EmTech 2018: CEOs on what it takes to make India truly digital
New Delhi: At EmTech India 2018, CEOs discussed the ‘Road to a Truly Digital India: Opportunities, Challenges and the Way Forward’. The discussion was a key feature of the third edition of the event, organized by Mint and MIT Technology Review, and held in Gurgaon on 8 March.
The panellists were: Aloknath De, corporate vice-president and chief technology officer, Samsung R&D Institute, India; Prakash Mallya, managing director, sales and marketing group, Intel India; Alok Ohrie, president and MD (India Commercial), Dell EMC; Umang Bedi, president, Verse Innovation Pvt. Ltd; G.N.V. Subba Rao, MD, ABB R&D, India; and Akshay Kothari, country manager and head of product, LinkedIn India. The discussion was moderated by Shereen Bhan, managing editor of CNBC-TV18. Edited excerpts:
Alok Ohrie (on investments in IT infrastructure and smart cities):
While India may boast about how our GDP growth rate is currently one of the highest in the world, China’s investments in information technology are about six times that of India’s. When it comes to personal computers (PCs), only one in 10 Indian households have a PC. The equivalent ratio in the US is about 2 PCs for each household. India is way behind in terms of IT infrastructure. In India, private companies are doing their bit, but I think a major push has to come from the government as well.
The Smart Cities Mission has been a mixed bag. The journey to build a hundred smart cities started in 2016. As of now, the number of smart city projects that are in the execution phase would, perhaps, be in single digits. A budget of Rs9,800 crore is lying largely unutilized. Maybe there could be a body at the central level which could oversee what needs to be done in each of these smart cities.
Aloknath De (on the need to build synergies across sectors):
There are examples of rapid transformation even in India. The adoption of instant messaging is a good example. Now, it is being used even for official communication. Even though it looks like a small thing, the way Indians communicate with each other has been revolutionized. Another sector is the payments industry. In fintech, we are the world leader. Today, in a very short period, UPI (unified payments interface) has attained 30% of debit/credit card transaction volume.
The technology stack is well defined in this space, so there is quick adoption. We have a great opportunity to synergistically build upon these sectors of success.
Umang Bedi (on the big bets for 2018):
The first big bet will be to continue to enhance connectivity. While we are the largest (mobile) data-consuming nation in the world, 68% of India is still digitally dark. The second bet would be computing devices. Falling cost of devices is going to be a key enabler in this growth. And the third would be more empowerment around education and skills. How do we get people more employable in whatever sector they come out of?
There are three India(s) in this country. One, the India that lives in the top 15 cities, which mirrors the West (for instance, by using Uber, Flipkart or Amazon). The solutions that are being built by the industry are largely serving this India.
Then there is tier II, tier III India—about 200 million people who are part of the growing middle class. And the third India is the 800 million people that are living in villages. We are going to need different kinds of companies offering different services and different modes of delivery, if we really want to cover India 2 and 3.
Prakash Mallya (on developing talent and serving small-town India):
I want to provide a different perspective on talent. I can give you an example within Intel. Intel has a design centre in Bangalore which is the largest outside the US. And the expertise (there) is across all the business units—artificial intelligence, data centre, cloud, connectivity. These are people who are building the best-in-class global products. So the talent does exist. The difference is the strategy for the country—digitization has changed things dramatically over the last few years. Initially, when the technology industry showed up in India a few decades back, we were catering to a global demand. And that’s how the first generation of tech happened in India.
Now what is happening is you have 1.3 billion people, great quality infrastructure—yes, it can get better with 5G—but you have demand and supply connected within the country.
That means you need talent within the country to cater to that demand. Hence, the pace and acceleration of talent needs to be at a scale much higher than earlier.
Akshay Kothari (on skill gaps):
Because of the connectivity that we are seeing in India, last year it was the fastest growing nation, even beating China for us (LinkedIn). With that, we have started seeing a lot of interesting data for India. One thing that is clear when you look at this data, is the widening skills gap. So, on any given day, you actually have about 600,000 jobs that are available on the LinkedIn platform in India and these companies are actually complaining that they can’t find the right people. At the same time, you have every month a million people coming to the work force and not enough jobs being created. What we are seeing is the gap between what people are studying today and what is needed for tomorrow’s jobs.
G.N.V. Subba Rao (on the balance between private sector and the government):
There are certain sectors where the government necessarily has to do some things and there are many sectors where they need not. For example, in railways, you cannot expect much from the private sector.
On the other hand, the IT revolution that you see, I believe, is because of the big four or five companies. Since I come from traditional industries—the cement, metal, oil and gas industries—which grew significantly, but have they grown because of the government or in spite of the government? That’s a matter of debate. It’s a balance here. We should be expecting some things from the government and we have the entrepreneurial spirit in India to somehow find ways (to do other things).
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