The Socio Economic & Caste Census 2011 released on Friday, July 3rd 2015 showed that only two out of three rural homes in India own a mobile phone, while 28 per cent of rural households are without any phone, due to lack of connectivity and mobile towers.
While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this data, the report basis its results and recommendations on Census Data that is more than four years old. In today's dynamic business environment, things are changing by the minute.
The fundamental determinant is how current, relevant and usable the data is, basis which policies are formed and recommendations are being made. The Census is a cornerstone of information on which we build policies, create employment opportunities, build infrastructure, etc. However, if we are basing our policies and initiatives on legacy data, and the time to market for any policy decision takes another four years, by the time an issue is addressed, we have missed the target by eight years.
Our Prime Minister launched the Digital India week, with a promise to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. The initiative seeks to channelize the Rs 1.13 lakh crore fund to create a participative, transparent, responsive government, negating corruption with technology as its foundation.
Digitize Census Process
One of the key initiatives that should be kicked off right away as part of the Digital India program would be to digitize the Census process and ensure that the government departments tabulating and receiving data from the gram panchayat to the city level are on a real-time basis, so that the reaction to the challenges and issues is in real-time and not eight years from now.
According to Digital Strategy Consulting, India is the third biggest country in terms of internet users in the world, with a highly social and mobile audience. It estimates that more than 121 million Indians of the country's 1.2 billion population are logged on to the Internet. About 59% of Indians only access the Internet via their mobile devices. However, only 2% of rural Indians are using the internet. A key aspect the Digital India initiative is seeking to address.
However, for the Digital India initiative to be successful and for it to make the impact the government has visualized, the initiative needs to percolate down to every village, every Indian, where an individual can access data without compromise.
Influx Of Terabytes
Continuing with the example of the Census, there are several Indian analytics startups, who can be involved to completely digitally revamp the census process, lease tablets or use smartphones to pull data from the citizens and synchronize to a central server in every state in real-time.
This will lead to an "Influx of Terabytes". The Digital India initiative is also set to create an explosion of data. Estimates suggest that the initiative will create 10 Giga Bytes of data per person. If we extrapolate that data over the 1.2 billion population, one can imagine the data volume that will need to be managed that also needs to be stored securely and yet be accessible over the public cloud.
Therefore, there is a strong need to 1. Digitize some of the key data collecting mechanisms within the country, as our policies are developed basis this data. 2. Put in place appropriate data governance and data management policies, which will serve as a bedrock to policies which underpin services levels, ownership and processes that determine not only the lifecycle, activity and location of the data assets but also factors such as accessibility, consistency, accuracy, protection, performance and security. Beyond this, factors that determine the archival and backup requirements of the data, who has access, what the audit procedure looks like and finally how compliance and regulation impacts on data assets in the storage architecture need well defined policies and rules.
With the Digital India initiative every citizen is within the reach of the government. Through the broadband technology, availability and accessibility of data will get extended, the accuracy data will ensure that benefits reach the citizens faster, without any loss of information or pilferage. Even from a cost stand point, middlemen are eliminated deliveries are faster, citizen satisfaction is higher and feedback is better. Accuracy is another aspect this whole project will provide. The intended beneficiary is reachable to the government through a click of a button.
From my perspective, the clarion call of the hour is to create Public Private Partnerships, assisting government departments digitize information and have access to this information in real-time. Infer this information to roll out services quickly and at short intervals that are not only hassle free, but also create a sense of delight for citizens.
Government departments today are in transition, and the challenge is that the data resides in a range of isolated, incompatible data silos. For any of us who either owns a house or pays tax, or wants to apply for a passport, the process has to be easy and seamless. For this to be a reality, technology providers will have to go through some serious tolerance test and challenges to bring out significant change to processes, reducing the burden on both the citizen, as well as of government departments managing these processes.
The relevance of data, managing, securing, protecting, moving and accessing this data regardless of where it lives will define the success of any technology led initiative in our country.