To win in the next decade, the Indian IT industry may need, in some sense, to be an antithesis of the past. Past winning factors of cost, scale and predictability will need to pivot to value-based, agile and innovative
Marking major progress in the field of health technology, a recently published research paper throws light on a deep learning algorithm that detects diabetic retinopathy—a condition that leads to blindness. The algorithm diagnoses the condition with over 90% accuracy by analysing retinal fundus photographs and will probably eliminate the need for an ophthalmologist at the diagnosis stage. Strangely, nobody, including its creator, knows what exactly the algorithm is looking for in the photographs as the algorithm has trained itself rather than being told what and where to look.
Our world is being shaped by the intersection of multiple emerging as well as some entirely new technologies. Self-driving cars, drones and intelligent homes are already accepted as inevitable. In other industries, we might witness a shift to consumerization in energy, i.e. the way that energy is produced and distributed, relying heavily on naturally available sources, new storage methods and intelligent grids. We will see the dawn of an entirely new way of commerce, of transparency and efficiency enabled by technology.
One doesn’t have to look hard to find examples which show that technology is becoming core and inseparable from innovation in every industry. Artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, the Internet of Things, blockchain and many game-changing technologies are coming of age. At the same time, digital is becoming the de facto approach to buying products, services and experiences. The fast-moving landscape on both sides of demand and supply will make most 10-year predictions seem tame in hindsight.
Thanks to its unique vantage point over the last three decades, the Indian IT industry has an opportunity to shape these global forces. It has earned its stripes based on the seemingly unassailable value proposition of cost, scale and quality. It has been successful in constantly reinventing “service excellence" across a broad range of technology, business processes and engineering services.
However, this may no longer be enough. To win in the next decade, the industry may need, in some sense, to be an “antithesis" of the past. Past winning factors of cost, scale and predictability will need to pivot to value-based, agile and innovative, i.e. be true digital co-partners, while helping customers ruthlessly drive efficiencies in their operations. Innovation in AI and robotic process automation platforms and technologies will play a critical role in helping achieve almost unimaginable levels of automation.
Winning in the new paradigm thus implies the need for a significant shift in capabilities, skill sets, delivery models and new relationships/partnerships. Capabilities are shifting from “technology" based to “business solution" oriented, skills from “generalists" to “specialists" with a broad range of expertise, delivery models from “off-shore" to “agile" and “as a service" based, and stakeholders are shifting from calling only on the chief information officer (CIO) to “business", “functional" and “IT".
Workforce transformation through upskilling and multi-skilling will be essential in the new landscape. Working in cross-function agile teams, imbibing and practising design thinking will need to become second nature to a large majority of technology workers who have traditionally focused on narrow technical excellence.
Developing leading-edge capabilities will require an almost boundary-less approach to developing IP (intellectual property) and solutions through an effective “external ecosystem"—a combination of investment and participation in innovation ecosystems such as start-ups, academia and venture capital ecosystems.
While that’s a lot of change to deal with in a short time frame, it is also an opportunity to create value on a much larger scale. India has a large and growing market for digital products and services and a start-up landscape. Government-led initiatives like Digital India can be real catalysts for the change, providing the impetus to leapfrog in innovation ahead of other, slower- growing economies.
It will take a sense of purpose, a pioneering spirit and a start-up culture to realize this vision. At a time when globalization is facing some scepticism and headwinds, the industry can be a beacon of hope, showing the power of ideas, innovation and technology to create economic and social value across borders and without bias. The opportunity is ours to win.
Rishad Premji is chief strategy officer and member of the board at Wipro Ltd
This is part of a series of articles in Mint’s 10th anniversary special issue that look at India 10 years from now. The entire list of articles can be found here