What if India had not invented the zero? Perhaps computers would not have seen the light of the day and the world would not be connected through information technology. With the Digital India programme, India may have an opportunity to inspire and transform the world yet again.
Sixty years ago, South Korea decided to change itself in a similar fashion in what is now known as ‘The Miracle on the Han River’. The transformational change has been aresult of next generation corporations adopting technology and staying invested in innovations across the spectrum.
Industries, built over 50 years, have helped South Korea sustain its leadership position across the world. Technology has been the foundation of this growth. From being the poorest country among all UN members in 1961 with a per-capita income of $79, South Korea has grown into a developed nation with a per-capita income of $33,629.35 (December 2014).
Digital India has the potential to unleash a similar miracle in the land of the Ganga. Will it be able to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and a knowledge economy using a gamut of electronic services, applications, products and devices? Time will tell. But imagine farmers in remote villages using mobile phones to find out the right price of their food grains, or to check for monsoon updates.
Or children going to school with only a tablet preloaded with all the curricula instead of carrying heavy school bags. Or communities reaching out to governments through their smart devices to demand a road that hasn’t been built for years. Imagine modern cities whose transport systems, healthcare facilities and civic services are controlled through gadgets and apps.
All this may seem like a distant dream, but with technology galloping away into the future, you have to jump on to it and take control of the reins, now. Smart cities are springing up across the globe and the idea of Internet of Things (IOT), where all devices at home or in office are connected to the internet and are able to speak to each other, are being developed as we speak.
This power of technology, however, has to be delivered to every citizen of the country. Digital accessibility is a prerequisite to, and a mandatory goal of, the idea of Digital India. A digital network, which will form part of this mammoth effort, will belong to the people, just like roads, railways and power lines.
Currently, only 300 million of India’s 1.25 billion people are connected to the net, around a half of them through mobile phones. Rural penetration and usage is pretty dismal. All these will translate into opportunities for large corporations and a growing number of young entrepreneurs as the digital revolution will be led by innovations and development of a variety of applications. While airwaves and optic fibre will form the mesh of this network, content will form its backbone.
Industry recognises that the next level of inventions and innovations could come out of India. While the services sector will continue to provide more opportunities, India’s next surge would come from the manufacturing sector that would create more jobs and incomes in both urban and rural areas. In short, the future belongs to those corporations that would have a strategy of Make in India and Make for India. If Indian companies could focus on technologies and products that could help build Digital India, their manufacturing strategies could have greater relevance to a changing nation.
The proposal to use technology and gadgets in the area of education is a good move. Samsung Smart Classes have been set up at over 200 Navodaya schools across India, and another close to 200 more will be added this year. In each Smart Class, students use smart boards and devices, which are loaded with the course curricula, to study the digital way. More than 1,60,000 students have already benefited from this initiative.
Thanks to the proliferation of smart phones and social media, young, urban India is crossing the so-called digital divide fast, adapting to technology changes seamlessly. However, the nation will require a vast workforce skilled in the digital space.
Corporations must work with the government to make that vision possible through skill development. A public-private partnership will only be a win-win situation for both government and industry.
The success of the programme, however, will depend on the benefits accrued to people when it rolls out. If India is able to usher in a digital revolution, it will not just improve the lives of its billion-plus people whose ancestors laid the foundations of many great civilisations, but it will also benefit the world at large.
Author: HC Hong (CEO, Samsung India)