"What we may need in India is program based approach and structure"

Technology and solutions provider SAP has been a leader in business applications with a firm focus on its customers and world class innovations. In a tete-a-tete with Manali Jaggi of BW Smart Cities-Peter Selfridge, Global Head, Digital Government, SAP talks about the importance of Industry Government collaboration especially in a country like India where a program based approach and structure is the need of the hour.

The disruptive tech (or emerging technologies) like blockchain, machine-learning, drones, robotics, IOT and data analytics can rethink, reshape and reinvent the way Governments function? And How there can be an industry-Government collaboration around the same?

The Governments across the globe have already begun to start conceptualizing programs and initiatives to realize the disruptive potential of emerging technologies. Few research studies indicate that Artificial Intelligence (AI) alone has the potential of doubling the growth rate of select economies by 2035. Governments like UAE have already taken this as a holistic structural initiative and created separate Government structures to take advantage of the potential. I understand that in India too, many state Governments have already started programs around blockchain based land records, drug counterfeiting and related applications. Many states like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh have already come out with their IoT policies. States like Andhra Pradesh have coined terms like Real Time Governance to take advantage of real time predictive decision making capabilities offered by these technologies. At the central level, a task force on Artificial Intelligence for India’s economic transformation has been set up. So, India is moving significantly in this direction and rightly so. Coming to the point of Industry-Government collaboration, I think emerging technologies for India’s economic transformation is an area where success would largely depend on how effectively this collaboration shapes the strategy, concept, programs and ground level execution. What we may need in India is a program based approach and structure. The best example for a program structure that comes to mind is the German platform for Industry 4.0 wherein a cross-stakeholder representative group consisting of academia, industry, Government, trade unions, industry associations, research etc. are working towards the above areas. I feel it would be worthwhile to explore a similar program structure for India. This would ensure that local requirements as well as viewpoints of all stakeholder groups chart the path of infusion of emerging technologies for India’s economic transformation.

Do you think the Governments are only waking up to this potential? What the challenges you are currently facing in exploiting the full potential of digitization especially in a complex country like India?

I do not agree to the statement that Governments are waking up now only to this potential. If you look at India and the kind of efforts and initiatives towards digitization, these are truly remarkable. For example, India has established the world’s largest unique identification system for the citizens. The world’s largest planned digital locker scheme has been taken up by India. The Government has taken initiatives to reach the rural India through the largest network of Common Service Centres. The largest rural broadband program is being implemented. There is a big focus on digital literacy. UMANG- the mobile app is another big initiative.

Coming to your question about the challenges, I feel these are not different from many emerging economies. The sheer complexity of size of projects is unique to India. The geographical, cultural, social and political diversity requires huge coordination between central and state Governments. One area that may propel India’s digitization engine forward is the institutionalization of horizontal transfer of projects, experiences, policies from leading states to aspiring states. That will help reinventing the wheel by every Government. Another area would be the early involvement of industry preferably at project conceptualization stage so as to ensure synchronization of efforts. I feel the capacity building initiatives by Indian Government now need to move from capacity to culture building and one way to accomplish this would be to put all back-end applications in place. This will ensure that learning while doing brings in the digital culture.

India is fast emerging as a big centre for data analysis, at the same time, there are growing concerns around protecting the data as well. Hence, our Government is also in the process of framing a data protection law. Do you think this can fetch some results and also what are the main points the Government can consider while deciding on the law? 

Data protection has become a key business enabler for the information society. Online data processing, and related business models such as cloud computing, big data, and the Internet of Things (IoT), present unprecedented opportunities for businesses and individuals alike. The opportunities presented by the data economy are particularly great with regards to emerging markets and developing economies, which have the opportunity to “leapfrog” developed countries both in terms of their adoption of internet technologies and business models, and their enactment of regulatory models for data protection that both protect personal data and enable economic growth.

At the same time, the growing uneasiness among individuals about misuse of their personal data, and the increase in cyber criminality, make it imperative for countries to enact a strong legal framework for the protection of personal data. Data protection law focuses on the processing of data that can be related to particular person. It overlaps with, but is distinct from, the concept of “privacy”, which deals with an individual’s “personal space”. Data protection law has practical implications for many situations that routinely arise in electronic business, such as reliance on an individual’s consent to process their data online, what conditions must be fulfilled to transfer personal data beyond national borders, and how to design technology to minimize the collection of personal data. The white paper on data protection framework has already been taken up for consultation in India. Hopefully, this will lead to a collective thought process on a harmonious data protection law in India.

Given the demographic dividend India enjoys, what according to you are the skill and talent pool requirements for emerging technologies?

India has always been known for the leadership position in skills and talent when it comes to information technology. Going forward, it is essential to maintain that position. It is important to mention that skilling and reskilling is more dynamic than ever before given the shortening life cycle of technological developments. While, on one side the opportunities offered by emerging technologies are huge, the Forrester predictions for 2018 reveal that scarce talent in emerging technologies may add up to 20 per cent of additional cost on account of inability to attract talent. The skill required the most for a digital transformation are prioritized as given below:

  • Digital security.
  • Mobile technologies.
  • Business change management.
  • Big data analytics.
  • Cloud computing.
  • IoT.
  • Business networks.
  • AI.
  • Blockchain.

Needless to say, that there is currently a substantial lack in digital talent.