Digital transformation of God’s Abode

Temples, churches and mosques are places where faithful and seekers congregate to see, witness, experience or participate in religious and spiritual experiences. Some throng to quench their spiritual thirst, some to marvel at the colossal architecture and beautiful carvings, some to seek their wishes and some as an errand. Right from early civilization, they have functioned as a solace cistern, as rich cultural platforms creating novel dance and music formats, community ports involved in birth, marriage and many more stages. These structures form the foundations on which the faith rests strongly and they witness sea of humankind passing through them. Blue Mosque is visited by five million people annually, while Tirupathi temple receives about 203 Million people. It is not that only these large temples draw the crowd, even smaller ones witness sizeable participation from locals and visitors. India with 205 religious auspicious days a year, and more than 69,000 temples and many churches, mosques and synagogue is a happening place. Many of these smaller institutions face challenges on grants, support and upkeep. Some function under government bureaucracy, therefore their upkeep and running is a tough affair. Some temples are family managed, or by the villagers themselves and face a problem of continuity. Migration, regional expansions, industrialization and rampant resource exploitation has robbed many of their lands and means of sustenance. Religious institutions of all hues can benefit from digital technologies in three primary areas: Devotee management, donations and infrastructure management.
Devotee management involves advance reservations for seva’s, crowd management, on the spot tickets, distribution of Prasad and others. Faithful steward, WorshipTrac, FlockBase, Minebiz, Kshetrasuvidham, Kshetra, Mohid, Emaze are some of the software available to deliver devotee management and administration workflows. Platforms like onlineprasad or e-Prasad deliver temple Prasad directly to devotees. Devotee management includes not just on premise experience, but ones that caters to off premise engagement too. Due to migration, physical challenges and other constraints many a men and women may not be able to a treat themselves with a rich spiritual and cultural experience. AR/VR experiences can help people to cherish these moments without actually being at the place. Grand scale events such as Mahamastabhisheka of Gomateshwara or ISKCON Chowpatty have successfully worked with Kalpnik to provide an immersive virtual experience to all those devotees and tourists. A smartphone to scan the QR code, s simple 2G connection and a 3D spectacle was what was required to relish the happenings. Brainseed Factory’s Mecca3D delivers a rich virtual tour of Mecca, Haram the world’s largest mosque and Islamic history. Millions of faithful who can’t visit Mecca due to distance, cost, and physical challenges benefit from these virtual experiences. Startups like Spirituallygood are bringing an integrated platform of advance reservations, social media and member devotee experience on to a common page. With this the devotee can book in advance, share the photos and experiences on both temple’s page and her personal page, can send an invite to friends and donate for a particular puja or a cause like feeding widows or cattle. Devotee and tourist help create more information about the deity and place, increase awareness and followers to the temple. Heritage temples endowed with parchment paper or Talapathra scripts realize they need to digitally archive these to preserve the valuable information, but also help many consume the same in the form of e-books.
Donations are key source of all major religious institutions. Donations are required to maintain structures, deck the statues and halls, pay for the staff and priests and conduct elaborate events on special days. Using digital technologies, religious institutions can obtain tighter alignment between sources of funds (individuals, corporates, institutions and government), increase reach and deepen engagement of volunteers and donors. What most temples and mosques need is donations of kind, support for say restoring a gopuram or a minaret. Procuring these skills may be difficult for temples and government run temples may use locally available contractor who has no knowledge of the agama Shastra’s or the age old building techniques. Donation of time and efforts is where digital technologies may play significant role. Any person volunteering for a temple may find information about various temples that requires volunteers and she can select and participate for a particular activity at a particular temple of choice. These platforms thus allow not just Arpitha sea’s but also precious support required to run the mammoth activities of a Bramhotsavam or a Baisakhi langar. These platforms also facilitate an individual devotee post about a particular program, say revival of an old structure or an abandoned temple and request for support. These platforms provide not just an opportunity to take part in activities of interest, but actually own and drive an initiative. The platforms thus help increase the reach of temple and personalized involvement at the same time. . Startups are also exploring AI tools for recommendation about Pooja, auspicious times to conduct/visit temples according to ones’s horoscope, and suggestions on appropriate donations.
Temple administration and infrastructure management is another area where digital technologies can play a big role. Booking of accommodation, managing shops and establishment owned by temple, administration of transport and human resources, and prasadam management is where digital technologies can drive efficiency and effectiveness of the operations. Inventory management, ticketing systems, transport management, contract and rent management are areas where software from companies like SAP, Quest informatics, Synergize, Shivam software, Sopanam and many others offer point solutions that may be used by temples. Key to digital transformation is to create an integrated system, not point solutions as pursued by now. IT administration is a major issue and most temples do not have sufficiently qualified manpower to manage it. Digital transformation must be therefore all pervasive, devotee centric, efficiency driven project. Digitization must help religious institutions realize better devotee engagement, higher margins for their merchandize, increase reach beyond physical arena by using webinars, campaigns.
Board administrators need systems that allow visibility of allocation to priority areas, shared responsibilities and outcomes. Boards also need systems to manage their overheads, what % of the donations spent on HR & other areas and what % of the funds used for effective development of the institutions itself. Digital transformation must therefore connect not just CRM, Inventory management (rooms, marriage halls, shops, and commodities), social media and payment gateway, but also financial system-of-record. Digital transformation does not just mean automation and elimination of manual roles, especially of those that are prescribed in ancient texts. It is more about preserving and enshrining the rituals as prescribed in scripts by self-sustained institutions. Digital transformation is also engaging believers, devotees and tourists. Digital transformation must facilitate higher donor/volunteer involvement, deeper cultural immersion and revival of these institutions. Boards and administrators must embrace digital technologies to provide better spiritual and devotional experiences.
Dr TR Madan Mohan

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