A new National Highway: Virtual Connectivity to override Physical Infrastructure in India


Can Aadhaar evolve into a virtual connectivity infrastructure that drives a seamlessly connected society? What if Aadhaar gears up to be India’s answer to its painstakingly slow progress in building physical highways and infrastructure.

Aadhaar is a unique identification initiative launched by the Government of India under its planning commission. It is an ambitious project of using basic IT technology (databases, computing) and connectivity (fixed or mobile) to create a dynamic online identity system. The integration of biometric technology has provided an advanced and secure capability of authentication. This has further been extended by integrating payment platforms and providing an unified system of real-time identity, authorization and payment transaction support.

The vision outlined by the government lays emphasis on social & financial inclusion. As the first step, authorization and payment services are being used to drive delivery of distribution and transaction based services. Initial pilots have focused on social and welfare schemes such as Public Distribution Systems, LPG distribution & subsidy management, old-age pension distribution etc. In the next phase, applications could extend usage from authorization to access control or location/presence and drive services that are as simple as attendance to more dynamic deployment of resources based on current location of users. The scenarios are only limited by our imagination.

However, for true momentum to be built up, the initiative has to garner the industry attention and evolve to provide value to encourage adoption by businesses and enterprises.  This will not just lead to a massive build-up of Aadhaar-enabled services but also provide the impetus to propel it out of the current orbit to the next level of growth.

This evolution will need to be centered around 3 core areas – (1) Extending its application beyond social welfare into businesses (2) Introducing Support for Analytics – analytics could be used for converting raw data into value-added user/service context or applied to intelligence-driven operations (3) Inter-linkages with other databases and systems for seamless connectivity.

Data has been touted as the new oil of the connected world. However, our experience has taught us that data has no value unless it is acted on and converted into meaningful actions. Its only when the monetization potential is realized that it will drive social change.

The question for all of us – can this infrastructure be exploited to compensate for the lag in physical infrastructure investments? A nation that has been recognized for its extensive reserves of IT resources should not falter in playing to its strength in IT – we should be investing in creating an unprecedented scale of connected applications cut across both social and industrial sectors and use the virtual connectivity to open up reach as well as delivery. This could be the one area where we outpace every other nation & challenge the perceived dominance of other emerging nations like China.


Driving the Connected Society


Often overlooked by the end-user, the connected society has truly been built upon the advances in technology & business processes achieved by the semiconductor industry.

Everything today is being driven by, and built for the connected society. We all talk of the impact of Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and emergence of new eco-systems. These new faces of the connected services have re-kindled the vision of connecting many more devices that are part of our lives such as televisions, appliances and cars; and more recently we see renewed interest in expanding into new solutions in Smart Energy, Mobile Healthcare etc.

Many talk of this as a new vision. And yet, it has been around for many years now. What is often overlooked is that the recent optimism is truly driven by the advances in underlying technologies over the last several years. In fact, it is not just the availability of the new technology or the continuous improvements in size and processing capability, but the drastic reduction in price-points that has been achieved by the semiconductor industry that has opened up the reach for mass scale adoption.

I have been tracking the M2M world for more than 5 years now – I have seen many technology advances that have led to the current point of inflection – from the changed world of microprocessors with their ever increasing processing power and capability, to the re-incarnation of memory with flash memory & in-memory computing; validation of  wireless connectivity and the viability of embedded sensor technology; besides the new thresholds achieved on  video resolution, imaging and voice quality, and many more.

It is true that each of these technologies has opened up new possibilities. But I believe that the tipping point was achieved through the power of combination – as created by harnessing multiple of these individual technologies together into new applications. This led to a new level of innovation delivering far-reaching impact on user experience, operational costs and new business services. It is even more fascinating that the impact spans across verticals, businesses and industries.

Apple provides a good example of this seamless integration of multiple technologies – from rich media experience to optimized browsing experience to new user interfaces like touch, gesture or speech recognition or the extension of storage into seamless cloud repositories or the management of media across devices.

Apple is of-course also largely responsible for relegating technology to behind the scenes – they have focused on user experience and combined smart designs with streamlined processes to create easy-to-use touch points; thus hiding the technology and its complexity from the user.

Hidden or not – yet these technology advances will need to continue and maybe even gather more momentum. If the prediction that the connected devices will reach 15 billion over the next few years comes true, the spurt in data traffic and its implications on processing capability can barely be imagined today. We will need all the power that we can get.

And it is re-assuring to hear (from industry leaders like Intel) that the next generation chip technologies will continue to maintain the pace demanded by Moore’s Law, with the number of transistors doubling every 2 years. It is this power that will drive the connected world – and we should give it its due credit!

This article was written on 20 October 2011.