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eGovernment Forschung | eGovernment Research 2001 - 2017

‘Digital’ will continue to be the overarching theme of 2017 and its broad components will mature over the next 12 months and the coming few years

I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.”

This quote, credited to Albert Einstein, aptly sums up the daunting speed at which the technology treadmill moves, disrupting existing business models in its wake. It’s, however, very difficult to accurately predict which trends will mature and which will die along the way.

Nevertheless, if the year gone by is any indication, ‘digital’ will continue to be the overarching theme of 2017 and its broad components—the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data analytics, smart cities and villages, artificial intelligence (AI), mixed reality, digital payments, blockchain, Robotics, connected cars, 3D printing, drones and cybersecurity—will mature over the next 12 months and the coming few years.

Will adoption of these trends by the government, citizens and companies, however, ensure India is on the path of becoming truly digital? Not necessarily. Digital growth statistics can be very misleading if the execution is wanting, and its benefits do not appear to trickle down to the masses.

Consider, for instance, the contentious issue of demonetisation. While the Narendra Modi government has clearly revised the original script from black money elimination to digitization, and the shortcomings in the execution of the demonetisation drive are beyond the scope of this column, we can unite to ensure digital payments become a success and reduce the cost of cash (see The future of money).

The idea of a cashless society may sound Utopian and naive to many who are habituated to using cash but the fact is that the penetration of digital banking and digital payments will only rise with increased Internet penetration.

A July Google-BCG report expects around 90% of all devices to be Internet-enabled by 2017 and the number of Internet users to touch 650 million by 2020 from 300 million in 2015.

The report forecasts the size of the digital payments industry in India to touch $500 billion by 2020, contributing 15% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP). It also predicts the non-cash (including cheques, demand drafts, net banking, credit/debit cards, mobile wallets and unified payments interface) contribution in the consumer payments segment will double to 40% in the same period.

To be sure, Indians are well on the digital path with new technologies such as mobile wallets, crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, and mobile peer-to-peer payments even as we continue to live in a cash-based world; nearly 85% of consumer transactions worldwide are done with bills and coins.

Smartphones are expected to push digital further. Smartphone subscriptions will rise to 810 million by 2021, according to the India edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report released on 7 June.

Further, technologies such as blockchain could be used to create digital currency (like bitcoin), making peer-to-peer digital payments seamless and secure, while banks and payments service providers could offer solutions that enable customers to log in and pay via voice-based, biometric and iris authentication.

Hurdles to a cashless world, acknowledges the World Economic Forum (WEF), include the fact that “some merchants still don’t want infrastructure costs and fees associated with electronic payments; some customers still find cash convenient; access is an issue for individuals without bank accounts; and fraudsters continue to find opportunities in electronic transactions”.

Expanding merchant acceptance from the mere 1.5 million point-of-sale (PoS) devices that accept debit and credit cards at merchant outlets is an imperative. Moreover, about 600 million Indians probably don’t have bank accounts, and a disproportionate number of these are spread across more than 600,000 villages, earning daily wages in cash (bit.ly/2fBaORD).

The true success of the government’s move can be measured only if the millions of workers in the informal sector do not bear the brunt of demonetisation. Moreover, users will have to be convinced that digital payments are secure from hackers, failing which lack of trust will emerge as a huge hindrance to digitalization.

The government’s Digital India push, which appears to have gone on the back burner with demonetisation, is another case in point. The Rs1.3 trillion programme, which envisages a plethora of e-governance services across sectors such as healthcare, education and banking, and promises to introduce transparency in the system, reduce corruption and achieve inclusive growth, dovetails with its other initiatives such as Smart Cities and Make in India.

The e-services ride on the GI Cloud, also known as Meghraj, where government departments have to host their cloud data. Over 1,700 government departments and agencies across the country already use the mobile platform, Mobile Seva. Digital India policy initiatives include the use of open source software and open APIs (application programming interfaces) to ensure interoperability of software across departments, collaborative application development and cloud-ready applications. Besides, Bharat Net (earlier known as the National Optical Fibre Network, it is governed by the department of telecom), the digital infrastructure has components such as common service centres (CSCs) for every panchayat. All the post offices and CSCs are being upgraded and expanded.

However, even as so much is happening, mobile calls still drop in Digital India. Many people in villages still do not have an Internet connection or enough content in their own vernacular languages. India still has poor bandwidth speeds. Along with smart cities, we need to think about smart villages and towns, too. More importantly, many parts of our country lack electricity to power Digital India, and the push for renewable energy just does not seem to be enough.

Execution is another big challenge since Digital India has to be coordinated by the department of electronics and information technology, or DeitY, but the implementation has to be done by all government departments, state governments and the Union territories. Not to count callous officials and corrupt politicians. Second, programmes like Smart Cities and Make in India (for instance, the government’s plan to set up two semiconductor units in India and, thus, raise about $40 billion investment, may never see light of day) will require considerable investments in terms of manpower, technological upgrades, skill development, digital literacy and, most importantly, a plethora of standards to be laid out and adhered to. Besides, if it takes around 30-40 years to build a city, should we expect a smart city to be built in five years?

Effectively, we will continue to broadly see two India(s) in the coming year, too.

One will be a Smart India, talking about digital payments, blockchains for everything from improving banking to logistics and retail, IoT and Big Data analytics—for everything from driving growth, reducing cost, improving operational excellence, recruiting better people to completely transform their business strategy—AI technologies like machine learning, deep learning and natural language processing that will help more automation and ease people’s lives, robots that will assist humans and workers in factories, and drones that will help in delivery and other chores.

Simultaneously, we will continue to have the other India, too, where its citizens will continue standing in queues to withdraw cash simply because they have no Internet connection or bandwidth is patchy or too expensive; where its citizens will continually be deprived of loans and insurance because Big Data analytics would have identified them as poor return on investment (RoI) users; and where AI, 3D Printing, drones and automation technologies would prove a threat to their routine jobs because these citizens are not organized enough to demand re-skilling and do not have the resources to take offline or online classes.

We cannot afford to have these two India(s), failing which a truly digital India will always be a dream. Hence, while India may eventually become a truly digital nation, it will not be by 2018, or 2020 for that matter, as the government has indicated.

It may take many more years before India emulates cities like Singapore or Barcelona. And it will mostly be conscientious millennials who will keep up the pressure on the government to merge the two India(s) and fulfil this task. Digital India, after all, belongs to them.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Leslie D'Monte

Quelle/Source: Livemint, 30.12.2016

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