India faces an array of ambitions and challenges: The vision of an Atmanirbhar Bharat is one. The need to bolster economic growth, address climate change and forge a more inclusive, fair society are others. All of them have one thing in common, however: the pathway to progress towards them is digital connectivity and innovation. Digital is at the heart of addressing multiple core needs in one go: remote everything, resiliency, efficiency, and sustainability.
The nationwide lockdown implemented in March clearly illustrated the critical importance of digital connectivity and digital tools. Companies, organisations and others who were connected prior to the crisis had an edge – operations could continue from afar.
Among the examples that stood out was the robustness of India’s supply chain, which kept essential services going despite the disruption. This was made possible by the digitisation of many factories and distribution centres, which is core to ‘Make in India’. Our experience in India has shown us that innovative solutions could strengthen supply chains and allow factories to be as much as 65% more energy efficient and up to 50% increase more productive, and to become up to 50% safer and more reliable compared to today.
To put it another way: Digital tools and remote connectivity facilitate business continuity and operational agility. They can also bring safer working conditions and strengthen local resilience. Predictive and preventive maintenance, achieved through automation and AI, for example, allows issues to be identified and resolved before they impact operations, and often without human intervention. It allows business to continue – crisis or not.
Take the experience of Atal Nagar, India’s first greenfield integrated smart city, as an example. During the pandemic, energy and water use changed dramatically, with a major reduction in industry and sharp rises in the residential space. With digitisation in place across its utility networks, the city was able to manage its distribution systems efficiently from its Integrated Command and Control Center, reconfiguring the network to address these changes in near real-time, and ensuring an uninterrupted supply for Atal Nagar’s population where needed.
The turmoil of the past few months has also highlighted the sheer business value of digital preparedness. After all, when it comes to business competitiveness, efficiency is everything, and digitisation is efficiency. It allows for a systemic integrated approach: thinking together energy and process, digitizing assets from the shopfloor to the cloud for real-time management, dealing with the whole lifecycle. It makes it possible to develop a holistic approach — whether at the level of a company or at the level of a city.
But efficiency is not just about economics. It is also about the environment. The pandemic is not the only global threat we are facing: climate change and income inequality are others, and they are putting at risk much of the progress we have made. Sustainable, inclusive growth and climate-change resilience need to be central to India’s transformation. Once again, digital is at the heart of the journey towards all those goals.
This year has underlined the need for companies, households and even entire economies to better prepare themselves for unexpected shocks. And it has shown that digitisation is a critical element of preparedness – as well as a building block of resilient, efficient growth. Thankfully, India is already rich in both digital skills and digital technologies. Stepping up investments and adoption on those fronts will surely stand it in good stead.