Opinion | Reimagining India’s digital transformation in vital sectors4 min read . Updated: 24 Nov 2020, 12:18 PM IST
- As we continue to fight the covid-19 pandemic, rapid digitalization will drive economic recovery and help address systemic shortcomings to ensure universal access to fundamental development indicators
India has been on a digital-first trajectory for a few years, spurred on by its goal of becoming a trillion-dollar digital economy by 2025. Digital transformation across key sectors like manufacturing, education, healthcare, as well as government services and labor markets has the potential for each sector to create $10-$150 billion incremental economic value by 2025.
As we continue to fight the covid-19 pandemic, rapid digitalization will drive economic recovery and help address systemic shortcomings to ensure universal access to fundamental development indicators. I am particularly excited about the possibilities in technology powered development and their impact on key sectors like healthcare, education, and manufacturing.
From Hospitals to Homes: A Paradigm Shift in Healthcare
Access to public healthcare services is a challenge in India. There are only 0.55 beds per 1,000 people and more than 16 lakh people die every year due to poor quality healthcare services. Of the 25,300 primary healthcare centers in the country, more than 8% do not have doctors, 38% lack laboratory technicians, and 22% have no pharmacists. Given India’s size and population, ensuring universal access to healthcare might prove impossible without technology.
In fact, we have a unique opportunity to use emerging technologies to leapfrog into a new era of remote or extended healthcare. By leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT), wearables, and artificial intelligence (AI), patient data can be analyzed and interpreted remotely, in real time, ensuring improved outcomes.
Such an extended care model can deliver quality healthcare to citizens in their own homes, doing away with the need to travel and freeing up hospital beds for the severely ill. The pandemic has already helped mainstream telemedicine with over 5 crore Indians accessing e-healthcare services from March 2020, marking a 500% increase in online consultations. Approximately 44% of these were from non-metro cities. Now is the time to build on this momentum to create an innovative extended healthcare model that can address the gaps in the public health infrastructure and enable universal access.
Shifting Gears from Access to Education to Quality Education for All
Today, 97.2% of children in the country are enrolled in schools. However, the quality of education remains an issue across rural areas with students falling below grade level standards. As education went online in the wake of the pandemic, it was evident that with the right technology infrastructure, even K12 education could be delivered seamlessly online. The challenge is that at the moment, only 24% of Indian homes have the Internet access they need for this. This is a watershed moment for us to transform the state of education in the country with technology. Concerted and collaborative action between government, educational institutions and the private sector is critical for bridging this last mile gap in connectivity and access. Public private partnerships to set up e-education hubs in every gram panchayat can ensure equal access to quality education.
The education technology sector holds tremendous promise with over 4,000 startups working to truly democratize learning in the country. Their efforts are well supported by recent government initiatives like the National Education Policy (NEP) that emphasizes the development of necessary digital infrastructure, and stresses on digital literacy from an early age. If implemented well, this visionary policy will boost the adoption of emerging technologies like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality to deliver realistic virtual learning experiences.
Unlocking the Potential of Industry 4.0
Covid-19 lockdowns have been especially hard on the Indian manufacturing sector. Considering that it contributes about 20% to the country’s GDP, its quick recovery is critical. As the government pushes the nation to get “Vocal for Local", this sector must increase strategic investments in technology to not just recover from the impact of the pandemic, but also become a key driver of the Indian vision of a $5 trillion economy by 2025.
Manufacturers were just beginning to explore technologies such as IOT, robotics, AI, and 3D printing and now they must accelerate the pace of technology adoption. Industry 4.0 is well underway, and India must move fast to unlock the potential of smart factories that connect people, processes and machines for better efficiency and enhanced output. The country’s large talent pool is an asset that needs to be upskilled for the smart factory era. With supportive policies, digital infrastructure development and an unremitting focus on innovation, India can not only recover from the impact of the pandemic but also establish itself as a global manufacturing hub.
Concerted and Collaborative Push to Make India Truly Digital
Digital transformation of key sectors can only happen when the right infrastructure is in place. From low latency, high speed 5G networks to broadband highways, the government must focus on building the foundation on which a truly digitally empowered India can stand. In fact, it must consider 5G as an essential service that is an integral part of our social and economic fabric much like water or electricity. Initiatives like Digital India, Aadhaar, GSTN, and Smart Cities have provided a significant boost to the country’s digital transformation drive.
All that is needed now is a concerted and collaborative push for the next phase of this transformational journey. The private sector needs to future proof their businesses and invest in people, new capabilities and bolster industry-academia collaboration to drive a new era of digital breakthroughs that benefit the nation. Technology needs to be made affordable and scalable to meet the needs of our population. The government must focus on building the infrastructure and policies that will spur greater innovation and tech advancement in the country. Together, we can unlock a brighter, economically prosperous, inclusive and developed future for India.
(Nivruti Rai is country head, Intel India. Views are personal and do not reflect Mint's.)