Driving India Digitally: The Wide Web of M-governance

Author: Neeraj Jain, CEO, Zopper (India)

Over the past two decades, lines between the real and the virtual worlds have blurred at an unprecedented rate. With a number of goods and services ranging from fashion and lifestyle, doorstep grocery, food ordering and more, internet and networking have transitioned from being a luxury to an absolute necessity. This paradigm shift has caused industries, enterprises, organisations and market forces to realign their strategies in order to keep themselves relevant in the ever-changing global socio-economic scenario. The government, like any other enterprise, has had to restructure its approach to be a more effective administrative presence. With several noteworthy initiatives such as e-Shiksha, online tax filing, passport application and most recently the launch of Digital India, the government is determined to disseminate its services across the social spectrum through e-governance. The fast-changing virtual dynamics in the country has meant that even as e-governance was gaining steam, the new wave of smartphone penetration has stretched the parameters to further transition towards m-governance.

A major hurdle, however, is in the implementation of these initiatives. In a country with the sheer size of India, extending the outreach of these digital programmes faces major challenges. The E-governance services offered by the government have been majorly restricted to the metropolitan and tier-1 populace. The IT penetration in the country is still not effective, with a majority of tier-2 and tier-3 cities and most rural areas still lacking adequate infrastructure such as optic fibre cables, internet connectivity etc. to access these services. Another major drawback is the lack of sufficient electronic and IT equipments; despite being the IT hub of the world and growing as a major IT power in the global market, India does not have enough electronic equipment to fulfill its demand. Faced by such colossal challenges, the drive to digitise India must appear to be a Herculean task.

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But the online businesses were faced with a similar problem. With the proliferation of the e-commerce market and the stagnation that characterized the early part of the decade, the e-commerce enterprises evolved and adapted to the changing economic landscape and made another paradigm shift – towards mobile-commerce, or m-commerce. The e-commerce portals were made more mobile-friendly to target the potentially untapped market of mobile users, apps were developed in order to provide a more exclusive online experience. Today, m-commerce is set to overtake e-commerce in terms of business provided. Global m-commerce growth has outpaced the traditional e-commerce growth by 200 percent over the past few years. The advent and proliferation of the smartphone industry has only helped this unprecedented growth pattern. This fact is not lost on the online businesses; several major e-tailing websites have chosen to cut down on their operational costs by being a mobile-only presence.

This is where the government needs to take a leaf out of the entrepreneurial booklet. A shift in approach from e-governance to m-governance should work particularly well in India. The country, which ranks second worldwide in terms of the mobile phone users, has almost 78 percent of its population subscribed to mobile phones. The number of mobile internet users in India is also growing, with the number expected to touch 213 million by June 2015. Moreover, this approach can also help to overcome the infrastructure deficit in the semi-urban and rural areas, with 66 percent of population in rural villages accessing internet on their mobile phones. A better strategic usage of government services and applications could be implemented by providing anytime, anywhere access right at the doorstep in areas considered inaccessible for traditional wire based internet connections. Moreover, m-governance also provides the benefits of a reduction in cost, increase in efficiency, added convenience, flexibility and better penetration.

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There have been precedents that would prove to be a valuable case study for successful implementation in the Indian context. Turkey, Czech Republic and Philippines already have several m-governance programmes in place providing government-to-citizen (G2C), government-to-government (G2G) and citizen-to-government (C2G) services. Moreover, the state of Kerala also has an m-governance programme in place to utilise all kinds of wireless and mobile technology services, devices and applications for governance.

M-Governance truly is the way forward from here. While it has its own set of challenges, the results so far have been encouraging. All that is required is a proactive approach to truly utilise its potential and mark the ascent of India as a global IT superpower.

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