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Life In The Digital World

The pandemic highlighted the benefits of a robust digital network globally. India has made significant progress in the digital public infrastructure (DPI) space. An Omidyar Network India and Boston Consulting Group report estimates that by 2030, ten high potential National Open Digital Ecosystems (NODEs) in sectors like health, agriculture, justice, etc., could collectively create new economic value of over $500 billion (more than Rs 35 lakh crore)

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Yes, we blame the pandemic for a lot, but we must agree that it did push innovation and progress light years ahead. The need for a robust digital public infrastructure (DPI), especially aspects such as digital Identity and digital payments, were most beneficial when the pandemic hit. In India, we have been leaders in building a population-scale digital ID initiative and digital payments infrastructure such as the Unified Payments Interface (UPI).

There's been a lot of conversation about the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) recently. This initiative was born out of the pandemic. More specifically, the Ministry of Commerce and Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) understood the problem people had during the pandemic buying and selling goods. They came up with this as a means to bridge the gap between sellers and buyers. "The team's philosophy was not to create something proprietary but something on an open-source foundation. They then looked at the backend protocol that was already available as a standard protocol, used by many sectors like mobility and health and asked whether ONDC could adopt that protocol with this idea of creating an open foundation," said T. Koshy, CEO, ONDC in a conversation with our team.  

The ONDC is a network of multiple platforms coming together where interoperability is key. The network's success depends upon people joining. The team believes that once the sellers and buyers understand that they will be a part of a one billion-plus consumer market, being on this network will almost become compulsory. "The same thing happened with UPI; if you remember, the existing wallet players wouldn't have even expected that we have the capability in India to move from 300 million transactions a month, to six billion transactions a month in four years. The design made it possible, and ONDC’s plan will make it possible for the digital commerce space," said Koshy. They launched end of April and by August this year they plan to be present in 100 cities, and throughout the nation by the end of the year.  

Quite recently, at a summit where he was speaking, the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution and Textiles, Piyush Goyal said that ONDC would democratise ecommerce and protect small businesses by granting them equal opportunity. He lauded India on leading the way in building DPI, and added that the penetration of smartphones and the low cost of data had laid the foundation for disruptive innovation at scale. He added that with digital infrastructure like IndiaStack, Healthstack, Logistics Stack, CoWIN, the next trillion-dollar companies can be created in India.  

The ONDC was incorporated as a Section 8 company and a large number of public and private sector companies have collaborated with the network. All eyes are set on how it scales up over the next few months.  

*Making Progress  
Shilpa Mankar Ahluwalia, Partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. says that India’s digital public infrastructure (DPI) space, founded on the Aadhaar framework, is now widely regarded as one of the global best for distribution of not just public benefits but also private goods. Payment products have, for the large part, been the first point of contact to onboard customers onto the digital infrastructure for financial products. Once a digital distribution channel exists, it can be used to deliver (in addition to payments) insurance, investment, credit products and many other financial products. Similarly, digital apps and services (such as food delivery, travel, entertainment and ecommerce) are increasingly looking for ways to become the “single point of contact” for their large customer bases via partnerships and also by adding on newer product categories to their own portfolios. The industry will see greater consolidation and the emergence of larger players. Regarding the best way to derive value from the various initiatives, she stressed that strong consumer and data protection will be central to sustainable growth of digital platforms going ahead.  

The Government of India and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) are working on building an ecosystem to leverage digital platforms for transformative governance, social, and economic good across sectors such as health, education, agriculture, and real estate, etc. However, the question that most people tend to ask is, how secure is our data? They want a seamless experience with high security.  

To build sustainable and responsible platforms, MeitY worked on initiatives such as a Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, a policy on Open APIs for the Government of India, an Electronic Consent framework, and also, a Committee of Experts on the governance of non-personal data. Further, they led the conversation on the National Open Digital Ecosystems (NODEs) and even put out a whitepaper for public consultation. The NODEs are open and secure digital delivery platforms guided by transparent governance mechanisms. These will enable a community of partners to unlock innovative solutions to transform societal outcomes.  

An Omidyar Network India and Boston Consulting Group report estimates that by 2030, ten  high potential National Open Digital Ecosystems (NODEs) in sectors like health, agriculture, justice, etc., can collectively create a new economic value of over $500 billion (over Rs 35 lakh crore).  

Union Finance Minister, Nirmala Sithraman, in her 2022-23 Budget speech, mentioned initiatives for the implementation of ODEs in some of these sectors. The healthcare sector was one such sector, where an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem under the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) was announced. This would have digital registries of health facilities and healthcare providers, health identity, and universal access to health facilities.  

Similar announcements for a digital push were made for the agriculture sector, labour and skill development sector, education sector, and others. While we have made headway in the digital space and are moving in the right direction, checks and balances need to be in place to ensure the successful implementation of these initiatives.  

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Magazine 2 July 2022 Digital World