150th Issue Articles

Changing role of ICT in India’s growth spectrum

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Ashis Sanyal
Former Senior Director, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY)

Over the last 50 years, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has migrated from the tag of ‘transformational’ to a ‘general purpose’ technology. Nowadays, even architectural design of a residential flat incorporates the conduit routeing for the broadband, TV and telephone cables in the design, without getting asked for it!
The uptake of this technology by private sector business and industries is prompt. They appreciated and tapped the potential of ICT early, with a vision to provide a ‘digital opportunity’ for the 360-degree development of their activities.

This lately contributed significantly in the process of transforming almost everything in the society, which evolved over centuries. Today, the impact of ICT is being felt more strongly in the society than the industrial revolution that changed the world’s business two centuries ago.

Governments worldwide embraced ICT a little later. They were under pressure everywhere to deliver better governance and give services to the citizens. ICT came to their rescue to overcome that pressure at the right time, by providing better efficiency, productivity, reliability, transparency and responsiveness in the government business.
Consequently, the new discipline of electronic governance flourished amongst governments in the last few decades. Software applications now support citizens’ front-end services and many back-end government activities.

In fact, most of the attributes of good governance like equity and inclusiveness among citizens, poverty reduction, access to information, accountability and citizen-centricity etc, are being vastly improved by technology per se and ICT in particular.
With the expansion of e-Governance, some of the important technology-related ideas were obtained from the private sector, which exhibited excellent results. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), originally created for plants and factories with diverse activities, found its place in government eco-system, owing to the similarities in the intra and inter-workflow structure.

To support ERP in the government scenario, enterprise-wide architecture has evolved to create IT infrastructure for the connected government entities. Principles of Business Process Reengineering (BPR), being practised by private sector businesses for quite some time, have found a new version in Government Process Reengineering (GPR), which promises to change the way the government has worked so far.

The discipline of change management, which has been an important component in the dynamics of private sector business practices, is now becoming essential for the smooth functioning of government, in order to manage the impending changes being brought about by the proliferation of technology and new business models.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) in invoicing and other transactional activities is a replacement of manual process-based procurement by e-tendering.

The abundant use of management information system (MIS) and an executive information system (EIS) applications is for decision support mechanism, the proliferation of GIS-based applications for planning in diversified areas of governance, use of ICT in revenue and other financial transactions, are few other examples where technology has increasingly entered into governance domain.

It is often said emphatically that there is a knowledge explosion in the 21st century and 90% of the current knowledge has been acquired in the last 100 years! Consequent to this knowledge explosion, technology is also being evolved in an exponential way. This is true for electronics and Information Technology (IT) that innovative future applications, somewhat disruptive in nature for these two disciplines, are already looming large on the business and governance sectors in a big way.

Few big ticket game changers such as big data, business intelligence and analytics using artificial intelligence, robotics and automation could change the landscape of governance and business in the future.

These technology areas are growing rapidly for the last few years that the uptakes have already been rough, as only a few private and government entities are presently able to tap the enormous potential that these technology areas are promising along with the opportunities for higher performance and productivity.

According to the current governance scenario, a huge volume of potential transactional data can be generated by integrating/linking the PAN number, the AADHAAR number and mobile/telephone number of hundreds of millions of citizens.

As there already exists a drill of ‘know your customer’ (KYC) for bank accounts, which uses one of these numbers, one can easily imagine how ‘big data’ can provide a gigantic improvement in government performance and capabilities in the context of various economic decisions.

By innovative use of business intelligence and analytics for this huge volume of data, the government can improve its performance. On the other hand, the technology is also enhancing its capabilities regularly. Consequently, its utility period is shrinking with the passage of time. All this would impact the business, economy, governance and the society as a whole.

Currently, the fundamental work of data acquisition and digitisation within the government sector is in rapid progress. The potential transformational benefits of data analytics are yet to become visible in a big way, although some results are evident in the areas of tax revenue, transportation, passport issues etc.

Linking AADHAAR number with the various social benefit schemes and the taxation system is also one step forward in this direction. Networking of unified Goods and Services Tax (GST) revenue system across the country has the potential of generating huge transactional data, which is expected to be tapped in decision-making on the demand-supply chain and economy in general.

Another important aspect would be fast deployment and adoption of GIS-based data in planning and decision-making, which is still slow in many States. On the other hand, many private sector entities, including financial services and e-commerce companies, have already started benefitting from analytics in a limited way.

However, the challenges in this process of digitisation are many, ranging from the collection methodology to how data could be used and in which way, how the conclusions could be drawn and most importantly how the legacy business processes could be re-engineered to incorporate the findings.

As mentioned earlier, the impact will be felt in a big way. In the near future, machine-inspired artificial intelligence would match the human cognitive capabilities including day-to-day decision-making. As of now, it appears that this may partly substitute human intervention but the main point is that it will improve the performance of the system manifold and with least error margin.

New generation robotics will also combine mechanisation with cognitive capabilities. Innovative application of such technologies in the back-end and physical processing of materials will provide a new horizon of productivity enhancement.

Advanced research on neural networks has offered a breakthrough in artificial intelligence with improved machine-learning algorithms. There have been multiple front line types of research in this area, although there remains a challenge regarding the robust natural language processing, aiming to better the currently available SIRI of Apple or Google’s Assistant, for example.

Combining all these automation technologies is a fast process and with this, it has been rightly said that 50 percent of the current human activities could be automated.
The government executives have been mandated to not only take forward the basic tenets of the e-governance but also to execute, operate and sustain the identified special projects.

In the backdrop of Digital India campaign and number of identified Mission Mode Projects, the journey has been long and demanding. With the advent of applicable technology, the journey has become vigilant so that for the next five years of project period the applied technology should remain relevant.

The new wave of technologies cited above may knock at the government door in next few years. These would be quite disruptive as this will not only impact the government workforce but also the work type and way of working.

In the coming years, with workforce getting increasingly slick every year, government departments have to compulsorily opt for higher growth and productivity. Consequently, government executives have to embrace these technologies, may be at a slower pace. The challenge of embracing these technologies would be how to train the workforce as per the new capabilities with the added possibility of changing the type of the work.

As a result, the impact on the workforce would be felt in both the private and government sectors. However, this would be sector-specific and would be dependent on the type of activities undertaken as a part of the whole occupation.

The way forward to meet this compelling situation lies in promulgating better policies and incentivisation for investment in both the private and public sectors leading to more job creation, new business models for newer entrepreneurship, encouraging more public-private partnership in critical government infrastructure and services, a radical relook in the way higher professional education is being imparted and initiating well structured social security schemes.

Technology, when appropriately adopted, would definitely provide new job opportunities.

It is obvious that the uptake of these innovative and futuristic technologies will be uneven for both the private and public sector entities. The inherent machine dependence on outputs, productivity and performance will make adoption of these technologies slow in the workforce-intensive agencies be it for private or government.

However, the entities, which would read the writings on the walls early and better, would embark on the digitisation of infrastructure, platforms, operations and processes and enhance the capacity and capability of the workforce as soon as possible. They would reap the benefits early and outperform their peers.

We observed this phenomenon in the early years of adoption of e-governance amongst states. The performing states which are ahead of others can be easily identified in the national level survey.

By: Ashis Sanyal- Former Senior Director, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY)

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