Budget 2021 Ramifications: Data Analytics, AI & IoT To Boost Infrastructure

Information is power. Information highways create an equitable and fair power distribution network. Democratizing power through better distribution of information can create scalable designsand, AI can automate the distribution

As a data science practitioner - I keep reminding myself that organizations need to focus on these factors to be a powerful, and, scalable organization. Personally, the idea of India as an organization helps me think through some of the nuances of budgetary announcements, and how they impact my approach.

For instance, the allocation of Rs 1500 crore towards driving digital payments which for many is just a fraction of the losses due to zero MDR. But it is also a push to drive more innovation and equitable distribution of digital payment growth across the country. It also continues to strengthen the idea of Digital India and a unified digital distribution network on which many other industries will ride. Recently, I had an interesting experience in the remote outskirts (a village) of Dhanbad (around the Munidih area), where a small shop displayed its acceptance of UPI based payments across three apps. A simplistic act of convenience (to allow customers to pay using digital instruments and go cash-less) can have significant positive downstream benefits.A better availability of cheaper working capital, a chance to build savings corpus through investments that generate positive returns are some of the examples of the same. In several rural parts of the country, women save money in tiny boxes and bottles that double up as their makeshift piggy-bank. It’s time we gave them a better instrument for managing their savings and financial independence.

Similarly, this budget is very acutely focused on spending for growth, which is great. Infrastructure spending and GIFT city are probably two of our favourites. For one, carefully planned infrastructure spending is known to drive growth across the economy. Plus, the one difference that every world-traveller like me would recognize is the superior urban and rural infrastructure quality of developed countries. To continue to force Indian dominance in a global economy, infrastructure is going to be a key marker.

However, what thrills me more is the Data and AI possibilities in the infrastructure space. From the investment in digitizing Indian infrastructure to being able to micro-optimization opportunities, better planning and execution through system dynamics, a chance to driving significant financial digitization (through cashless interventions), use of smart grids and smart technologies, and much more.

Come to think of it, I do have a wish list of infra-AI initiatives:

· Extensive digitization of all data – Starting with land and property records across the country – from core paper digitization initiatives to the use of drones and imaging technologies to draw maps, ownerships, quality assessments, and much more. We should latch on to the latest advancements in these areas to cut down the inefficiencies

· Increasing the role IoT plays in driving rural infrastructure insights – From general sensors that capture detailed weather data at the microcluster level, to specific sensors aimed at capturing people and freight movement, project completion and progress, creating better benchmarks on infra projects.

· Automation – My favourite success-failure story these days is the implementation of Fastag. A fascinating payments infrastructure that collects an inordinate amount of data that can be used to improve surface transport in meaningful ways, ends up creating bottlenecks at all busy toll-posts. When peak traffic hits, human agents work faster than the toll-tag readers – which somewhat defeats the purpose of such an investment. As a nation, we do not find adoption driving hacks exciting. But an automated difference between tag and cash payments can create differential driver behaviour.

· AI in decision making – Years ago, for an overseaas government projects, a team of researchers and data scientists designed an optimum highway layout by factoring in geographic, population, economic and time constraints, which was approved by experts faster, resulting in millions of dollars of savings. We need to look for such opportunities, as a resource optimized nation.

· Startup participation in innovation – From 3D printing to urban planning, there are several startups and young entrepreneurs who’d like to tackle problems that make a difference to the world around them; but dealing with governmental infrastructure is still daunting as its an extremely slow process. If we want start-up participation in national innovation challenges, our timelines for participation (from the government side) should be as aggressive as the life in a startup, which in turn will require committed ownership at the departmental level with transparency in of results and progress announcement. GIFT city is a great example, where the government should go all out at a fast pace to encourage innovative startups and ensure a strong new age infrastructure.

Possibilities are infinite for all of the above and much more with the emphasis on infra development in Budget 2021. We need to build for India, in India, with the Atmanirbhar bharat approach. Because the most complex national problems require not just smartness, but also a deeper commitment to the cause of bringing change. There are benefits of greater accountability, information sensitivity that necessitate Indian-ness in the approach. A greater public-startup partnership design is required to prove why India is the next information superpower of this century.

The author is Amit Das, CEO and Co-founder, Think360.ai

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