Digitally-enabled India: 2019 can be the year. What challenges opportunities are ahead?

The challenge will lie in preparing the new workforce with the skills and work culture they need to participate with the digital natives
Digital India was just a dream a few years ago and given the hype and hoopla in the last few months over farmer stress and loan waivers, anemic industrial growth, banking NPAs, many start-up failures and the alarming rise of joblessness, a cynical citizen could be forgiven for believing that all the missions we have heard about — Skills India, Start-Up India, Make in India and even Digital India — will have to press a reset button to have any hope of succeeding by the time India is 75 years old.
But this would not do justice to several successes we have seen in the realm of digital and the real hope that many of us have that a digitally-enabled India could be the secret sauce for cooking up a more optimistic future for many of our countrymen. The year when we see real results could well be 2019.

Research conducted by McKinsey Global Institute in collaboration with the IT ministry a year ago had optimistically projected a trillion-dollar opportunity that beckons if we address all the possibilities of digital enablement. This will mean not just the tech sector contributing $300 billion or more by 2025 but many sectors — health care, manufacturing, agriculture, tourism and education — using the enabling power of the national optical fibre network and an array of digital technologies will transform product design, optimise processes and enable new consumer and citizen journeys. The good news is that India’s pace of digital adoption has been among the best in the world with more than a quarter billion Indians having gone online in the last five years and smart phone penetration — which grew from six per hundred people in 2013 to 23 in 2017 — is expected to continue its breathtaking growth rate in the foreseeable future.

The secret to success in the creation of a digitally enabled India is not to rush in with digital technologies without preparing the processes and culture for assimilation of new ideas and capabilities.

In every manufacturing company, from the very large to the micro SME, it has been seen time and time again that spraying IoT sensors on the shop floor is no formula to ensure smart manufacturing. It is important to build a data usage culture and move from a descriptive postmortem analysis of production and maintenance to a predictive and eventually prescriptive capability for shop floor output, supply and demand chain responsiveness, customer buying behaviour and employee willingness to be digitally responsive, The interplay of cyber with physical, whether it is humans working with robots or artificial intelligence used as an assistive and augmenting tool rather than for autonomous AI replacing humans, mixed reality — augmented and virtual capabilities to enhance production and warehousing productivity and “digital twins” to model every process and simulate outcomes before putting it into large scale deployment are all capabilities which the fourth industrial revolution is demanding.
The very same principles, with some necessary tweaks can transform agriculture, health care, logistics and enable the true creation of e-government and smart cities and villages across the length and breadth of the country. Even the social sector is seeing the value of digital technology deployment and impact investment monies are seeking the intersection of technology and social upliftment to fund new models of development.

The McKinsey report pointed out that while IT and IT-enabled services, electronics manufacturing, e-commerce, telecom services and e-payments would contribute half of the trillion dollar digital economy, the other half would be made up of new and emerging digital ecosystems — digital product and service creation and delivery, smart grids and digital power distribution, e-marketplaces for private and government services and larger participation of shared economy players not just in transportation and hotel rooms but every segment of the services economy. The challenge of course will lie in preparing the new workforces with the skills and work culture they need to participate with the digital natives to create new economic models and benefit from them. The nation is approaching a state of readiness to take up the digital challenge and convert it into national and global opportunities.