Here are some ideas on what governments can do to facilitate the Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) Ecosystem. The aim, as one of the Indian Government papers points out, should be to create a government that is SMART Simple, Moral, Accountable, Responsive and Transparent Government.
A 5-year vision of a computer for every employee. The government can lead the revolution by ensuring that it practices real-time government. At a hardware-software-communications cost of Rs 500-1,000 per month, the payback period for technology adoption would be rapid since there would be better management of processes. Also, by ensuring that enterprises and citizens can interact with it electronically, the government can cause a domino effect in the usage of technology across the nation.
Preference for open-source solutions over proprietary software. Besides the cost savings, this move will ensure that software can be modified by local developers, if required. Innovative developers, especially students, can create improvised software for use in different government departments as part of meaningful projects.
No specifying of brands or actual configurations in tenders: Computing is changing rapidly. The days for specifying that OS software and Office software means MS-Windows or MS-Word/Excel/Powerpoint are over. There are alternatives which are just as good. Similarly, desktops could be thin clients or low-configuration machines, and not necessarily Intel Pentiums. Government tenders should focus on the solution and its performance, and not specify the modalities of how it needs to be done.
Eliminate all duties on computer hardware and peripherals. There needs to be a recognition that technology needs to become a utility. By penalizing hardware imports, the government is putting an indirect tax on its usage, when the situation should be just the other way around.
Allow the import of used computers into the country. Amazingly, in India, from what Ive read and talked to people, second-hand computers attract an anti-dumping duty. These old computers hold the secret of mass-scale computerisation. In fact, the government can go a step further and launch a national donation program for older computers, as the Thai government is planning to do.
Making education institutions as resource centres. The emphasis in schools should be on not just ensuring literacy, but computer literacy. In colleges, the goal should be on making them hubs for promoting low-cost computing technologies in the neighbourhood.
There are many local government success stories across the world. The problem is that the scaling up of most of these services requires a huge investment, because they are based predominantly on using new Intel- or AMD-based PCs, MS-Windows as the desktop platform, commercial databases like Oracle on the backend. The mix of open-source software and low-cost (or used) PCs is what is needed to make these demos replicable across a state or nation.
In the adoption of new technologies, the government can lead the way, and become a testbed for new ideas. What is needed is Will and Vision, both of which are qualities not ordinarily associated with most governments in the world. What is needed is for a few entrepreneurial-minded officers or ministers to become the harbingers of change agents in their countries. Can it be done? In India, chief ministers like Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh) and SM Krishna (Karnataka) have shown that it can be. These initial success stories need to be translated nationally and globally.
Tomorrow: Bank Branches
TECH TALK The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem+T