Infra is key for Digital India to work

Over a year into the central government’s ambitious ‘Digital India’ initiative and at a time when the Indian IT growth story has been nothing short of spectacular, continuous access to information, commerce, communication and entertainment – among a plethora of other things – have become an essential part of the lives of millions and is soon to become a reality for millions more.

In an increasingly digital economy like India, home to the world’s second largest smartphone market, having the right kind of digital infrastructure for data storage and management is absolutely mission-critical, considering in the past two years alone, the world has generated 90% of the data in existence today.

As the Internet makes its weight felt in critical, high-impact areas such as healthcare, banking, education and government-to-citizen (G2C) services, access to the right kind of digital infrastructure support services will only become more indispensable for everyone in the years to come.

According to a recent World Economic Forum report, the Internet economy in emerging markets like India is growing at a staggering 12-25% per year, and is having a far-reaching social, political and economic impact. Clearly, all this circles back to the need for quality digital infrastructure if one has to consider storing the colossal amount of data that is being generated each second by every Indian smartphone and computer owner. With global issues like terrorist threats, cybercrimes and data breaches on the rise, organisations, particularly governments are making huge investments in monitoring, security in IT and video surveillance systems.

However, the ‘Smart City’ and ‘Digital India’ projects launched last year are certainly a move in the right direction with intentions of bridging the digital divide and empowering Indians not just digitally but also from social and financial perspectives. The recently launched e-agri platform, the National Agriculture Market (NAM), will be a boon for farmers, who are probably a priority in the consideration set in the country.

The idea of allowing farmers to sell their crops to buyers anywhere in the country and vice versa by simply logging into the platform without the need to be physically present or dependent on intermediaries is truly remarkable.

Similar digital initiatives like the ‘Digital Locker’ facility for citizens to digitally store their important government documents like driver’s licence and Aadhaar card will prompt an increase in data inflow too. A lot of these support services will be rendered over government cloud and a combination of government-owned and public and private cloud.
Internet connectivity

While all this is great, such initiatives do not mean much if the digital infrastructure or Internet connectivity is either below-par or non-existent, which is unfortunately the case in large swathes of the country for a number of reasons. Apart from connectivity, other key concerns that the government ought to address in the digital infrastructure space are content relevance, data security and infrastructure network capacity.

Now, in order for an Indian government department or organisation to be able to identify and install the ideal digital infrastructure that would benefit and improve its citizens’ lives, it must first be able to ascertain current issues and also predict future needs.

Much of India’s present day infrastructure problems in key areas like power, water, drainage systems, transportation and security are largely to do with the lack of administrative vision and bottlenecks and the ever-burgeoning population is doing little to help it.

However, by no means is the government the only player to sort out these issues. Today, while the role of the government is to provide the right policies, key infrastructure like telecom, IT and broadband are expected to be largely provided by private players and in many cases, foreign investors, as is the norm nowadays. Therefore, the government ought to partner with them to ensure that the generated structured and unstructured data can be used to retrieve intelligent insights to make it count eventually.

So while advancements like citizen security, intelligent traffic management system (ITMS) and smart metering (of electricity supply) are certainly innovations for the future, what really is the need of the hour is exemplary administrative vision and meaningful technology breakthroughs to get the infrastructure right to make India's digital dream a reality.

Without a doubt, a resilient and robust digital infrastructure is the heart and soul of every organization and a very critical key to achieving every Indian’s dream of a truly ‘Digital India’.

(The writer is President, NetApp India & Saarc)

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