Technology Innovation for the Community
Naresh Wadhwa, President and Country Manager, Cisco India & SAARC
The importance of technology as a platform for development is now widely acknowledged. Technology innovation, traditionally focused on enterprises has eventually filtered into wider public use and many innovations that were initially targeted at a specific industry have become universally relevant. IT for example, has since its inception, become the chief determinant for the progress of nations, communities and individuals. Considered crucial for the empowerment of society, the Internet has been the superhighway on which economies have surged ahead. Broadband today is playing a similar role.
Governments around the world, both in developed and emerging economies, are waking up to the idea that technology can help build sustainable communities for inclusive growth. As governments look at investments in technology, enterprises are taking steps to leverage the opportunity and develop products and solutions geared towards community development.
India has shown rapid economic growth rates over the last two decades, fuelled by its export-oriented software and ICT-based services sector. Rapid strides have been made in the area of ICT, which has been utilized to bring government services to the doorstep of the people. To further that growth, efforts must be made to provide benefits to rural populations in a manner that makes economic sense.
Over the last few years, the effective use of ICT services in government administration has enhanced existing efficiencies, driven down communication costs and increased transparency in the functioning of various departments. It has also given citizens easy access to tangible benefits, through simple applications such as online form filling, bill sourcing and payments as well as complex applications like distance education and telemedicine.
The elements that have formed the basis of this government service delivery framework are the State Wide Area Networks (SWANs) and their front-end outlets - the Common Service Centers (CSCs) and the State Data Centers (SDCs). The SWAN project provides connectivity to facilitate the rolling out of citizen centric services under various Mission Mode Projects (MMPs). Under the Common Service Centre (CSC) scheme, broadband Internet - enabled kiosks have been established in rural areas to deliver government and private services. State Data Centers (SDCs) along with Disaster Recovery (DR) provide shared, secured and managed infrastructure for consolidating and hosting State level data and applications.
Mere technology not enough:
While IT has enabled rural transition in education, healthcare, employment and accessibility, adopting a proactive strategy, will further enable rural people to face the unprecedented challenges brought on by the changing global economy, political changes and environmental degradation. Information and communications Technology therefore is a powerful productivity tool and the government, industry and society should work together and use it to accelerate economic and social development in rural areas.
The same holds good for urban India. Business models based on ICT alone are not sufficient for successful entrepreneurship or sustainability. ICT is an enabler and must be used to facilitate business models that serve the needs of, and are relevant to, the customers they serve. Building around prior domain knowledge, matching business ideas with the skills and interests of local entrepreneurs and exercising sensitivity to geographic, socio-economic and cultural contexts allows for sustainable and inclusive growth.
ICT for development (ICT4D) projects must be monitored and implemented properly; the system's design and user interface should be suitable to the target users. The need of the hour is to bring more stakeholders on board. Existing technologies must be utilized to their optimum level to help people and businesses learn and grow within a global technological ecosystem.
Globally, demographics are changing rapidly and urbanization is one of the most notable trends. Southeast Asia has one of the world's fastest urbanization rates at 3.1% annually. Eleven of the world's 19 megacities are in Asia. India is also witnessing a mass exodus from rural to urban areas, leading to over-crowded cities bursting at the seams.
Urbanization coupled with rising populations has brought concerns such as climate change, water conservation and depletion of fossil fuels to the forefront. With this overwhelming change in demography, the bottom-line is sustainability - environmental, economic and social. Given that by 2030 the 20 most populous cities alone will be responsible for 75 percent of the planet's energy consumption; the need of the hour is for integrated city management.
Adopting intelligent solutions help to save and manage resources more efficiently. We can therefore expect community-focused technology development to emerge as an enduring trend in the coming years. Utilizing technology as a platform for development helps holistic, intelligent and environmentally sustainable creation and management of cities, towns, industries and public services.
Government investment in such endeavors makes them inclusive. For community development efforts to become successful, effective partnership between four key stakeholders: Public sector (governments - national and local), Private sector (members of the target audience, multi-national organizations, social companies), Informal sector (NGOs, advocacy groups, think tanks) is vital. Strategic public private partnerships (PPPs), when implemented correctly, increase efficiency and choice and expand access to various services that tend to be poorly served by traditional delivery methods. For a country betting on its demographic dividend, these kinds of partnerships help build scale. In essence therefore, ICT is a vital component required for the development of economies like ours. Using it effectively will make communities more inclusive thereby transforming the way we work, live, play and learn.