Taming The Numbers Beast

A billion
is a nice round figure. But many find its derivatives staggering.
Mumbai is “larger” than Australia. A million PCs a year, but
just one for 300 users. A million cellphones, yet 99% of Indians
haven’t ever seen one. So what would a database of all Indians
be like? Very big indeed. The list of registered voters in
India adds up to 600 million. That’s the size of the database
put together by India’s Election Commission. If you thought
anything can fit on a CD, well, this database takes 96 of
them. It would occupy 20 DVDs. This isn’t quite Singapore,
but the world’s largest democracy is a natural for widespread
infotech use, with a citizens’ database and a network at the
core. The missing link in government stems from what I call
infoisolation. Each department struggles with its own databases.
The Income Tax Office, with its “PAN” numbers years overdue,
grapples with lists of foreign travelers.

The census
exercise creates its own billion-record filing cabinets that
are years out of date. DoT’s phone companies recreate their
own databases, with no interaction with the ITO except a “database
mailing” of tax notices to phone-owners. Now imagine a country-wide
“highway”, with a fast network and a citizens’ database at
the core. Government departments build on this data. The ITO
generates tax notices and follow-ups to the big power and
telecom consumers. State electricity boards integrate it with
GIS systems to streamline distribution, and match revenues
with air-conditioner ownership data. Municipal officials plan
water supply from the population distribution data; and transport
departments, their bus routing. This isn’t far-fetched, because
our governments-whatever the party-are very interested in
infotech today. A Newsweek cover describes India’s new economy:
“Forget the elections, it’s high-tech that really matters”.
It’s not just the $4 bn of software exports or the IT companies
that hog a sixth of the BSE’s market-cap; IT really works.

banks and public utilities to elections. And today it’s okay
to endorse it. In fact, as impressive as the database the
EC’s wide area IP network: 1,500 centers, a mix of leased
lines, VSATs, dial-up RAS and modem arrays, across 32 states
and UTs, with a GIS system and a webserver in Delhi. Not for
the sake of the web site or to help surfers, but to commit
the results to a public forum, for transparency and to avoid
post-counting manipulation. It’s a huge exercise, but thanks
to infotech, it works. Planned, purposeful infotech can help
tame those terrifying numbers. Just a thought: if this can
work, enterprise IS should be a piece of cake…

Kumar Roy

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