Leveraging IT for inclusive growth

Everybody is talking about India being the second fastest growing economy in the world. We would probably be the third largest economy in the world in a few decades. We are part of the elite group of emerging nations (BRIC– Brazil, Russia, India & China) whose influence in global politics is increasing rapidly.

But is India growing uniformly? Are the fruits of liberalization and high growth reaching every Indian? Is the per capita income increasing at the same pace throughout? In fact are all Indians even aware of this growth? The answer to the above is unfortunately a – No.

Since independence we had a couple of revolutions viz. Green Revolution and White Revolution. They were huge successes in their respective domains.  The green revolution brought with it high yielding variants of paddy, cereals etc. States like Punjab, Haryana & UP benefited from it.green revolution White revolution on its part propelled India to the largest producer of milk in the world. Successful though but these had impact on a section of our population. The others were kept starved from a fair share of this growth.

India now needs more such revolutions to pull its huge population out of poverty. To sustain the high growth which India has been experiencing for last few years, she should be able to turn her huge population to its own advantage. Demographic dividend is what we should be able to reap.

Fortunately in the 21st century we have the tools and the wherewithal which can help us achieve our ultimate dream.

Telecom & Broadband: With telecom penetration in our country reaching to more than 50% level in just fifteen years, it is time we start using this stupendous growth for the advantage of our masses. The thousands of kilometres of Fibre optic can be used to take broadband to the remote areas of the country. The price of hardware too has come down to a reasonable level. Cost of low end laptops have been bought to Rs.1500. Even smart phones & palmtops are now available at reasonable cost. With the advent of 3G and WiMax intelligent applications can be made available on phones and computers at a very low cost.

Inclusive growth

e-Choupal” has made wonders for the thousands of farmers in rural India. Traditionally the middleman use to make most of the profits. ITC Limited has now provided computers and Internet access in rural areas across several agricultural regions of the country, where the farmers can directly negotiate the sale of their produce with ITC Limited. This online access enables farmers to obtain information on mandi prices, and good farming practices, and to place orders for agricultural inputs like seeds and fertilizers. This helps farmers improve the quality of their products, and helps in obtaining a better price.

Similar initiatives can be taken to bring distance education to hundreds of thousands of boys and girls in remote places. Making available various courses so as to make them better equipped for employment. This way we can shift a huge workforce from farming to other allied services.

Broadband and mobile banking can be used to take financial services to the nooks and corners of the country. These initiatives could save financial institutions crores of rupees which otherwise they would have to invest in having physical infrastructure like branches and trained staff. Thus serving people residing in far flung areas would be a more viable preposition. The obvious outcome of these would be financial inclusion.

With the UID becoming a reality in some time, it would be easy to collect information pertaining to citizens. Individuals on their part could get access to services like e-governance and other related services. In our democratic setup, individuals can raise their concerns without going through the bureaucratic red tape.

In simple words, broadband can be a great enabler.

Cloud Computing: The excitement is similar to what it was in the last decade when the Internet was assuming the shape we see it in today. Just as we cannot imagine a world sans the World Wide Web now, the cloud could rapidly change the way we view and use information technology.
A cloud can basically be defined as ‘a standardised IT capability, such as software, app platform or infrastructure, delivered via Internet technologies in a pay-per-use and self-service way’. People have been using the cloud for years. Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail have been on the cloud for a while now. The difference between then and now lies is just who is using it, and the volume and the type of data that is involved.

Today’s notion of cloud computing is about taking online services to enterprise networks, not just to solitary consumers. This also means that the volume of data that is being processed and stored online is of a gigantic magnitude.
In fact, if we were to break down the services that the cloud today provides, they can be classified into:

  1. Software-as-a-service (SaaS): It comprises end-user applications delivered as a service rather than traditional on-premise software.
  2. Platform-as-a-service (PaaS): It provides an independent platform as a service on which developers can build and deploy customer applications.
  3. Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS): It primarily comprises the hardware and technology for computing power, storage, operating systems or other infrastructure delivered as an on-demand service rather than a dedicated onsite resource.

Cloud computing can fundamentally transform government services, scientific exploration and discovery, and economic and social development. For example, the cloud can expand and support an e-government services platform and a research and development platform for eco-friendly services wherever applicable. Companies like Microsoft are completely committed to the cloud, their services and solutions come with the reliability, security and global reach that customers deserve and demand (Windows azure being an example).

Longer term, cloud computing is turning out to bring a transformative change in the business landscape. It is aiding the making of a new generation of products and services, creating a new awareness of the greater Internet, and Web 2.0 in particular, and supporting a more self-service IT architecture. Developers can write basic cloud applications that work in all of the major cloud platforms so as to achieve interoperability.

This is just the beginning. New and additional standards will emerge as new and inventive scenarios develop from evolving platforms, standards and technologies. But this will work well and in our favour only if we make technology both personal and democratic.

In the Indian context, cloud computing holds greater potential because of an obvious reason: we have no legacy systems that need to evolve or move into the cloud. For instance, both our state and central governments are in the process going digital, and the time is just right to implement the cloud right off. While keeping costs low, the cloud will not just put an efficient document management system in place, but will also ensure efficiency in service delivery.     So, yes, cloud computing is an Idea whose time has come.