The Prime Minister’s dream of Digital India isn’t supposed to be just a slogan. Digital India is a comprehensive plan designed to drive transformation and thus turn India into a connected knowledge economy offering world class services using technology.
India has seen technology-driven plans before, but the reason technology-driven answers to Indian problems--such as telemedicine and online education--often never move beyond the pilot stage is because moving from pilots to mass rollouts in a country of 1.2 billion people requires vast amounts of compute, data storage and networks, and applications that will drive these services.
Set to cost over 1,10,000 crore, the Digital India dream will change life in India as we know it. From common service centres in each village for delivery of goods and services to telemedicine facilities in the remotest corners offering access to specialist doctors in faraway cities at the touch of a button. Digital India will transform citizen service delivery, catalyse new economic activity and a whole slew of start-ups offering new jobs by leveraging technology in an integrated manner, with robust last mile connectivity and massive process improvements.
All of this will be driven by data centres, which will be at the heart of Digital India. Data centres are the engine for digital services, and all the services, offerings, envisioned through Digital India to transform India will only be as good as the Cloud Data Centres powering it--from a scalability, speed, as well as security perspective.
The Indian Banking, Financial Services and Insurance (BFSI) sector will play a key role in Digital India, for delivery of benefits, subsidies and bringing about financial inclusion. Government driven initiatives like Aadhaar, the unique identity solution with biometrics, the Jan Dhan Yojana for financial inclusion, will all be used for effective and efficient delivery and to prevent leakages.
And hence, there's growing demand for data centres from banks and financial institutions, telecom, IT and social media, all of which will grow faster thanks to Digital India, in a win-win cycle. For instance, Gartner states that 60 percent of all banks will process a majority of their transactions on the cloud. With growth of 12-15 percent CAGR expected over the next five years and aided by financial inclusion programmes driven by the government as part of the Digital India vision, Indian BFSI will require massive data centres to meet customer expectations and business growth.
Banking regulator Reserve Bank of India has also issued new banking licenses and even new categories of banks--termed payment banks--are being licensed and will soon start operations. All these players, as well as existing players will seek to leverage data centres to reduce costs through cloud-based services. And many of these players, as well as the government, will look to outsourced data centres to further reduce cost. Technology giants know data centres best and with the mantra of minimum government with maximum governance, clearly outsourcing to experts is the only choice.
But that brings in a huge problem. The elephant in the data centre is the fact that many global data centre players don't have data centres based in India, but service the Indian market through data centres based in other countries. While there is not much of a technology issue there, the problem lies in the fact that data is the most valuable resource for a nation today. It's as valuable as the natural resources that India is blessed with. For instance, would it be okay for Aadhaar's biometric data to be stored in a third country in an era where wars will no longer be fought with weapons but using tools of cyber warfare? Banking regulator RBI has also wisely insisted that data pertaining to financial transactions of banks operating in India cannot be stored outside Indian borders.
Besides security there are legal issues too in case data is not stored in India. Who governs the data stored abroad? Is it the law of the country in which data centre is located? Or the law of the country in which data centre provider is based? This legal issue of contracts that are perhaps subject to foreign courts can create huge problems for Indian companies in the event of a dispute. To avoid this maze, the answer lies in local cloud data centres based in India and thus regulated industries such as BFSI, government departments driving Digital India and even private companies worried about data governance issues will be able to leverage cloud services within India and take advantage of local data residency.
But, while it is clear that local data centres are best, that alone isn't enough for the success of massive initiatives like Digital India and growth in sectors like BFSI and telecom. Business leaders and government IT heads need to look closely at global leadership and capabilities of the technology partners they choose to partner with, the breath of offerings available as part of the cloud platform through data centres and how it is offered. Are there templates and sector-specific solutions that the Indian government can leverage to deliver the Digital India vision? Do all players integrate applications around analytics, social, mobility, delivered through the cloud. Are contracts designed keeping Indian issues in mind and subject to the jurisdiction of Indian courts? Pricing is another key issue—India-specific pricing, keeping in mind Indian business needs and designed for Indian business is also very important, rather than paying in foreign currencies and needing RBI permissions and the like. India-specific pricing ensures that the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) stays in check, which is critical to ensure that Digital India is viable.
There are very few companies like IBM which tick all the boxes. IBM had a private data centre in Mumbai, and has just announced its first SoftLayer powered public cloud data centre in Chennai. IBM has partnered with giants like Accenture, CSC and Tech Mahindra to offer its cloud platform to developers. In addition, realising the value of start-ups to propel Digital India, IBM has joined hands with India’s apex software industry body NASSCOM to power Techstartup.in where early stage investors, venture capital firms and start-up firms can interact with each other. A new developer initiative called developerWorks Premium is also in the works to enable developers leverage IBM’s software tools and credits to utilise cloud capacity they need to prototype and deliver new cloud projects. And that’s not all—IBM’s cloud focus in India is a 360 degree, end-to-end offering.
The Indian government and BFSI players looking to deliver the grand Digital India vision need to ask themselves: how many technology leaders can deliver all of this—local world-class data centres in India aligned with global technology leadership; an unblemished track record on security; breadth and depth of applications offerings over the plain vanilla compute and storage part, sector-specific solutions for government and BFSI needs, contracts and pricing designed for Indian needs? The answer is what will propel Digital India to success.
Updated Date: Oct 30, 2015 15:18:02 IST