The design principles we should employ to shape India’s techade

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Summary

We must take leadership of a decade powered by technology enablers to address challenges and use innovations as equalizers

With the deadline for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals approaching, the United Nations General Assembly back in 2019 had underscored that the next 10 years must be a “decade of action". As a planet, we are running out of time to tackle mega challenges, from the climate crisis to our need for inclusion and better healthcare and education for all. And the only way to solve these problems is by significantly raising our ability to leverage technology. Technology is the key enabler of the ‘Decade of Action’, and for it to become real, we humans would have to unlock the real power of technology as a tool for problem-solving.

Technology will have to play the greatest role in its history—that of the most powerful equalizer ever built. And the decade will be defined by our collective ability to move from ‘technology potential’ to ‘technology impact’.

The concept of a ‘techade’ (i.e, a decade powered by the impact of technology) gained salience just before our lives were disrupted by the covid outbreak. If anything, the pandemic exponentially upped the urgency and role of technology in finding solutions to some of the most daunting challenges faced by humankind.

As we brainstorm the idea of a techade, a key point of consideration should be the design principles that would ultimately shape this decade into India’s own techade. It would be a huge loss if the techade only came to mean an increased use of technology. It must stand for impact, above all, and that too, human-centric impact.

Disruption: As per the Cambridge Dictionary, ‘disruption’ is the action of completely changing the traditional way an industry or market operates by using new methods or technology. This is the need of the techade that’s underway. The status quo is not going to cut it. We have to be able to find completely new ways of leveraging technology to solve pressing problems.

Innovation for impact: This techade should see technology move from ‘potential’ to ‘real life problem solving and impact’. Given the urgency, we have to make innovation count like never before. We have to innovate for real problems, and the only criteria for success must be real impact.

Inclusive and secure scale: The techade has to be about scale. Not only must we work towards achieving the UN sustainable goals by the end of this decade, we must also ensure that no one gets left behind and no one is harmed or put at any risk. As we innovate, inclusion and security must be built into the design process from the very start.

Ethical build and use of tech: If we are successful in our mission to achieve the sustainability goals by 2030, we will see technology entering the lives of billions of first-time users. Responsibility is borne by Indian industry and the government to ensure that we use technology as an equalizer and enabler of a better life for all. In my view, this is a time for us to collaborate on coming up with an ethical framework for how we build and use technology to minimize risks as much as we can.

Last but not least, we must ensure that the techade uses a human-centric lens. Paraphrasing Professor Yuval Noah Harari, historian and author, if we don’t act now to bring back our focus on humanity, we will in all probability be among the last few generations of Homo sapiens.

What does this mean for the tech industry in India and elsewhere? The techade presents unprecedented opportunities for innovation, growth and thought leadership to India and its $227 billion plus tech industry.

India as a hub for innovation: The country is fast becoming such a hub for the world. Today, nearly every Fortune 500 company has a research and development (R&D) centre in India. These aren’t back offices for secondary tasks, but front-end leaders of the innovation charters of companies. We have the talent, ecosystem and environment needed for success. We are also close to solving many of the mega problems we must address. If we can innovate to solve problems for India, we can surely solve problems for the world.

Growth: The techade also offers tremendous growth opportunities for the industry. Consider the potential in green technology and sustainability solutions, Internet of Things, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and analytics, digital twins, cybersecurity, blockchain, and applications like green building, carbon footprint management, weather monitoring and forecasting, air and water pollution monitoring, forest monitoring, crop monitoring, soil condition/moisture monitoring and water purification. All this was valued at $10.32 billion in 2020, and is projected to reach $74.64 billion by 2030, growing at a compound annual rate of 21.9% from 2021 till then, according to Allied Market Research.

Thought leadership: A key requirement in the techade will be scalability for inclusion. As we take on key challenges, we cannot leave any country or group of citizens behind. No country has been able to demonstrate the power of inclusive scale as India has done in the past few years. Leveraging the India stack, we have rolled out several inclusion initiatives to drive financial inclusion across a population of about 1.4 billion. Through the Jan Dhan Yojana, the world’s largest financial inclusion initiative, India has seen the opening of 430+ million bank accounts for the under-banked, resulting in over 80% Indians now having bank accounts. Notably, as many as 55% of Jan Dhan account holders are women and over 67% accounts are in rural and semi-urban areas. India’s flagship digital payments platform, the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), recorded its highest ever number of transactions in April 2022 at 5.58 billon (worth 9.83 trillion in value). It took UPI three years since its 2016 launch to cross 1 billion transactions for the first time in October 2019. The next billion came in under a year, when in October 2020 the system processed more than 2 billion transactions. In the 10 months after that, UPI processed 3 billion transactions. And then it took only three months for the payments platform to reach 4 billion transactions per month. The next target for UPI is to process a billion transactions per day in the next 3-5 years.

As nations try to figure out ways to leverage technology in their effort to reach every single citizen, India is quietly showing the world how it is best done. And with our reservoirs of tech talent, a dynamic and well-connected ecosystem, a progressive Union government that believes in technology as a key enabler of national development, steady improvements in the ease of doing business and a robust economy, India is well poised to lead the techade.

Debjani Ghosh is president, Nasscom

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