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How far has India come in its digitization journey?

Technology experts unravel India’s digitization journey on the opening day of emerging technology conference EmTech India 2017


R. Chandrasekhar, president of Nasscom, at EmTech India 2017 in New Delhi on Thursday. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
R. Chandrasekhar, president of Nasscom, at EmTech India 2017 in New Delhi on Thursday. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

New Delhi: How is India becoming digital? This was the question that eight technology experts addressed on the first day of EmTech India 2017—an emerging technology conference organized by Mint and MIT Technology Review.

R. Chandrashekhar, president of software industry group Nasscom, said while the journey to digitization has begun, it is a matter of accelerating the pace at which it is happening.

“There is a World Bank report which says that a 10% increase in broadband penetration (in India) can lead to a 1.4% increase in GDP (gross domestic product), making Internet important for enhancing the growth of the economy.”

However, this won’t be possible without government participation. “Regulation is not a driving force for growth, but it can be a roadblock. So, government plays a critical role for creating appropriate policy framework and provide infrastructure and enable a secure and safe environment for digital transactions to take place,” he said.

So far, innovation has been for ‘India 1’—the first 100 million Indians—said Rajan Anandan, vice-president India and south-east Asia at Google Inc. “These are consumers who have high personal disposable income, they are well connected and well educated. Way forward, we will see problems being solved for ‘India 2’ and ‘India 3’—the next 200 million to 600 million Indians,” Anandan said.

He explained, “the next wave will be of great companies that are must-have solutions. For instance, healthcare challenges cannot be solved by an app. These companies are going to be full-stack, that will include hardware and software. They will require new kinds of technical skills and deep domain expertise, who will require different kinds of capital in larger quantums and which is patient.”

In India, Google has so far made 120 railway stations Internet-enabled, through a partnership with Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp. (IRCTC). Anandan said Google registers about 15,000 people daily who are using Internet for the first time through this medium.

In two to three years, about 600 million Indians will access internet through broadband, Anandan said.

The government has launched a National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) that has penetrated rural areas, Chandrashekhar said. “Under the initiative, 8.2 million people have already been trained by 2016, surpassing the target of NDLM training 5.2 million by 2018,” he added.

“By 2015, 2.7 billion people were live on Internet; we saw internet use increase 60 times, largely from Asia Pacific. Market capitalization of consumer internet companies rose by 150X and innovation investments shot up 6x,” said Boston Consulting Group’s Marc Schuuring (partner and managing director, Amsterdam) and Rajiv Gupta (partner and director, New Delhi) in a presentation.

“Come 2017, GDP growth is flat, internet growth is down by 40%, population growth (rate is down) by 50%, smartphones growth is -65%, but internet user growth in India is at 40%,” they added.

This trend is a confirmation that mobile has become the first source of accessing Internet in India, skipping computers or laptops.

BCG forecasts technology will make a deep dive into artificial intelligence: customer support service chatbots, advanced forecasting, talent acquisition and AI-enabled psychometric profiling.

Facebook sees over one billion user generated posts every day, over 100 million hours of video consumed and over two billion photos shared, said Umang Bedi, the company’s managing director, India and south Asia. The company claims to have the highest personalized newsfeed for any user owing to its robust artificial intelligence and machine learning technology.

But innovation is not limited to the likes of Facebook Inc, Google Inc, Apple Inc. or Microsoft Corp. Tata Sons Ltd presented a series of technology-led solutions the group is working on.

“We have newly launched Tata Insights and Quants (built on Big Data analytics, currently for internal use), Tata Digital Health (technology to connect patient with doctors and create healthcare based solutions) and Tata Cliq (the group’s foray into e-commerce). Those are business incubation being carried out from the group and we’re careful moving into the future and creating the future as we speak.” said Gopichand Katragadda, group technology and innovation officer, Tata Sons.

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