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A chance to donate desktops

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One of the unintended but welcome consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is the massive shift that companies are making from desktops to laptops. Not just technology companies, but companies across industries are moving to laptops in large numbers to give their employees the flexibility to work from anywhere and deliver business outcomes.

Large technology companies — among the biggest users of desktops in India — have publicly stated that about two-thirds of their workforce was using desktops before the pandemic. Most of them have already shifted to laptops or are in the process of doing so. In fact, just after the first nationwide lockdown was announced, these companies procured tens of thousands of laptops and flew them into the country, besides raiding electronic retail stores to procure consumer-grade laptops that could be used as ‘bring your own devices’.

Also read | COVID-19: Work from home leads to spike in demand for laptops, but supplies hit

Does this massive shift signal the death of desktops? Not really. Companies will continue to use desktops for a variety of reasons: client mandates, hardware and system dependencies, security considerations, longer shelf life, lower cost of maintenance, larger display, and so on. But what one cannot dispute is that this pandemic has significantly accelerated the shift to laptops and other smart mobile devices. A conservative, back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that more than a million desktops have already been replaced by laptops in the past few months and the transition is far from over.

Bridging the digital divide

The moot question then is: Can India Inc. use this opportunity to “donate” these desktops to schools that cater to the underprivileged sections of society and are struggling to impart basic online education and digital literacy? One of the biggest downsides of online learning brought on by the pandemic is that it has not only bared but also further widened the divide between the digital haves and have-nots. Donating desktops can be a small but worthy step towards bridging that divide and catalysing the Digital India we have envisioned. With the New Education Policy outlining the need for using digital channels for increasing equity, quality, and reach of education, this donation can be a big boon for these schools.

For doing something of this nature at the scale it warrants, multiple government departments, industry bodies, corporate houses and NGOs need to come together. From making changes to the asset depreciation policy to obtaining clearances from government bodies such as SEZ and the Software Technology Parks of India for de-bonding, formatting and refurbishing these machines, installing a new Operating System and basic software, identifying deserving institutions and providing continued maintenance support, a coordinated effort is needed. Funding could be a bottleneck for such programmes. But in this case, companies can dip into their CSR outlay to get things going.

Donating many devices

While the pandemic has brought desktops into sharp focus, the initiative can be expanded to donating many other used devices, including tablets, iPads and smartphones, to not just schools, but also shelter homes and orphanages, and that too on an ongoing basis. While the typical cycle time for replacing used desktops would be three to four years, it would be much less for smartphones. This means millions of devices can be donated every year.

Can the best entrepreneurial minds look at building an end-to-end digital platform to bring together all participants in a well-oiled supply chain and convert the idea into a big business opportunity with significant social impact? Just like the used car market is bigger than that for new cars, the refurbished smart devices market is getting bigger by the day. And if we do not act in unison, these devices with years of useful life ahead of them could get prematurely consigned to bonded warehouses or end up being e-waste. That would be a colossal disservice to our dream of a Digital India.

Ramkumar Ramamoorthy is former Chairman and Managing Director, Cognizant India

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Printable version | Oct 1, 2020 6:30:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-chance-to-donate-desktops/article32439273.ece

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