E-governance: Taking IT to the Grassroots

by CXOtoday Staff    Mar 03, 2009

The Indian subcontinent is characterized by diversity in languages and cultures though the cultural ethos remain the same. This atmosphere of diversity is an opportunity as well as a challenge in terms of spreading IT and its usage in India. The learning and utilization of information happens primarily through the local languages. Therefore it is important to develop innovative e-governance solutions that help take IT to the grassroots’ level. Currently, there are around 18 major languages and 2,000 dialects in use in India.

The current users of PCs are drawn from 5% of the population, which is familiar with English. However, if PC’s can be used by, say, 50% of the population, then the use of IT and the sales of PCs will grow dramatically. The literacy rate in India, according to the 2001 census, is 65%. Most of this population is literate in Hindi and its variants.  In this scenario it becomes imperative that information is created in local languages.

There are multiple reasons for the relatively low penetration of IT within India: factors of affordability, accessibility and relevance.  And localization issues are a huge factor where accessibility is concerned. So, if localization is taken up as a crusade, IT penetration will definitely increase. And as that happens, more and more companies and individuals will see merit in investing in this initiative.

If computer applications were available in bilingual or multilingual form, a key barrier for the adoption could be removed. With VAT being implemented all across the country, the need for computers will be felt by many more people, even in semi-urban and rural areas. Computers help overcome the tedious process of calculation of taxes and maintenance of accounts. Software in the local language - accounting software, word processors, etc. - will actually lead to increase in the hardware sales.

The indisputable fact is that the market for PCs in India will go up dramatically when the applications running on them are useable by more than 50% of the population rather than by restricting them to a mere 5% of the population. It is important that computer applications address the needs of this large segment of our population. The importance of local language computing is evidenced by the Chinese example where the internet and computer penetration has had a tremendous impact due to the availability of local language content and local language software.

 The study on Local Language IT Market in India, conducted for DIT-MAIT, by Frost & Sullivan (F&S) revealed that current market size of the local language applications has remained limited due to lack of universal standards for scripts and fonts; limited availability of vernacular software and fonts and low availability of local language content on the internet. The market is currently driven by off-the-shelf applications for end-users such as the publishing industry and government sectors. However, in time ahead, the e-governance initiatives being undertaken by various government bodies are expected to spur growth in the local language computing market in India. Microsoft has been working closely with various departments of the Central and state governments and public-sector organizations for the last 17 years. The company has partnered with 14 state governments and there are more than 300 e-governance applications running on the Windows platform.

According to a study, the key drivers of the local language application market in the near future will be:

- Introduction and promotion of new technology solutions and applications by the industry to cater to the growing needs of citizens, business and the government sector;  

- Increasing content creation, in local context, in Indian languages for the web

- Initiatives revolving around the commercialization of products and applications being developed in the numerous research labs in India;                                 

- Local language project initiatives being undertaken by vendors, Central and state governments.

The Local Language IT Market

The local language IT market constitutes predominantly of word processing. Word Processing applications revenues in 2002 constituted 48% of the total market, with Packages and DTP constituting 20% and 18%, respectively. While word processing software will continue to occupy a lion’s share of the total revenues, the package applications and local language multimedia and video applications are also likely to grow at a significant pace.

Investments by governments in e-governance will find a way to the local language IT market. The share of e-governance was 38% in 2002 and is expected to grow by more than 50%.

The local language IT market constitutes of about 12 to 14 vendors. Most of the domestic players are regional and have limited access to the market. They offer both off-the-shelf products and custom-made applications in all the major Indian languages. International vendors are yet to take off in a big way in terms of the application offering across different languages. IBM offers a Hindi version of Lotus Notes in India. However, the participation of international vendors is expected to increase in the next three years.

Microsoft has also made major investments in local language computing. The complete suite of OS, office products, servers, development tools and database software has been fully enabled for 12 Indian languages: Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam, Punjabi, Konkani, Oriya and Assamese. There is also a Sanskrit locale - san-in.  As Unicode encodes more Indian languages, we are reviewing the need for support. Also, Microsoft provides the Visual Studio CLIP (Caption Language Interface Pack) in four languages:  Hindi, Malayalam, Oriya and Tamil. The Microsoft CLIP is a simple language translation solution that uses tooltip captions to display results - you can use it as a language aid, to see translations in your own dialect, update results in your own native tongue or use it as a learning tool. Besides, by enabling the Indian locales in Windows, Microsoft enables third-party developers to offer a complete localized application on the Windows platform, thus enhancing the local languages ecosystem.

End-user Sectors

Local language IT applications are expected to find uses across a wide segment of the market viz in the government, private sector and public enterprises. However, the extent of impact will not be uniform across these verticals

- Education

The Government of India is likely to face multiple challenges in achieving the avowed goal of universalization of elementary education. The Indian education sector is facing challenges as a result of the change in the economic constitution of the world: world over, the knowledge segment of the economy is acquiring larger dimensions. These challenges mean that the Indian education sector will have to focus on fundamental quality and efficiency of the education output.

The real beneficiaries of the interactivity through local language IT will be the primary and secondary school students. A number of government and private initiatives have been forthcoming in this regard. However, the availability of budgets to set up a large-scale computing infrastructure will be the critical challenge.

- Publishing Segment

India is one of the world’s most vibrant markets for books, newspapers and magazines. While a sizeable number of citizens are already in the category of "regular readers", the market is expected to continually grow because of the increasing number of educated citizens in India.

India has a large segment of vernacular language publications including books, newspaper and magazines. For example, India has 6,830 English-language and nearly 40,000 local language newspapers, although 34 newspapers control 76 % of India’s total circulation of 18 million and a combined readership exceeding 132 million. With the demand for books, magazines and newspapers expected to grow, local language IT products will increase the opportunities to provide end-to-end solutions to the publishers in the form of desktop publishing and local language computing hardware.

- Small & Medium Enterprises

Small-scale industries (SSI) produce 40% of the manufacturing sector’s output and account for around 95% of industrial units in the country.  SMEs have been late adopters of IT for multiple reasons: lack of appropriate applications, high prices of PC hardware and lack of relevant knowledge

Since the lingua franca of business that the proprietors of the SMEs employ is local language, local language IT has the potential to proactively increase the chances of IT adoption. Local language accounting applications and ERP systems will be the leading applications that will drive the demand in the SME segment in India.

- Banks

 Banking institutions have changed the rural and semi-urban economies by providing a channel for the movement of credit and savings in India. Cooperative credit institutions occupy an important position in the financial system of the economy in terms of their reach, volume of operations, and the purpose they serve.

To serve a wide section of the population in rural and semi-rural areas, rural branches have deployed bilingual forms and are high users of documents in local language. Typewriters are employed on a wide scale. Local language IT systems can replace these manual and semi-manual systems and thus provide banks and the citizens with the benefits of technology.

- e-Governance Initiatives and Potential for Local Language Market

 There is an overall consensus on the benefits of e-governance in India. Deploying local language IT as a part of state and Central e-governance implementations will serve the cause of improving the reach and quality of services offered across a wide section of the citizens.

State governments have deployed citizen services in local languages and the early benefits are already visible. Early government-to-citizen portals such as e-Seva have proved the feasibility of the model. This trend is expected to extend on both scale and scope: a wider bouquet of services will be available to a larger section of citizens. Andhra Pradesh is a state with the biggest spend on local language IT, contributing 23.6% to the total market revenues for the industry. Gujarat is the second highest spender followed closely by West Bengal.

As the penetration of PCs and other electronic devices increases and connectivity becomes widespread, there will be an increasing demand for local content. A few years ago, one could never imagine the financial viability of regional channels on cable TV. Today, these channels cater successfully to a whole lot of local and special interests. So, actually once the barrier of language has been dealt with, each region does come closer to its linguistically distant geographies across the world.