Economy

Covid-19 gives a boost to Digital India mission

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on March 23, 2020 Published on March 23, 2020

As companies limit offline operations, even digitally-averse customers are forced to make the shift

The coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak is indirectly helping the Centre’s vision of Digital India, as many service providers, including banks and telecom operators, have significantly reduced their offline operations (some have even closed) and are asking their customers to embrace the digital form for any assistance. This trend could possibly help in speeding up digital transformation in the long term. But, the challenge is that not many customers are prepared for this drastic change.

‘Limit physical interactions’

Telecom operator Airtel said that as a safety measure for its employees, it has reduced staffing at customer care centres, due to which customers may experience an increased wait time. “We encourage you to use Airtel Thanks App for queries related to bill, payments, usage, bill plan,” it said.

SBI Cards said to its customers: “As we navigate through Covid-19, we are ensuring that critical functions like IT, cyber security, fraud prevention and digital services are well protected. We request you to limit your physical interactions at our touch points to the maximum extent and operate through digital customer facing solutions. For all your credit cards, we encourage you to use our 24x7 self-service options like the website, mobile app or chatbot.”

Punjab National Bank went a step further. In a message to its customers, the bank said: “Please avoid visit to public places and use of currency notes, which may spread coronavirus. Instead use NetBanking, PNB ONE/UPI.”

Internet service provider ACT Group’s CEO Bala Malladi, in a communication to customers, said that to avoid interactions, its branch offices will not be available for walk-in queries. It has asked customers to use its website or chatbot for any query or clarification. “Henceforth, we will not be accept any cash and cheque payments and will acknowledge payments only through digital channels.”

Smooth operations

Companies like the Chennai-based FSS Pvt Ltd are working round the clock to help the digital transformation work without interruption. “Having moved to digital for payments over the past decade and more, the advent of Immediate Payment Systems, Unified Payments Interface and 24/7 National Electronics Funds Transfer has made life easy for most enabled customers,” said Nagaraj Mylandla, Managing Director, FSS Pvt Ltd.

“For banks, it is business as usual and they work with FSS to ensure all front-end channels are working. This includes ATMs, Point of Sale, mobile payment, IMPS and UPI,” he added.

“Since we are the number one payments partner for almost every bank, our main centres in Mumbai and Chennai are fully equipped to manage these situations 24/7, 365 days,” said Nagaraj.

Upto the task

Vittal Raj, an expert on cyber security, said Covid-19 will help achieve the Centre’s ‘sagging’ digital dream, with the current situation forcing the digitally reluctant and digitally illiterate to break their complacent mindset and take their first steps away from the cash habit. “If the habits stays broken, we could see the digital revolution firm up its roots,” said Raj.

However, if not handled well, this ‘dream’ can turn into a nightmare. A faux pas that could mess up the Digital India timelines. The technology powering the government digital services has to work and handle a surge in volume, he added.

There are a few challenges too in the digital transformation. Most central digital services function either in English or Hindi, and the language barrier could be a big damper for adoption. Most government departments are yet to go truly digital with their citizen services. Poor web/mobile application final design, unreliable performance and poor support are leading to user frustration, and loss of faith/confidence in the government’s digital channels, such as the GSTN, he said.

But, for customers like the 68-year-old R Lakshmi Narasimhan, who loves to transact only at the bank branch, it is going to be a huge challenge shifting to digital. However, he does not have a choice but to embrace digital now, and could become a habit in future, said a bank employee.

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Published on March 23, 2020
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