India’s digital transformation lives at the intersection of opportunity and purpose

Like UPI (Unified Payments Interface) transformed retail payments in India, the ONDC (Open Network for Digital Commerce) initiative could transform e-commerce by bringing down entry barriers and unlocking innovation opportunities for market participants.

It has been motivating to witness India’s transformation in the last decade as it sits at the cusp of a massive digital revolution. From being seen as the ‘the back-office of the world’, the Indian technology ecosystem has made confident strides towards a new identity as the ‘innovation engine for the world’. India’s ‘Techade’ is preparing to drive its national transformation agenda on the foundations of ubiquitous mobile penetration and internet access, data autonomy and sovereignty, unique digital identity authentication, and an independent national digital payments infrastructure.

In the last decade, India has created the world’s largest digital public service ecosystem. Scaling it for a billion people to usher in an era of digitization has had a domino effect – improving governance and quality of life, driving technology innovation, IT services, and product development, and accelerating the tech start-up culture in India. We are at the cusp of replicating this success across other industries, including travel & transportation, financial services, manufacturing, retail, and healthcare, to name just a few.

The foresight to invest in technology solutions like the “India Stack” will drive India’s progress for decades. The ‘India Stack’ has contributed to mindset and behaviour changes that were previously unimaginable. First, we are driving deep-seated cultural and social mindset changes using the power of digital infrastructure. Second, we are spreading a digital-first mindset across the length and breadth of the country and not limiting it to metro cities. Third, the digital ecosystem and innovation we are witnessing is a catalyst driving the development of physical infrastructure that India needs to scale and transform rapidly to a USD 5 Trillion economy by FY2026.

Road transportation is a great example. On one hand, the pace of construction of national highways has gone up threefold in less than a decade from 2 km per day in 2014-15 to 37 km per day in 2020-21. At the same time, FASTag, which operates at the confluence of digital banking, RFID (radio frequency identification), and GPS (Global Positioning System), transformed highway toll collection across the country. A 2021 IEEE study to evaluate the success of FASTag over manual toll collection, found that a FASTag lane helps decrease average service time by 77 percent. The reduced service time also translates to a 318 percent increase in throughput capacity, on average.

The Techade of opportunities

India has tremendous opportunities ahead to shape its digital future. Several areas have seen nascent deployment and are poised to see increased adoption in the next three to five years.

For instance, the rollout of private 5G will radically transform how companies across industries interact with customers. From HD (High Definition) immersive entertainment experiences to minimizing the role of humans in dangerous industrial operations and explorations, the use cases are limitless.

Like UPI (Unified Payments Interface) transformed retail payments in India, the ONDC (Open Network for Digital Commerce) initiative could transform e-commerce by bringing down entry barriers and unlocking innovation opportunities for market participants. Replicating the success of UPI, ONDC’s goal is to make India’s 1.4 billion citizens accessible as customers and buyers to sellers of all sizes on one transparent platform; put simply, in five to seven years, every Indian could have a digital product catalogue built on the ONDC protocol. This is creating a technology infrastructure highway where buyers can also be sellers and digital entrepreneurship is a viable two-way street for every Indian, regardless of where they stay or where they find their prime markets. Technology is levelling the playing field and reducing arbitrage advantages between participants in increasingly complex supply chains.

Growing Cloud adoption in India, primarily distributed Cloud models, could unleash new-age edge computing applications. Cloud will also drive opportunities for faster innovation and enable other technologies such as AI (Artificial Intelligence), Virtual and Augmented Reality, and more. According to Gartner, cloud-native platforms will serve as the foundation for more than 95% of new digital initiatives by 2025 — up from 30% in 2021. The opportunities for companies: faster innovation, ability to enable other technologies like AI and more resilient applications. It will also help companies meet their ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) goals because, by using serverless Cloud-native technology, companies are not running their applications 24/7.

Sustaining the momentum of digital transformation

To power this growth journey, purpose-driven efforts in areas such as security, access to information, and skilling are needed.

As digital technology advances, cybersecurity can quickly become an Achilles heel, if not adequately addressed. Therefore, digital security and trust and cyber resiliency frameworks and mechanisms must be robust, easy to use, and transparent. Moreover, as IoT (Internet of Things) edge devices and AI security tools become increasingly common, it is essential to prioritize security at the edge and responsible AI usage.

On the other end of the spectrum, traditional businesses in several cities, towns, and villages in India still follow paper-based processes, since they view digital instruments as more vulnerable to hacking or data breaches. Digital literacy and skilling to counter this is critical and begins right in the villages and in smaller towns across the country. Decluttering our large cities and moving IT service hubs to smaller cities is the path forward and will mean more equitable development as well as more skilling and job opportunities across India.

Lingraju Sawkar,
President – Kyndryl India

While initiatives such as Digital India, UMANG (Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance), GST (Goods and Services Tax), Digital Benefits Transfer and linking Aadhaar to PAN (Permanent Account Number) are laudable, creating a single view and experience for citizens across multiple government services is the need of the hour.

Another priority is driving digital enablement in regional languages. While there has been progress in enabling local language-enabled apps and regional language input, the digital language divide still remains the ultimate frontier for true digital adoption across India.

Some of the biggest barriers to digital adoption lie within. Driving digital transformation is a change management process that begins with culture transformation. Skilling plays a key role in overcoming employee resistance and pushback that normally follows any large and complex digitisation initiative.

With digital transformation among businesses and government organizations accelerating, we are living in a golden period that lies at the intersection of opportunity and purpose. By rewiring for progress, we can demonstrate a revamped commitment to our workforce, our communities, and the quality of life of people across India and the planet.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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