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Role of Internet of Things in India's Digital Transformation

Shailender Kumar     December 23, 2015

Shailender Kumar
The Internet of Things (IoT) is an all-encompassing term for a network backbone that will host billions of devices and sensors that communicate intelligently. The 'things' that make up the IoT range from smart phones, RFID chips, sensors built into vehicles, medical devices, buildings (basically anything that needs to be monitored) - all with a unique identity on the network and with the ability to 'machine talk'.

This ecosystem of interconnected things and the technology that manages them is expected to have a market potential of $15 billion by 2020 in India alone. The IoT is in fact the inflection point that is expected to transform the global economy, and specifically those economies that plan around it. The Indian government believes in the tremendous opportunities that the IoT presents, and is planning a close synergy between the Digital India programme and the IoT, and has already drafted it into policy. The IoT will be part of the broadband highway that will deliver a wide range of e-governance and citizen services to all corners of the country.

Clearly, the IoT will play a major role in the transformation of India into a digital economy - as the catalyst that empowers our citizens by providing them with transparent governance and services (education, health, legal, financial and safety) at their fingertips. At the heart of this transformation will be a re-engineering and digitising of government processes, using IT and supporting database and cloud infrastructure to simplify, improve and optimise the various government functions.

Beyond that, the larger perspective is a population that now has access to digital channels and communication pathways enabled by IoT. An increasing amount of commercial activity now happens online as businesses revamp operations to support this new digital model. Since access to goods, products and services is no longer limited by geography, markets have expanded drastically, presenting significant opportunities.

Building and expanding the IoT creates a thriving ecosystem around it: the hardware manufacturers who create the myriad devices that live and talk on the IoT, the vendors and enterprises that provide the enhanced services (cloud infrastructure, databases, etc.), and software that manage the communication and intelligent automation of these devices. The result is a wide range of solutions for almost every aspect of human life and endeavour.

The private sector's contribution to this transformative undertaking will be indispensable. It brings in the expertise, field experience and thought leadership that is crucial for the successful execution of IoT projects. Digital India projects like Smart Cities are already going forward using the public-private partnership (PPP) model and will showcase IoT-based solutions for almost all aspects of personal and work lives of Indians. For example, smart traffic and parking solutions to address the pressing urban problem of congestion, smart buildings that automatically manage lighting and ambient temperature based on occupancy, and solid waste management using sensor and location intelligence are a few examples of IoT enabled solutions that directly improve the quality of life of citizens.

IoT-based solutions are not just for urban India; they offer rural citizens access to services that were earlier out of reach. On the premise that a well-connected nation is the first step towards a well-served nation, the first objective of the Digital India programme is providing digital infrastructure as a basic utility to all citizens, so educational, health, governance and financial services can be delivered to otherwise underserved areas.

Most patients in rural areas don't have access to medical specialists. Several large hospitals in Indian metros are now offering remote consulting services to underserved areas, using media-rich network capabilities so their doctors can see and interact with patients in remote telemedicine centres, with the case history and medical data automatically transmitted to the doctor for analysis. Leveraging similar technology, the Karnataka government plans to launch remote education services to supplement Maths, Science and English teaching for high school students.

The penetration of mobile phones in rural areas continues to increase exponentially. The IoT, which encompasses mobile networks, can deliver e-governance and lifestyle-impacting services to these areas. Areas without brick-and-mortar banks, for example, can still be provided with financial services through online and mobile channels. Weather forecasts, news and advisories vital to agricultural can also be provided in a similar fashion.

Empowering rural India is an essential step for the country to move forward on the world stage. Connecting rural India to the IoT provides the much needed bridge between urban and rural India, and is a sure-fire way of channelling the benefits of a digital economy to the largest part of the country. Connectivity offers a host of development opportunities to untapped areas, including manufacturing and e-commerce to market local and traditional products.

Digital channels provide farmers and artisans the ability to directly reach extensive national and even global markets. A host of 'localisation' technologies can help different regions communicate so language is not a barrier. Relevant information and updates are now provided in local languages and scripts. Rural India has demonstrated it is hungry for technology, and has rapidly and instinctively adopted it as quickly as it is offered.

Complementing the Digital India programme is the Make in India programme to encourage local and foreign companies to manufacture IoT infrastructure in India, to supply local and global markets. Here again lies the opportunity to engage rural India by setting up units in these areas and training the local population to take on the employment opportunities that come with it. Providing local opportunities helps stem the rural-urban migration that results in pockets of overpopulation and the associated urban problems.

The IoT is a very real network that promises to bring together the vast and varied country that we are, so we can all move forward into a digital world without losing what makes us unique both at the individual and regional levels.

The author is Managing Director, Oracle India

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