A Game Changer

Voice&Data - - EDITORIAL -

It is ac­tu­ally not easy to re­mem­ber what all was an­nounced at the Dig­i­tal In­dia Week by the prime min­is­ter early this month, but I have to ad­mit that each one of them will be a game changer in citizen ser­vices. And equally im­por­tant, each one of them can lead to big op­por­tu­ni­ties for the In­dian ICT in­dus­try in terms of gen­er­at­ing rev­enues and em­ploy­ment.

As the coun­try em­barks on its Dig­i­tal In­dia jour­ney, I think that there are some things to be very care­ful about. There is a pos­si­bil­ity that have we taken too many things in our plate, and we could lose fo­cus. The nine pil­lars of Dig­i­tal In­dia : Broad­band High­way, Uni­ver­sal Ac­cess to Phones, Public In­ter­net Ac­cess, eGover­nance, eKranti, In­for­ma­tion for Aall, Elec­tron­ics Man­u­fac­tur­ing, IT for Jobs, Early Harvest Pro­gram (Please check out De­itY web­site for a de­tailed de­scrip­tion of each) are like ev­ery­thing un­der the sun. Are we geared up to han­dle all of them to­gether? Or we are just build­ing ex­pec­ta­tions which we are un­likely to be able to ful­fill.

My belief is that col­lab­o­ra­tion will be the name of the game, sim­ply be­cause Dig­i­tal In­dia touches so many as­pects. Col­lab­o­ra­tion within gov­ern­ments will per­haps be the first. Then it will need to hap­pen be­tween gov­ern­ments, tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, en­ter­prise users, peo­ple’s groups, and so on. I am not sure any of the stake-hold­ers to­day know how to col­lab­o­rate to build in­fra­struc­ture and ser­vices for the na­tion. Get­ting big tele­com and IT com­pany bosses on the dais where they de­liver 2 minute speeches that con­sist of noth­ing but their own com­pany plans is not col­lab­o­ra­tion for Dig­i­tal In­dia. It will need far more than that. It will need col­lab­o­ra­tion at the draw­ing board level.

Each of these nine pil­lars are huge – and some of them like do­mes­tic man­u­fac­tur­ing, eGover­nance or broad­band highways have had re­peated fail­ures. I don’t think these pro­grams will move any­where un­less we have a Nan­dan Nilekani (the man be­hind UIDAI) for each of them. Do we have such peo­ple in our midst to­day?

When will Dig­i­tal In­dia be off the ground; how long will it take be­fore In­di­ans at large start ben­e­fit­ing from it; etc etc are ques­tions which we should not even at­tempt to an­swer. They will only pull us down. What I am very sure about is that Dig­i­tal In­dia can be a big game changer for the coun­try – its cit­i­zens, it busi­nesses, and its gov­ern­ment. Lets see how ev­ery­body col­lab­o­rates to make it a suc­cess.

Just a small ob­ser­va­tion, which sur­prised as well as sad­dened me. Seat­ing stal­warts like Azim Premji, Mukesh and Anil Am­bani, Cyrus Mistry, Anil Agar­wal, and Ku­mar Man­galam Birla right be­hind the prime min­is­ter and his team, as if they were a bunch of PS (per­sonal sec­re­taries) who carry the min­is­ters’ speech pa­pers and bou­quets, or like the se­cu­rity per­son­nel, was not in very good taste. Many of these busi­nesses lead­ers are seen in much higher es­teem than the po­lit­i­cal VIPs they were sit­ting be­hind, and are the big­gest stake-hold­ers in the Dig­i­tal In­dia plan, on whom its suc­cess de­pends.

The Rs 4.5 lakh crore in­vest­ments, and the 1.8 mil­lion jobs that the PM quickly es­ti­mated to be com­mit­ted for Dig­i­tal In­dia, is ac­tu­ally all com­ing from these busi­ness men. I am not sure what mes­sage was the prime min­is­ter or the tele­com and IT min­is­ter Ravi Shankar Prasad was try­ing to send.

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