ICT at Crossroads in Odisha – A View

By Dr. PK Mishra, CTO, Adapro Consulting

(The article dates back to June 2011 and views herein are based on many interactions the author had during his meetings with several senior officers of Odisha Government. A version of this was also published in The Pioneer, Bhubaneswar Edition)

Rapid advances in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have led to many changes in the way we execute our day to day personal and professional activities. Electronic mail, SMS, social networking using likes of Facebook and Twitter have added entirely new dimensions to the ways we work and communicate. Information dissemination on an Internet scale using web browsers has become so common that most of us cannot imagine a day without it. In organized sectors such as enterprises and Government, ICT has been leveraged to a much greater extent to enhance operational efficiencies in transacting business. In this article we analyze the impact of ICT in the state of Odisha.

Odisha, a state rich in cultural heritages has generally lagged in some socio-economic development parameters in spite of the abundance of mineral and other natural resources it is endowed with. ICT is a great equalizer and promises to push Odisha ahead, if it is used appropriately. Education, health, poverty alleviation and delivery of various Government services are some of the key areas that can benefit from the ICT use and push the developmental indices. In enterprise sector, personal productivity using ICT and other relevant technologies can improve the efficiencies and process orientation if the strategies are right. Outsourced IT related activities from other parts of the world to Odisha is another enabler for creating decent job opportunities for many educated youth in the state. Let us look at some of these areas and examine how successful we have been and what more we need to do.

Education is the back bone of all development. Use of ICT for delivering high quality educational content to students at all levels is a well-recognized agenda. Luckily, Odisha has made good progress in this. Most of the schools and colleges in the state have been equipped with decent amount of computing resources. Many projects funded by the Government, Universities and NGOs are already underway. The vast repository of educational content available on the Internet is now accessible to almost anyone who cares to use it. Perhaps, a more careful local enablement of teachers will encourage many more students to use these resources better. Education is a great leveler. It is the right catalyst that can help the youth in the state to compete well at national and international level. By suitably choosing the skills-in-demand and delivering them with care can make youth in Odisha participate in attractive skill oriented job market.

Health is another area where dissemination of useful information, tips and healing practices can benefit a lot of people. Since it is impossible to position well qualified doctors in remote areas, ICT can be leveraged to provide a channel between the patients and the medical system. Use of practices like telemedicine should be encouraged. Enrollment and monitoring of the health of more vulnerable poorer sections of the society need to be improved. Governments and NGOs will need to step up their work and extend the reach of the thin medical delivery system in the state.

Poverty alleviation issues concern most Governments and they engage in many activities such as employment generation, food and wage distribution, empowerment-at-grass-root level, land reforms etc. Quite often even NGOs chip in. Of late, the concerns regarding resource leakages in these cash rich programmes have been heightened. Financial inclusion policies of the Government are also getting more attention. Needless to say, use of ICT is a big enabler for all these. Odisha has generally done well in some of these projects. But it is widely felt that there should be qualitative improvement and definitely there is a scope to do better. Instead of being technology-centric, the approach should be people-centric. These projects should be monitored more on their social and economic impact. Availability of unique identities under projects like the UIDAI, NPR of Government of India, that leverage modern ICT practices, will bind many of these socio-economic projects to show better results.

Effective delivery of the Government services is another key agenda for all Governments. Information is power and is almost a matter of right in today’s context. Through various eGovernance projects, Government of Odisha has done well in ensuring that a lot of information in public domain is available with ease. The Odisha Government portal is already a rich source of information and is quite good. However, most of the Government departments and funded organizations have chosen to host their own web sites. While that is quite commendable, one cannot deny the fact that, there is a need for reorganizing the content in a more coherent manner and aggregate them under one portal. Information should also be available with more contextual flavour. Privacy and Security of the information delivered should also be taken into consideration. All of these require a more integrated approach. It may also be useful to understand the needs of the end users better and make things simpler and interactive from a common user’s perspective.

To host all ICT initiatives in the state, both central and state Governments have been investing quite generously and have created a pretty robust IT infrastructure. Many overlapping networks such as NICNET, NKN and SWAN have been in place and provide multiple redundant paths to Internet and Government owned data centres. Organizations such as National Informatics Center (NIC) and Orissa Computer Application Center (OCAC) have helped in creating a number of useful applications that form the back bone of the current set of eGovernance programmes. From the industry perspective, the level of computerization in sectors such as utility services, banking and mining are generally adequate.

While, the picture of ICT usage in Odisha is satisfying as on date, one cannot ignore the challenges that are staring. Evolutions such as cloud computing, large scale shift to usage of mobile devices, usage of open source software, need for collaborative computing, heightened concerns for security and privacy, and demand for use of Odiya language etc. are bound to push the challenges to higher levels. It is therefore imperative that all sections of the society including Government, industry, technologists, and users-at-large address these issues and find a reasonable roadmap. We must therefore realize that, in order to succeed and leap ahead in the emerging society of high aspirations, there is no alternative to harnessing technology in a manner that is easy-to-use and cost-effective.