Mr Prime Minister, have you considered these challenges?

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Last Friday, PM Narendra Modi took the entire country by storm when he articulated his thoughts for a digital India. As the euphoria subsides, we ask very pertinent questions to Sanchit Vir Gogia, Chief Analyst & Group CEO, Greyhound Research, about the hurdles that may hamper the PM’s dream. While Gogia very candidly points out the roadblocks, he also throws light on the opportunities that the telecom and the IT industry can leverage. Edited excerpts from an interview.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shared his dreams for a Digital India. But is the country prepared?
With the launch of Digital India, the Indian government has finally taken a bold step towards establishing a global digital identity for itself and its citizens. What it is interesting is that Digital India has now gone beyond just connectivity and the government is ready to have an open dialogue about integrating technology into infrastructure development; cloud computing; privacy and data security.

What are the challenges you foresee in implementation and execution of the projects?
However in terms of preparedness, India is still at a nascent stage–the government needs to set a strong foundation before embarking on the major projects to avoid failure. All stakeholders ie the Center and state governments; private & public enterprises and most importantly the citizens must be equally wired to this initiative.

In terms of technology infrastructure, while the government made some ambitious announcements such as DigiLocker, e-Sign and m-Banking; there is still no clarity on when a National Cyber Security Policy will be brought into action. The absence of a security framework remains to be roadblock for IT vendors and users alike. Another deterrent for IT projects is the absence of a regulatory policy for cloud-based vendors. The Indian government needs to address this on priority, till then IT end-users have to struggle to operate without any policies protecting them.

Digital India is a large-scale initiative both in span and penetration of the projects being planned; the primary challenge would be to ensure that it is a movement of commonalities where all stratums of individuals and organizations benefit and not just a chosen few.

As seen in the past, the Government often mirrors the agenda of the chosen few powerhouses of the industry. The Digital India program will open up massive avenues for production and services creation–there needs to be ample representation and opportunities for Indian SMEs to benefit from economies of scale.

What is the solution?
Education is critical for technology adoption– policy makers must account for change management. A majority of technology adoption needs to happen within rural India where education on using technology is limited.

There has to be a softer approach to induct Indian citizens to adopt technology by making them aware of the benefits that come with application.

For example, ATMs were introduced in India as early as 1987 however the rampant adoption took place in the last 10 years. Today ATMs are gaining acceptance as primary source of cash dispenser in many tier-3 and -4 towns and villages–this change happened primarily owing to the efforts made to educate individuals on the safety, benefits and swiftness of transactions.

Set a strong regulatory framework to protect citizens–imperative to secure buy-in of citizens on Digital India initiatives. The government of India needs to go ahead and set a clear regulatory framework around initiatives launched under Digital India. The government needs to be the backbone and set the agenda on what they are doing to protect citizen, set up transparent escalation channels and legal dictates.

For a start, define a National Cyber Security policy to safeguard citizens who would use services such as Digital Lockers and e-Sign; that they are protected when sharing legal documents and digital proofs respectively.

On a positive note, Digital India brings a lot of hope for the otherwise stagnant IT and telecom vendors and partners.
Greyhound Research’s upcoming IT Opportunity Report 2015-16 talks about how Indian Government’s initiatives such as Digital India are opening up avenues of investment for IT and telecom vendors. Let me highlight some of these opportunities.

Telecom vendors and service providers:
In order to execute the NOFN initiative of connecting 2.5 lakh villages, the Center has invited states to develop connectivity on reimbursement of cost basis. With dedicated state budgets, this will open avenues for telecom and network vendors to set up signal cables and connectors, high-speed broadband corridors, optic fibers networks etc.

IT vendors and partners in the infrastructure (pureplay hardware, storage and server and networking) space:
Initiatives like Smart Cities will open up a lot of opportunities for hardware and software vendors—it holds great potential for vendors of public safety and governance related technology solutions.

Initiatives like e-Biz, MyGov and DigiLockers will open up opportunities for IT vendors who can provide networking and data infrastructure; back-end automation and security frameworks.

IT vendors and partners in enterprise software space:
The government’s financial inclusion program, Jan Dhan Yojana is aimed at securing two bank accounts for every Indian household. This again creates a fresh need for IT systems, CRM, data storage and security, analytics and bank process automation software solutions.

Also, software-defined anything (SDX) technologies are increasingly being used for implementations that demand automation to drive process efficiencies. With new SDX, organizations and government will be able to achieve better outcomes with the same investment.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Rajya Sabha MP, recently mentioned the need for a CTO to run the project of this scale…
At Greyhound Research, we have been talking about the necessity for a Federal CTO for years. The Digital India initiative aims to bring together several public and private bodies work on projects. With the quantum of collaboration required amongst bodies, outcomes tend to get lost–in the wake of India’s leap towards digitization and to avoid project failures, the presence of a Federal CTO is goal-critical.

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