How to Create a Digital India through Public-Private Partnerships

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How to Create a Digital India through Public-Private Partnerships

Dinesh Malkani, President, Cisco India & SAARC
The article was published in Business World Online

The government’s Digital India vision is one of the most exciting initiatives the country has embraced to leapfrog us to the 21st century. What was once a visionary notion is now the new normal: technology is really as essential as the three utilities: water, gas, and electricity. Our government leaders have made it clear that broadband highways are as important as national highways. Through the government’s Digital India program, infrastructure will be offered as a utility to every citizen, governance and services will be on demand, and citizens will be digitally empowered.

The government’s Digital India vision inspired us to unveil our Cisco Smart City in Bangalore in September 2014 to demonstrate what can be possible when the nation is digitized. Cisco’s 2.6 million square foot campus-as-a-city enables thousands of our employees to work, play and learn with the physical network infrastructure securely connected to devices such as sensors, information access points and mobile devices.Sustainable urban solutions such as Smart Buildings, Remote Expert, Connected Learning, Smart Parking and Smart Work Spaces transform the employee experience.

India is on the path to embracing digital technologies and reaping the ensuing benefits especially in the areas of broadband expansion, electronics manufacturing, and eGovernance and citizen services delivered electronically. The implementation of the Digital India program will help the country in overcoming our challenges, seizing our opportunities and providing citizens with access to better infrastructure and quality of life. Technology will be an enabler and we see the network as the foundation for the government to become more connected to citizens, businesses and partner agencies. Cities are well positioned to improve the quality of citizens’ lives through technology because the government provides (or sources) many of the services upon which citizens rely, including transportation, law enforcement, education, water, and (sometimes) Internet connectivity.Today cities around the world are appointing CIOs and there is a deepening understanding that ICT master planning should be integrated into city blueprints.

The Role of the Internet of Everything in a Digital India

We really believe that the Internet of Everything can play a transformational role in enabling a Digital India. From a technology point of view, in India we are reaching an inflection point for the Internet of Everything to occur. We see 3 main technology trends that are making this possible. The first is the dramatic increase in processing power, storage and bandwidth at very low costs. It’s amazing to note that even 4 years ago, 10,000 transistors cost less than a grain of rice. The second trend is the unprecedented rise of data – the world’s data is doubling every two years. As everything starts to get connected, more data will be produced. We believe that by 2020, 40% of all data worldwide will be produced by sensors. Think of the evolution of data as a pyramid with the data at the bottom of the pyramid. With connections, the network connects that data in real time, and along with analytics transforms the data into information. With connections to processes, people and things, and with scenario planning added in, the result will be wisdom that sits at the top of the pyramid – this will lead to better decision making and richer customer experiences. And the third technology trend is the rise of apps. In 2007 when we opened our Globalisation Centre East Campus in India, there were just 3,000 apps worldwide. Today there are more than 1.6 million apps. You can see the possibilities.

Clearly it is not just about connecting a mobile phone, car, a refrigerator or health device — it’s about the combination of all of this. In 1984, there were 1,000 devices connected to the Internet worldwide. In 2014, 10 billion devices will have downloaded 77 billion mobile apps. 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet in the next decade, and we will be able to get massive amounts of data, from sensors. Cisco expects networked devices in India to rise to 1.8 billion by 2018. The future will not be just about the connected devices, it will be about the transformation in the creation and delivery of services that will accompany the coming deluge of big and open data. In a digital India these connections, combined with access to the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, will empower people in ways that we never imagined.

So, from a technology point of view the time is right. What will take to achieve success at an overall level? At Cisco, we believe that creating the next generation of smart and connected cities will depend upon five key areas: visionary leadership, global open standards, smart regulation, public private partnerships and a new ecosystem.

Public-Private Partnerships Will be the Key to Success

Solutions enabled by partnerships between government agencies and private companies i.e. public-private partnerships (PPPs) are key to the success of country digitization initiatives. PPPs have the opportunity to forge blueprints, policies, and practices that help create a Digital India. Governments alone do not have all the resources to provide the required infrastructure and facilities to their citizens. Private participation brings efficiency along with funding and through partnerships with the private sector, the government can bring in its resources and provide the much needed sustainability and scalability. Through PPPs the government gets access to ideas and technology, while the private sector tastes the benefits of the scale that only governments can provide.

New economic models are emerging to create the optimum conditions PPPs to succeed. In a Digital India, new economic models will bring together the government, businesses and citizens in a model where each participant benefits. We believe that PPPs can greatly improve commerce and form new patterns of citizen, government, and business cooperation. Government officials, private sector leaders, and ordinary citizens must recognise the need to overcome previous barriers to success such as individual interests, immature technology, lack of standardisation, and burdensome regulation.For a Digital India to succeed, we will need to develop governance models and frameworks supported by public private partnerships that enable government and the IT industry (systems integrators, applications developers, and service providers) to share information and collaborate across a community’s ecosystem to transform city operation. A key element to bringing citizens, private enterprise, and the public sector together, in public-private projects is the presence of forward-thinking leaders to rally the ecosystem.

A great example of a PPP in India is the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, the world’s largest infrastructure project. Spread over 1480 km, the project is aimed at creating a new transportation and urbanization corridor between Delhi and Mumbai and reducing the Delhi-Mumbai goods shipment time from 14 days to 1 day. The corridor is also focused on providing citizen services such as public safety & security, transportation and education.

Some of the other projects enabled by PPPs in India include the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) whereby the government hopes to extend affordable citizen services to all Indians, including those in distant villages. Through the NeGP, the government is making significant investments for automation of land records, taxes, driving licenses and passports. Private involvement in the NeGP includes creating infrastructure, delivering services in the form of mission mode projects and creating awareness. PPP models can be devised to provide rural farming communities with vital e-content on various agriculture and agro-business related issues. Farmers can get weather guidance, updates about the market (prices, quality etc.), and relevant government schemes, sell their produce directly to the distributors and get a better realization for it.

There are also huge opportunities for PPPs in the area of open data. As an example, the Chicago open data portal has nearly 600 data sets at this point ranging from information about the city's annual budget, to information about the age of the physical assets in the city. These data sets are helping the government better prioritize their investments. The data sets can be also used by the civic development community to build hyper local apps such as an app for citizens to better understand the best route to take their children to school. Businesses can also pull the data into their apps and create value and deliver better experiences for customers. One such an example in Chicago is an app called sweeparoundus.comwhich can alert citizens if a street sweeper is coming along because the city publishes the street sweeping schedule. There are a lot of areas in city services where predictive analytics can help the government be more efficient and effective.

Now is the Time for a Digital India

Why do we believe this is the right time for a Digital India? The answer is simple: India has made more progress than ever before across the 5 key areas outlined earlier in the article: visionary leadership, global open standards, smart regulation, public private partnerships and a new ecosystem. The opportunity to live, work, play and learn in a Digital India is finally at hand. Neither the government itself nor anyone company can do this alone – PPPs will be key to making a Digital India happen. There is a huge opportunity for the industry to partner with the government in the Digital India program, help transform the life experiences of 1.2 billion Indians and drive India’s return to the centre of the world’s stage.

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