ICTpost Governance Bureau
It is claimed that Telecom and Information Technology (IT) sectors are success stories in India. It is true that we are adding ten million new telephone connections each month, and this number is even higher than China’s telephone growth. We are number one in software technology as well. Certainly, the growth in our tele-density is remarkable. So is our capability for building clever software for export. However, what we forget is the fact that IT and telecom are only means to an end and not an end in themselves. ICT is only an enabler and unless it is utilised effectively for socio-economic benefits, it’s growth is of little relevance. Mobile telephones have been used by the masses for furthering their economic well-being. Nevertheless, the same can not be said for software applications nor can we say that we have fully utilised the capabilities of the telecommunication revolution.
There are various initiatives being undertaken in India in this regard. There is also a need to look at what could and needs to be done.
When access to ICT is made easy, there is no guarantee that it will indeed be used unless the content made available is of direct relevance and direct interest to the users. A large part of any programme to utilise ICT needs to have a component of understanding customers. For example, to understand the content requirement of ICT based education, local factors have to be considered which in turn will depend on the nature of the predominant interests and activities in a given area or community. Limited generalisations are only possible since the requirements are usually area specific and also depend on related factors such as willingness to try new ideas and new approaches.
In the light of the prevalent high levels of illiteracy in the country, a very important factor for quick, easy and result producing ICT applications is to determine from consumer interaction, how friendly the ICT programme is for the illiterate. Therefore, the programmes may have to be tuned substantially and may differ from region to region, financial factors are also critical. Financial factors not only refer to the affordability aspect of ICT but also depend on what cost such services can be actually provided. A very important issue here is the usefulness of the content or the cost benefit of a particular ICT application. In this respect, wireless technology is a major positive factor for keeping the costs low. Understandably, besides location of the user other factors such as age, local culture and background become important before ICT is embraced by the masses. Here, the customer equipment cost becomes important. At the moment, computer costs are high and in several areas individual possession of computers is a problem. Thus, a model which assumes that individuals will like to possess their own Customer Premises Equipement (CPE) may succeed in some areas, but most rural and semi-urban areas in India may at least in the beginning stages, prefer to go for the shared CPE model. A possible exception could be the mobile handset. Developments of such handsets with greater computing capabilities are constantly being reported and it is possible that relatively inexpensive handheld devices capable of doubling as a mobile phone and a computing device suitable for ICT applications may become available in the near future. Added to this, the charm of mobile TV (discussed later) will enhance the acceptance of ICT amongst larger numbers of population. The implementation plan must incorporate such factors.Discovering proper and appropriate application of ICT
The cost benefit analysis of a particular ICT application requires special discussion. A constant point of debate in all such discussions is; ‘Is there a killer application and if so what is it?’ The applications which require special mention are:
In most of these applications, ‘mobility’ adds substantial value. The ability to offer ICT applications at the door step of the user when it comes to governance or healthcare are important. For a local self government, instead of a customer having to go to the offices of such an authority (even if the authority’s processes have been built around computers and software, if the authority representatives are able to visit the doorstep), there can be a substantial reduction in the time spent by the consumer. Such a prospect can greatly enhance the perceived value of the ICT application, thereby increasing the acceptability of ICT by the masses. As demonstrated by a programme undertaken in the United Kingdom, achievement of success requires change in the business processes of the agency besides providing the facility of mobile computing to its workers. In fact, the manner in which this programme has been worked out in UK is such that after the pilots, guidelines are issued to all authorities so that they do not have to develop their own programmes ab initio. In short, the entire programme has to be a well thought out scheme in which all details have been taken care off and the scaling up is being done after detailed and extensive pilot trials. Unfortunately, neither such thinking is evident in the context of Indian administrative programmes nor perhaps the knowledge of accruing benefits is understood fully and presented attractively to the users. The approach often is to take up the programme either at the central level with little conviction carried to the state entities or are taken up by enterprising state administrations. But the results are fragmented as each state operates on its own without the benefit of the experiences of the others. Such approaches lead to duplication, resulting in enhanced costs besides development of non-standard schemes and programmes.
One of the best examples of mobility adding value to ICT, is the case of mobile TV. Much like the IPTV, Mobile TV is essentially an Internet Protocol based TV service except that unlike IPTV, which operates in a point to point mode, mobile TV operates in a broadcast mode
In the past several years, many promising pilots have been attempted in various parts of the country. Little has been heard about the scaling up and wide deployment of such programmes across the nation. Even the e-Governance programme is more focussed on the collection of data for government use and less for the benefits of the citizen. The emphasis of the programme appears to be more about building up new physical network rather than on seeing to its utilisation by the citizens. It is perhaps for this reason that our country’s standing in the international list of ‘ICT preparedness’ continues to be very low while even small countries are progressing ahead.