Smart India: Reimagining the road to digital Public Sector IT

For developing an increasingly digital-first country with the long-term goal to create a progressive and prosperous future for all in sync with the tenets of sustainable development.

When the Government of India initiated the Smart City Mission in 2015 across 100 cities, it was one of the most innovative programs. The objective behind the Smart City project in addition to  providing a better quality of life with optimal resource utilization; also aimed at fulfilling the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). These specifically impact areas such as water supply and sanitation, sustainable mobility, affordable and clean energy, waste and recycling, supporting the poor and marginalized, as well as education or food deprivation. 

2020 triggered an exodus to the digital domain, but it has merely accelerated the development that has already been taking place for the past decade and a half. Not just the government bodies, but the entire ecosystem has been advancing down this road. As a result, departments across national, state as well as local governments are routinely working remotely that they would have considered impossible just a few months ago such as holding virtual meetings or services being developed and delivered remotely. The end goal? For developing an increasingly digital-first country with the long-term goal to create a progressive and prosperous future for all in sync with the tenets of sustainable development.

According to pre-viral outbreak estimates, about 843 million people were expected to live in urban areas by 2050. However, in light of the pandemic-led paradigm shifts taking place within the global business ecosystem, such as the rise of the work- and study-from home culture, the idea that tier-1 cities will be the greatest contributors to economic growth in the future needs revising. Building on the Government’s Smart Cities initiative, India has the potential to become home to multiple digital communes and smart townships on the back of sustainability-led modernization, motivated tech penetration, better infrastructure, and optimal utilization of existing resources. 

To achieve this, both the public and private players need to come together to form a dynamic synergy committed to devising innovative ways to optimize expenditure, improve efficiency, and implement compassion-centric policies to raise the quality of life of Indians living beyond urban cities. This revised mission is aligned with the PM’s vision of creating a truly digital-first country.

Towards countrywide digitization: Lessons from the pandemic

Even as the black swan event of 2020, threw the world into disarray, innovators across sectors leveraged the existing digital foundation to raise a virtual simulation of the real life-world almost overnight. As a result, public as well as private sector organizations were able to continue business as usual even in unusual circumstances.

In fact, it is because of the existing tech base that India was able to cushion the impact of the pandemic, as observed by a recent report by the World Economic Forum. The study found that cities including Bengaluru, Surat, and Pimpri Chinchwad used advanced tech-led solutions to effectively drive their COVID-19 emergency response. On the back of their Integrated Command and Control Centers (ICCC) – the “brain and nerve center” responsible for managing the emergency response – these smart cities created war rooms. It was done to enable seamless collaboration between local authorities, various state- and city-level agencies, and the citizens. These cities harnessed city-specific data collected through embedded sensors and smart solutions to plan and drive their response powered by predictive analytics and simulation-based data modeling techniques.

Technology as the enabler for a robust country

Spending on COVID-19 stimulus packages and managing the damage to economies would result in spending controls across government departments and agencies. This could be seen as conflicting priorities - the need to digitize and the need to spend less, leaving cyber vulnerabilities that urgently need to be addressed. In contrast, undertaking a fundamental digital transformation to remove unnecessary processes and move to a ‘to be’ model, can deliver greater effectiveness in terms of improved citizen and workforce experience as well as long-term cost savings. There is also increasing appreciation that data is the most critical and possibly under-utilized asset. Data analytics delivers insights regarding citizens, the organization and enable evidence-based decision making. 

The foundation stone that has perhaps been most under-served is that of mobility. It is imperative to deliver access to applications and services to and from a range of devices to citizens wherever they may be and whenever they wish to access them. The transition to remote living has led to increased bandwidth requirements and this is expected to provide impetus to the delivery of 5G infrastructure. The Government has been playing a significant role in encouraging, the deployment of 5G, in terms of both policy and regulation. 5G would truly be a revolutionary leap forward because of its swift connections, low energy consumption, and ultra-low latency.

The pandemic has not only accelerated our collective advance towards a digitally-driven future but has also reinforced its need. Be it the businesses moving from legacy to cloud, multi-cloud or hybrid cloud, or the public sector organizations leveraging data analytics to deliver better services to the people, the main takeaway from the last year is that we need to continue evolving at a faster rate. The key to realizing this prospect is to minimize bottlenecks, streamline progress, and optimize innovation. Digitization in the post-pandemic new reality will require the public sector to take a lead to support and enable physically distant commerce, accelerate online commerce, and augment the move to a cashless society. It is, therefore, imperative that public along with IT vendors reimagine their digital journey and, on the back of a phenomenal collective will, lead the country towards a better, smarter, and healthier future.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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