The Net and technology have empowered individuals. As consumers and citizens (in India and outside), we too can make a difference in India’s quest to become a leader in technology in the next decade. Here is what can be done.
- Get an Email Address: All of us should get a permanent email address, which can be used for communications. This is the fundamental building block for creating an information infrastructure in India. Email accounts are free, let us make use of them. There are many Internet browsing centres across India. Greater usage of these will help grow this and offer a solution to making the Internet a utility in our lives.
- Stop Tolerating Inefficiencies: It is amazing how many companies and government entities lack proper information systems. The result is that we are forced to live with inefficiencies – processes take longer, time is wasted, information lies unused. We are quite used to the mediocre in India, and that needs to be stopped. Let us take some examples. At the Immigration counter at airports in India, there are ridiculously long queues. Why cannot we use technology to shorten them? Use a wireless LAN and a handheld to service people faster. No person should have to wait for more than 10 minutes – that should be a metric of efficiency. Call up Jet Airways tele-check-in and every time one is asked for seat preference and contact number, two pieces of information which do not change for most frequent flyers. MTNL still gives one bill per telephone line, why cannot it aggregate based on an organization and give one consolidated bill? If Domino’s can integrate the phone company database with a person’s order history, so can other companies. Unless we insist, most won’t.
- Refuse to Enter Data Twice: India is a country of forms. We thrive in making people duplicates and triplicates. Information should be entered once. Even some of the more technology savvy places don’t seem to have taken note. Last week, at an IIT Hostel Alumni day, the same personal information had to be entered on paper twice – once for the centre and once for the hostel! This, when networked computers were not more than a few feet away. Companies and institutions need to be forced to integrate their databases and present a single view to the customer.
- Fight Queues: India is also a country of long lines. Time seems to have little value as we are prepared to stand in queues – for driving licences, to book tickets, at passport offices. Can there be more efficient ways to minimise queues? For example, if people have email addresses, then notifications can be sent out electronically. Status of applications can be updated on a website so one doesn’t have to call or stand in a queue.
- Demand Better Information: As the number of users on the Internet in India rise, it will automatically create opportunities for more relevant and localised information. This is where some of the failing dotcoms could re-orient themselves. India does not need 20 cricket sites, but maybe it needs a website for every neighbourhood.
- Share Experiences: For the first time, our voices can be heard. The Net can be used as a bulletin board to share experiences – of good and bad experiences. This is democracy and free speech at its best. It will force suppliers and service providers to constantly improve.
Many of the services which need to be offered will require software and websites to support regional languages and speech as a form of input. This will spur innovation and help in create a mass market Internet in India. Technology has to touch the lives of every Indian: if we can ensure that, we will also create technologies which solve local problems. And let us also remember that there are another 3 billion people like us in the world!