companys software services.

Moot point is that SAP is striving to make village administration more effective, transparent and accountable in delivering citizen services. In the near future, SAP intends to effectively use its expertise in the North East region and create a scalable model to go to 600,000 similar villages across India. As a part of the project, SAP will automate several operational areas in the village administration including tracking and control of funds, budget and expense management, accounting, management of local assets, project and scheme implementation and citizen services. SAP will also facilitate trained resources to operate the solution, and provide its expertise during the course of the project. As a partner, Rajiv Gandhi Indian Institute of Management-Shillong (RGIIM-S) will provide SAP with the necessary advisory support to gain understanding of the local environment, help identify project sites and liaison with local administration bodies where required.

Mawlai is a census town in East Khasi Hills district in the state of Meghalaya and this destination is the initial step of SAP to penetrate into the North East region. SAPs project for the Mawlai area will provide the local headman and citizens reliable access to records and services, better insight into budgeting and spending, and support quicker decision making, without a complex and cumbersome IT infrastructure, says Keya Sengupta, director, RGIIM-S.

Explains Mathew Thomas,vice presidentstrategic industries, SAP India, We need to develop citizen facing technology in rural India and mobiles will help us do so. SAP India MD agrees that there is a necessity for every citizen in the rural areas to have a back account and the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) of India will help in doing this.

NeGP takes a holistic view of e-governance initiatives across the country, integrating them into a collective vision, a shared cause. Around this idea, a massive countrywide infrastructure reaching down to the remotest of villages is evolving and large-scale digitisation of records is taking place to enable easy, reliable access over the internet. The ultimate objective is to bring public services closer home to citizens, as articulated in the vision statement of NeGP. The government approved the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP), comprising of 27 mission mode projects (MMPs) and 8 components, on May 18, 2006.

The opportunity Mathew claims that SAP is one of the very few global companies that is doing work specifically for India with localised solutions. In India, there is huge interest by the government to adopt technology. Our solutions in Hindi are an invention particularly for this market because 49% of the population in India is Hindi speaking. There is a need in the market for localised solutions.

SAP recently announced the availability of its flagship ERP product in Hindi. SAP ERP in Hindi will address areas such as logistics including India taxation, accounting, employee data, provident fund; payroll including pay-slip, loans, claims and employee self services. The localised solution will help unlock the huge domain knowledge and expertise that exists at different employee and management levels in government organisations.

SAP India executives believe that the file management in the Indian government too needs to automated for better functioning. For the same, the company has come with a solution in Hindi for file procurement system. We will be reaching out to different ministries with this solution and will be helping them in automation. This is a part of the bigger e-governance plan, informs Peter.

In the larger picture too, public sector is an important segment for SAPglobally and in India. Talking of PSUs in India, Peter says that oil and power companies are established and large clients of SAP. Then comes mining and utilities sectors.

Probed on what SAP will be betting on in the coming future, Peter says, The dairy industry is a potential market and we want to help companies with a better supply chain management so that less food is wasted. Though we are very strong in healthcare globally, we have not done that much work in India for healthcare. We realise that there are key issues like vaccination which need attention in this country.

Going forward, SAP is keen to replicate the Soda and North East model in other villages. With the cloud hovering, the German tech giant is geared up to transform Indian villages.