The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our professional and personal lives. Working from home has become a new norm, with businesses forced to shut down to prevent Coronavirus spread. Further, most of us are increasingly using online platforms to carry out regular tasks related to learning, accessing the health infrastructure, entertaining, online gaming, shopping, and banking. Applications like Zoom and Houseparty have become the norm.
Possibly, the most significant development is that it has accelerated the business transformation of businesses across all the segments. To maintain business continuity, a growing number of companies are working to move their processes and operations to the cloud as much as possible. This is possibly the only silver lining of the pandemic. Typically, it would have taken several years for the enterprise segment to achieve what happened over a few months.
This unique moment in history is an opportunity that can be leveraged by the Indian Government to advance towards the vision of Digital India, an ambitious program launched about six years back by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The program seeks to “transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.”
Digital India has three pillars of Digital Infrastructure as a core utility to every citizen, Governance, and services on demand and digital empowerment of the citizens. It opens up vast new and unexplored opportunities for the entire country.
Essentially the Digital India initiative envisions digitization of the country to enable the delivery of citizen services electronically and enhance the way. At the same time, this is just one aspect of the program.
The scale of the initiative offers a massive opportunity for private players to collaborate with the Government to roll-out technology-based solutions. The private players bring expertise in next-generation technologies and insights from delivering projects across the globe. Project management and best practices, coupled with domain knowledge, are other proven capabilities of the private players.
The Growing Ecosystem
joint study by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Nielsen. This number is sure to have surged post the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Digital services have assumed great importance for India. The spread of the internet has been possible due to the joint efforts of the Government (promoting e-governance and Digital India vision), telecom service providers (more affordable data packages, better connectivity) and internet service providers (for digital entertainment, eCommerce, content in Indian
languages),” says the study.
Today India is the world’s second-largest internet market after China. Even so, it still has 900 million people yet to be connected and benefit from the power of the internet.
The massive growth in the number of data users over the last two-to-four years, coupled with the increase in the consumption per user, points to the pent-up demand across all sections and locations in the country. The quick adoption of the online way of doing things in the last two-three months, during the COVID-19 pandemic, shows that there is a demand for products and services which provide value and make life easier for the citizens.
What will further boost the demand is the availability of India-specific use cases. This is evident from the growth in video consumption, especially those in the Indian language. The popularity of Indian game apps, like Ludo and Teen Patti, is a case in point. Inshorts, a prominent Indian news app, is one of the biggest digital successes of the country.
There is a strong need for all digital stakeholders to use the COVID-19 opportunity to push for digital inclusion. It will not only connect the unconnected but will also make a significant contribution to the country’s economy.
The time is right for all the stakeholders, both Government and private players, to come up with products and services which will advance the digital ecosystem.
A crucial part of this ecosystem is the Communications Service Providers who provide the infrastructure and the foundation for Digital India. Without the networks that can facilitate new-age use cases in line with the citizens’ growing aspirations, the vision of Digital India is unlikely to be realized.
The collaboration of all the stakeholders in the form of a public-private partnership will be crucial to ensure proper implementation on the ground of the government schemes. Active participation of the telecom service providers and internet service providers, along with startups, will be crucial to the implementation of Government initiatives like Make in India and Smart Cities Mission, among others.
For telcos, it also promises to open up new avenues for growth. The spate of investment in the last few months in the Indian telcos is a harbinger of the good times ahead. The time is right now for all the stakeholders to come together to grow the online ecosystem for the overall social and economic growth of the country.
The public-private partnership (PPP) model is not without challenges. The federal structure in India means that the private players will need to work with the different state governments to implement the schemes. In practice, this means dealing with several Government agencies, which usually leads to unscheduled delays. Besides, the lack of any framework or policy regarding PPP implies that the structure of the partnership is not well defined.
“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before,” says Rahm Emanuel, former Mayor of Chicago. The COVID-19 pandemic is a massive opportunity for all the stakeholders to come together and work towards turning the vision of Digital India into reality. A public-private partnership seems to be the best way for all the interested parties to collaborate.