Technology for the Betterment of People
Naresh Wadhwa, President and Country Manager, Cisco India and SAARC
Emerging economies like India are grappling with the challenges of globalisation and trying to put in place 'strategies' that help make the most of the opportunities it presents for country transformation. The role of technology in furthering these ambitions is pivotal and prominent. Speed, scale and flexibility are key.
The future is about collaboration and teamwork where technology enables people to participate in the created growth. As a workforce provider of the future and an engine of innovation for the world, India has seen tremendous growth in the last few years. To sustain this growth and maintain GDP levels (8.6% in real terms), it is important to ensure that development happens at the grassroots level and includes the rural population.
Financial inclusion of the vulnerable groups is a prerequisite for employment, economic growth, poverty alleviation and social upliftment. To promote financial inclusion, the government of India has identified about 73,000 habitations for providing banking facilities by March 2012 using appropriate technologies, and launched a multimedia campaign, Swabhimaan, to inform, educate and motivate people to open bank accounts.
The RBI is also promoting the concept of branchless banking, whereby banking services are provided by either using ICT services or through business correspondents and business facilitators. Another option to achieve financial inclusion is mobile banking. Mobile phones being ubiquitous in India, this will ensure that urban poor and rural population benefit from services like credit, payments and transfers and account opening.
New concepts like Bank-on-Wheels will increase banking reach to rural areas, because they simulate functions of a bank branch on a bus to serve 10-12 villages. Like financial inclusion, a change in healthcare and education is essential to achieve equitable development. Adoption of advanced technologies is critical to improve patient care, speed time to diagnosis, drive operational efficiencies and ensure regulatory compliance.
Technology also helps healthcare providers to address challenges that range from an ageing population to rising costs and geographic spread. Advanced technologies like unified communications help physicians and other medical staff to communicate remotely in whatever methods they prefer, with their patients and peers irrespective of physical location.
Hospital personnel can interact with their hospital information systems while sitting at a patient's bedside and provide advanced healthcare services in remote areas. Using the network as the platform, collaboration technology solutions supported by fast data, voice, video aid guidance, diagnosis and treatment in realtime to wherever the patient might be.
Technologies like telepresence offer an person-to-person communication and extend the physicians' judgment to the patient location without the need for travel. For patients, they facilitate access to physicians, specialists, other patients, caregivers and members of the healthcare ecosystem located miles away. This improves patient education, enables wellness management, ensures post-discharge follow up and provides a better healthcare experience.
Web 2.0 technologies such as social networking, video blogs and wikis along with ICT devices such as laptops and mobile phones help disseminate information remotely to enable better healthcare decisions. Apollo Hospitals in Bangalore, for example, will soon employ ICT to make quality healthcare accessible to the masses and deliver healthcare remotely.
Like healthcare, collaboration technologies enable creation of virtual learning environments. Web 2.0 and social networking tools facilitate learning in new ways while streaming video, rich media conferencing and telepresence make live distance learning situations interactive. In addition to providing an efficient, highly-secure environment for sharing information, they also help educators collaborate and share research with peers across the globe.
Employing these tools, students in the villages of Bichali, Talmari and Tungabhadra of Raichur, Karnataka, are able to reach out to teachers in the nearby cities to learn English and Maths without leaving their village. Using collaborative technology, these students get connected virtually with teachers who offer special tutoring services for a small fee.
While the students get extended support for learning, the tutors can reach out to new learners. Similarly, using networking technologies and architectures like the cloud, it is possible to create a platform for remote delivery of education through virtual teacher-student environments.
The government of Karnataka has, in fact, rolled out a new pilot project that will use these technologies to provide specialised, remote intervention teaching to students in two government, pre-matriculation, social welfare boys' hostels in Vidyanagar and Shikaripura of Shimoga district. Through the project, about 450 students of classes VI to X will receive intervention training in English, Maths, Social Sciences and Science through after-class hours.
This will, in turn, enhance the learning experience for both teachers and students and help attract more students to pursue their studies using such facilities. As the examples above indicate, technology helps to bridge the gap between rural and urban India by facilitating better healthcare delivery, education and financial inclusion.
As the government continues to make technology investments through its National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) and Unique Identification ( UID) projects, wireless for last-mile connectivity in rural India along with growth in broadband penetration will become important for country transformation. Better planning and foresight are pertinent to drive inclusive growth, going forward.