Just as the mobile is a big leveller, the Internet is a great enabler.

The fact that there is a wireless teledensity of over 55 in a country where around 28 per cent of the population lives below poverty line is very much a case study to be emulated in other consumer markets.

The Internet has been transforming not just businesses but areas such as healthcare, education, governance and entertainment (HEGE). (So far, it has been customary to talk in the same breath of the first three only—healthcare, education and governance, but given that entertainment is so embedded into consumers’ lives, its inclusiveness is logical.)

As the HEGE sectors become more and more Internet-enabled, the Indian consumer will increasingly be seeking continued service improvements in these areas.

In due course, it will be interesting to see if service providers and aggregators offering an assortment of these quad services will have some ‘hegemony’ in the consumer ICT market…

While the Internet can be leveraged as the enabling infrastructure to make this happen, the mobile is well positioned to emerge as the end-user access device with maximum reach. This, of course, is not to write off other media and access platforms, which will continue to play their respective roles for the foreseeable future.

A neat assortment and delivery of HEGE services will, however, be difficult to achieve.

A key to a successful HEGE strategy by stakeholders would lie in consumer-orientation and not in technology. After all, it is not just the affordability of the handset or the service that led to the success of mobile telephony; it is also the seamless interplay among various sub-systems of the ecosystem that contributed a great deal.

How would one determine the success of HEGE services? Will an impressive interface or an appealing marketing campaign tell it all? Or certifications by a government or healthcare body suffice?

No. A measure of success will lie in its wide-scale adoption and usage of these services by the masses for whom such services would be developed.
If that does not happen and the usage remains confined to an urban elite, it will amount to a failure of the implementation, even if is commercially successful to begin with. This is because healthcare and education are fundamental needs of today’s consumers.

The same holds true of the governance, where the legacy systems have allowed easy flow of citizen rights and benefits only in the upper segment of the socioeconomic pyramid. Call that Governance 1.0.

As part of HEGE, consumers will look forward to next-generation of citizen services by way of e-governance implementations. Enter Governance 2.0.

To be true to its objectives, the e-governance system should be such as not to give rise to new digital elites. This risk becomes very much real if communication-and-information channels understood only by the tech-savvy are employed. So it’s imperative that a multi-modal, multi-channel approach is brought into play. For example, a text-only or language-specific query or input system will not suffice; supplementary features such as voice recognition, biometric identification and multi-lingual support will be a must.

How to do that? Well, the stakeholders can draw a cue from the fourth HEGE service—entertainment, which has been successful across various platforms. That success comes from the ‘made-for-masses’ or the bottoms-up approach, as against the top-down processes employed in, say, governance.

The success of HEGE services will lie in developing an orientation towards the citizen-as-a-consumer and making that operational.
(As published in Deccan Chronicle, Sept. 9, 2010.)

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