Developing Public Services for Prosperity

It’s a new world for India. In recent years, the obvious story has been the country’s economic boom. India has been at the forefront of the phenomenon of emerging markets—approaching double-digit growth that brought a new prosperity in many areas

Brian Moran
Brian Moran
, Global Managing Director,
Public Service Operations & Management,
Nilaya Varma
Nilaya Varma
Executive Director for Health and Public Services,
Accenture India

India is home to 20 percent of the world’s people and approximately one-third of Indians are under 15 years of age. Economic growth in India has arrived as businesses have capitalised on the large, educated labor pool at a cost that couldn’t be matched in developed  economies.

But at the same time, there are new emerging trends that can cause concern. While still climbing at a rate enviable to many  Western nations, growth in India has slowed, especially in comparison to other Asian powerhouses. India’s competitive advantage in  the area of talent will need to stand up to the increasing threat from other emerging economies, that also have begun focusing on  developing talent pools with key skills, including English- language capabilities.

As both the population and the GDP have grown  rapidly, the country has been experiencing pressure on infrastructure. One of India’s biggest impediments is that its physical and  social infrastructure has fallen far short of national needs. In the recent polling Accenture undertook, with Ipsos-Mori, a majority of Indian respondents (80 percent, as opposed to 63 percent globally) said that they often found it difficult to access the public services  they need.

Serving the people

The government of India must serve two very different populations. About 37 percent of its population lives in poverty, according to  the United Nations Development Programme. Continued economic growth in the country will not reduce poverty unless growth is inclusive. In Accenture’s point of view, “In the worst case, India’s massive, young and growing population will be characterized by illiteracy, ill health and low employment— with all of the unrest and instability that those forces imply.”
As the level of affluence in the  country grows, the expectations from public services will also grow. This will result in both increas- ing the reach of public services and growing the quality of services.

India at an inflection point

Clearly, India is at an inflection point. So what is the way forward for its public services?
Recently we undertook research to discover what public services might look like in the future, and what underlying characteristics would define them. Our premise was simple: in  the face of dramatic changes in the political, societal and economic climate, governments still have a promise to fulfill for their  citizens.  They need to provide the framework that fosters flourishing societies, safety and security and economic vitality—and to do it all as conscientious stewards of the public resources in their care.

India needs to launch a new drive to find solutions. While problems  won’t be solved overnight, we believe that the governments have recognised that any plan to reinvigorate the country’s economic  trajectory must also include plans for bringing a much broader swath of its people along with it.

The government must tap into the  strong technology orientation of the country’s youthful population. Better serving citizens means providing citizens with what they  need, when they need it, in a way that is easily accessible to them. Indians themselves have a strong appetite for more digital services  of all types. In our poll, 88 percent of Indians responded that it is very or fairly important for government to provide more services  through digital channels in the future as a means to improving speed and efficiency and enhancing transparency.

The mobile channel

For Indians, the most obvious channel is mobile. With close to 900 million mobile users, India is the second largest market in the  world for mobile devices. Even in rural areas, mobile phone use continues to grow tremendously and for governments that becomes a  vital link for delivering public services and information to products to the poor and marginalized, who do not have the ready access to  interface with public services.

Another key step will be institutionalizing standards for the delivery of electronic public services —something that the Electronic Services Delivery Bill (under Parliamentary Review) seeks to do. In our research, we have seen  pockets of IT innovation for delivering public services. For example, the State Governments of Manipur, Nagaland and Sikkim each  have moved to develop portals intended to alleviate administrative burdens, reduce citizen visits to government offices and to provide access to data and information. One other example is India Post’s end-to-end IT Modernisation project. Launched in  September 2012, the ambitious project aims to achieve improved citizen and customer service, speed of delivery and reliability and  improving operational efficiency across all service offerings including mail banking and insurance, government and other retail  services.

Such steps are encouraging and laudable. There are two cautions we would like to point out: one, given the ever-changing needs of governance and increased expectations of citizens, the volume and velocity of such examples must increase. India needs to replicate  and scale such islands of service excellence and to accelerate implementation of similar well conceived projects, whether those ideas come from within or outside national borders.
Second, India must avoid the trap of building a public service infrastructure that is  unaffordable. This issue plagues most of the western countries today. India must take advantage of the opportunity to build a modern  service delivery model that provides multiple service channels while incentivising citizens to utilize the lowest-cost options. What this practically means is to minimize the high-cost in-person interactions and encourage citizens to access services through, for example, a  low-cost mobile phone.

My final point is the criticality of developing India’s labor and skills markets for the future economy. In a  more complex and rapidly changing global economy, it is absolutely essential that the future workforces are equipped with the skills  and education necessary for the jobs of the future. According to the Planning Commission of India, thanks to the trend of aging  populations, the world will have 56.7 million fewer skilled workers than it needs by 2020. That should be good news for India’s  business leaders and policymakers, as it presents a tremendous social and economic opportunity. Roughly 2 percent of India’s 15- to  29-year-olds have received formal vocational training. By increasing the proportion of working- age Indians who are economically active from 60 percent to 75 percent, the World Bank estimates India would add US$3.7 trillion to the country’s GDP by 2020.

“India must take advantage of the opportunity to build a modern service delivery model that provides multiple service channels while  ncentivising citizens to utilise the low-cost options

Focus on skills development

Given the complexity of skills development, coordination among the public, private and social sectors is critical. Public entrepreneurs can help create an environment for businesses to flourish, but if a nation’s citizens lack the skills to compete with the best talent the  orld over, that nation will necessarily struggle. True public service leaders will address their shortcomings by building coalitions and  artnerships between businesses, public agencies and civil society organizations to better shape the skills of the future.

In this regard,  he Digital Cities initiatives in Amsterdam and Guadalajara provide useful examples of how the Indian government could  potentially harness technologies and bridge the private, public and non-profit sectors in ways that drive both economic and social outcome improvements. For example, Amsterdam’s ground-breaking Intelligent City program created new public-private consortia to finance the roll-out of smart technologies across the city, such as low-emission and electric vehicles and smart meters and other energy- aving technologies. Beside generating inward investment, boosting tourism, promoting a healthier environment and providing the  onditions for creativity and enterprise, it is also estimated that the Intelligent City initiative will generate additional jobs in the city.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, all three levels of government are sponsoring Guadalajara’s “Intelligent City” regeneration project, with significant private sector involvement. The major redevelopment underway will recast the city center as an economic cluster for the digital creative industry and create a new paradigm for sustainable urban development in Latin America. The goal is to enhance  uality of life while providing employment to a projected 30,000 people. India undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of it, but it also has a lot  f hard work to do. By concentrating on the fundamentals—developing a physical and social infrastructure enabled by technology  nd partnership—the country can mine its inherent advantages for sustainable and more inclusive prosperity.