By Harsh Vardhan Shringla
The relevance of Information Technology (IT) in the present times has become even more compelling. We are at a juncture where the use of IT and Business Process Management (BPM) services, as enablers to fight the current disruptions, has made itself evident. In face, our ability to insulate ourselves significantly from the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been enabled by the increased use of IT & IT-enabled services in our social and economic systems.
When the current pandemic struck, countries across the world announced nationwide lockdowns as the first line of action. That billions of people were able to successfully lock themselves up at their homes, and still carry out their professional responsibilities while working from home, is owing to our collective successes in the IT domain.
Moreover, people were able to carry out some of their most basic functions online, including financial transactions from remote locations, and ordering groceries, medicines and other essentials online. Some of our most essential services including school education and healthcare have been delivered online.
This pandemic may have offered us a peek into what our future is likely to look like. It will most probably be dominated by contactless deliveries, increased dependence on e-commerce, heightened use of IT-enabled services for performing some of our routine functions. Most importantly, we are likely to witness enhanced use of innovative-technology led solutions for resolving some of our most complex challenges.
In India, we are distinctly aware of the disruptions that this pandemic has caused in the global supply chains. But our response to this disruption is far from turning isolationist or protectionist. We are well aware that while globalization is here to stay, its norms may however become different. The idea is, therefore, to make our systems and our markets highly adaptive to the changing scenarios.
India’s prowess in the IT sector has been established over the last two decades. The IT and BPM sectors of India account for over 55% of the total global outsourcing market. The sector has continued to record double-digit growth despite the static growth in global tech spending. The sector is an important growth driver and contributed nearly 10% to the country’s GDP. Known for its cost competitiveness and high quality services across the world, the IT & BPM industry in India has made a significant contribution to transforming the perception of India in the world economy.
Building on the strength of our domestic IT industry and growing demand for going digital, the Government of India (GoI) launched the Digital India Mission, under which we have been striving to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. Several mega IT projects have been undertaken by the Government. IT solutions in the domains of education, healthcare, urban planning and financial inclusion are focus areas of the program and this is creating several opportunities for the IT sector.
In the Government of India, the focus has been to increase the use of technology and digitalization to reform our Governance, and increase financial inclusion to strengthen the social and economic standing of our people. Under the Digital India Mission, several Government services have been brought online to allow greater accessibility, promote transparency and increase accountability.
India has rapidly developed, deployed and scaled-up a number of national digital platforms as part of the effort to move towards digitalization, take governance directly to the people, and facilitate “less government – more governance”.
A number of e-Governance platforms and open source platforms have been developed by the Government, public sector and quasi-public sector organizations in collaboration with scientific establishments and NGOs to provide vendor-neutral and inter-operable solutions, where feasible, along with development of commercial partner ecosystems.
Today, India has been able to bring about issuance of Unique Identification numbers to over 1.25 billion people, with almost 99% coverage of adult population in India. There are several digital services that have been developed by India over the last few years.
The creation of public digital infrastructure has helped make the delivery of public services and welfare benefits, particularly during the current crisis, quicker and more effective. Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT), enabled by JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhar and Mobile), has ensured delivery of cash benefits directly into the account of beneficiaries, eliminated leakage and improved efficiency.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, more than Rs 36,659 Crore (over US$5 billion) were transferred through DBT in the bank accounts of 160 million beneficiaries.
Kalyan Package are also being transferred by using DBT Digital Payment Infrastructure. With the help of tech-driven systems, we are reforming the Public Distribution System (PDS) by introducing nationwide portability for ration card holders through a ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ system.
Fintech in focus
Fintech has been identified as a new and emerging area of bilateral and multilateral cooperation. The IMF had last year identified financial innovation as an important aspect of our future in the digital age. It was also highlighted that most countries see Fintech as transformative for financial inclusion, which promotes growth, opens access for poor and rural communities through lowered costs and facilitates women’s participation in the formal economy.
This offers an opportune moment for India’s tech based companies and start-ups looking for opportunities across the world. Even though there has been negative impact of the current crisis on the Fintech sector as well, recent trends look promising. There was an increase of around 40% in the funding received by the Indian Fintech sector in the first quarter of 2020.
India wishes to build on our domestic successes in the Fintech sector in a structured manner and utilize the significant capabilities that have been evolved and developed in the domestic government, public and private sectors by executing similar digital platforms and e-Governance initiatives in friendly and partner countries as part of Development Partnership Frameworks. We are planning to undertake pilot projects for digital platforms/e-Governance initiatives in friendly and partner countries as a prelude to making available such projects through development partnerships/commercial frameworks on a wider scale.
We are working with several countries on making our digital payment systems interoperable. Countries like Singapore have already launched some of our digital payment systems such as Rupay and BHIM. In 2018, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched a global digital platform, APIX, to connect Fintech companies and financial institutions.
Initiatives in healthcare and education
Digitalizing our economy for better and wider access has also been a key pillar of the Indian Government’s recently announced Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, under which the Government has announced plans to leverage IT and IT enabled services for making healthcare and education easily accessible, especially in the times of distress.
Building on our experience of the COVID-19 outbreak, the GoI has announced the launch of e-Sanjeevani Tele Consultation Services, and capacity building through virtual learning modules (iGOT platform) in the domain of healthcare. The Aarogya Setu self-assessment and contact tracing app launched by the GoI as part of our COVID action plan has been downloaded by over 11 million people in the country.
In the education sector too, technology driven systems have been announced which will help and support school education throughout the country. This is being done keeping in mind the skill requirements of a global 21st century.
We have also leveraged digital tools to facilitate health cooperation with countries in the South Asian (SAARC) region during the pandemic. We are using e-ITEC network to share expertise on COVID-19 with healthcare professionals from these countries. We have also developed a ‘SAARC COVID19 Information Exchange Platform (COINEX)’ for exchange of specialized information and tools on COVID-19 among health professionals in the region.
The COVID pandemic is a major black swan event which has disrupted global supply and value chains, slowed down economic activities, and pushed economies to the brink of recession. Yet, it is the digital space which has allowed us to shield ourselves from some of the most drastic economic fallouts of this outbreak. That we have been able to resume a good part of our economic activity can be attributed to our achievements on the digital front. We are hopeful that building on our capabilities and successes, we will be able to transform this moment of immense challenge into a series of immense opportunities and emerge as the “nerve center of global supply chains” as envisioned by the Prime Minister.
The author is India’s Foreign Secretary. Views are personal.