After the defeat of Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh and SM Krishna in Karnataka, there has been much alignment of their technology initiatives. There is a resonance of the view that technology and votes do not go hand-in-hand. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, Naidu and Krishna did not go far enough in their use of technology. And if India has to bring about change in the next five years, technology has to be at the cornerstone of much of what we do not just in states like Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, but even in the hinterlands of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
I take technology to mean not just information technology, but more representative of new developments in different fields (especially education and energy) which can help us bridge the huge gaps that we have in many of our value chains. India needs to commit and encourage innovation across the board so we start creating locally relevant solutions be it for affordable computing, wireless communications, language content or alternative energy, to name a few areas. Indian entrepreneurs need to encouraged to look at the market within. Technology can bridge many of the gaps that we face in making services available.
One of the problems in India has been that we are trying to use IT to automate what are inherently flawed processes. The first step that needs to be done is to look at how ubiquitous presence of technology can re-engineer the workflows we use.
Here’s an example. I recently went to get my passport renewed. As part of that process, the neighbourhood police station needs to give a clearance. I spent 75 minutes waiting at the police station I was fifth in the queue. For every person, the police officer would search and dig out papers from multiple stacks, re-write information on another form (much of which had already been filled in at the time of the passport application), take a few more photos, and then create a dossier which would probably be couriered to the passport office. The question that needs to be asked: in an era of commPuting, why all this repetitive entry of data, and wastage of time?
If India needs to catch-up, we cannot have our citizens spending time doing mindless, wasteful activities. What happened to me during the passport renewal process is repeated millions of time for different activities across India every day. This is what creates the friction in our lives.
What we need is a through examination of the various processes, suggest improvements and then see the role that IT can play in automating them. We need to be engaged in income-enhancing activities, not things that dissipate energy and time. Every facet of our daily life in urban and rural India can be done more efficiently through the transaction-costs reduction capabilities of IT.
More generally, what the new government needs to do is to re-examine itself, the way decisions are made, and use disruptive thinking along with new technologies to create a leaner, meaner government one which genuinely works for its people.
Tomorrow: Marvels of Indian Democracy