The Indian government can play a strong pro-active role in technology adoption and dissemination across the country. The last 10 years have seen India emerge as a hub for outsourced software services, and that was in no small measure due to the tax-free status given to earnings from software exports. Intelligent steps by the government and its various agencies can help jumpstart the technology revolution within India, and not leave it only as an export-driven success.
- Remove Regulations on Telecom and Internet: This is perhaps too drastic and too wide-ranging a demand to make. But, unless we realise that the building blocks for tomorrow’s success will be a state-of-the-art telecom infrastructure and ubiquitous Internet accesss across India, it will be impossible to make rapid strides. In telecom, we take one step forward and then two steps back. What technology is permitted, which companies should be allowed to provide access – these are not questions which the government should decide. Let the marketplace and consumers decide. One of the first steps in fact which the government can take in to legalise Voice-over-IP (Internet telephony). Bring down the costs of communications and see how innovation takes off.
- Computerise India’s financial and legal systems: The turmoil in the Indian markets over the past 6 weeks have proved that nothing much has changed in the last 10 years. People still know how to manipulate the system which relies on pushing paper. This is an excellent opportunity to computerise processes and bring in transparency – for both the financial and legal systems. We already have the Indian software companies which have more than adequate resources (in terms of trained power) which can be deployed for this – this also helps offset the effects of the global slowdown in technology. Money for this can come from the divesture of the government stakes in the various public sector undertakings (PSUs).
- Integrate Databases: At present, various departments build their own databases. We need to be able to integrate these, and make information available to decision-makers in real-time. The government, thus, needs to become the ultimate real-time, event-drive enterprise. This will entail giving each citizen a unique identifier (like the Social Security number in the US), and ensuring that people have permanent email addresses. In all government applications forms, there should be a field for email address; status updates should be available on a website and notifications should be sent out via email or voice mail.
- Free Investment Flows: The government should offer unrestricted flow of capital – in and out of the country. In today’s world, decisions have to be taken rapidly – there is little time to file forms and get approvals. Let individuals and companies make their own investment decisions. This may mean some short-term pain but over time, it will also create the best opportunities in India. We need to be part of the international marketplace fully.
These are some starting measures. If each government department can think of how it can use technology and the Internet to better do its own business, it will create a technology wave over the next 2-3 years in India which will definitely take us to the forefront internationally. It will also create a spiraling effect in terms of investments by corporates. It will help in making India, Inc. that much more competitive and innovative. And that’s the kind of revolution which will create not just opportunities but also wealth for the next generation of Indians.