How India can be rewired to succeed in the global digital economy

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Updated: May 16, 2016 10:55 AM

Till a few years ago, the west perceived India as a land deeply entrenched in its customs and traditions.

Till a few years ago, the west perceived India as a land deeply entrenched in its customs and traditions. However, the early 1990s saw India awakening to the world of economic reforms thereby attracting foreign investments, and unlocking entrepreneurial aptitude which eventually led to the emergence of a neo middle class. Twenty-odd years later, India is still battling these reforms, and has a long way to go in terms of gaining economic stability and growth. To achieve this, the government under the tutelage of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has envisioned the Digital India plan to empower the citizens of the country.

India as a country is growing not only at the scale of knowledge, wealth and skills, it’s also undergoing a huge reformation concept. This concept of change in the connected economy by going digital in the true sense at the grass root beyond the boundaries of metros. As a result, IT plays the new role of digitally connecting India, just like the railways connected the nation in the past. As an example, in healthcare, effective and timely treatment will become a possibility with telemedicine which connects medical professionals to patients.

If we dive deep and take a look at our areas of strength, there is a great potential of digital growth contribution through a younger population. As a nation, India is home to 65% of youth who are 35 years or under. A country’s progress depends on its people, but a majority of the Indian populous live in a state of digital darkness and hence it is of prime importance to bridge this gap in order to reap the benefits of a digitally enabled economy.

India’s internet population is limited to the periphery of the urban areas—213 million compared to the 45 million from rural areas. In order to bridge this massive gap, there is a need for basic digital infrastructure. The government’s Digital India initiative further aims to connect all 2.5 lakh villages online, across India in the next two and a half years.

The government is also taking bold steps to bridge the urban-rural gap by empowering rural India with access to finance related government schemes. Pradhan Mantri’s Jan Dhan Yojana, a financial inclusion plan aims to bring banking facilities to remote locations of the country at a click of a button. The Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana has resulted in opening more than 200 million bank accounts since 2014. With the support of Aadhaar biometric-back identification system, the government has been able to digitise benefit-transfers, allowing beneficiaries to keep benefit payments stored more securely. The Jan-Dhan Yojana Aadhaar Mobile (JAM) combination creates a never before opportunity to transform the social and economic landscape of the country by using the power of the internet to connect over a billion citizens.

The country’s digital success lies in its internet connectivity. According to Akamai’s Q3 State of the Internet Report, India has the average connection speed of 2.5 Mbps. Around 14% of India has a broadband connection of 4Mbps and only 2.3% has a speed of 10 Mbps. All levels of government as well as businesses face problems when they rely on the use of heavy interactive elements such as videos and real time communication to engage with their customers and set themselves apart from the competition which contribute to the bandwidth and slows down web performance.

However, one of the major challenges faced in this ambitious plan would be that of security. There is always a possibility of data being sabotaged and data theft is a major worry. Social media attacks are also on the rise. The rise in the use of smartphones also bring with it the danger of mobile malware attacks. Additionally the Q4 State of the Internet Security report states that India was one of the top target countries for web application attacks in Q3 of 2015.

There is a need to build a strong secure network infrastructure that can scale against the ever-growing attacks. A fast, reliable and secure internet can be built by adopting a citizen-centric approach by PPPs. A national cyber security platform will be possible if policies are evaluated for technical enforceability and then implemented uniformly throughout to create a secure digital experience.

Digital India has also proposed to adopt optical fibre technology to build a network across the nation. The major beneficiaries of this National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) would be the rural population where 2,50,000 panchayats will enjoy high speed broadband connectivity.

Security measures need to be taken at every step of the way from planning to execution with a “better to be safe than sorry” approach. Unprotected digital assets should be dealt with as quickly as possible. To this end, the government is setting up ‘Botnet cleaning centres’ that will work towards removing automated malicious software capable of controlling devices and stealing information.

The internet infrastructure will not only make a significant contribution to the country’s GDP but also change society for the better. The speedy technological approach that the government has adopted will help connect and contribute in a profitable way to the citizens. If performance and security issues are tackled correctly, we will be able to work towards the economic and social well-being of the nation as well as nurture the growth of a well-guarded digital India.

The writer is MD & VP, Akamai Technologies, India

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