Article: Digital innovation in India


Digital innovation in India

A look at how digital innovation is unfolding in India.
Digital innovation in India

Globally, there are 5.12 billion unique mobile phone users and 4.39 billion internet users. Over the last decade or so, data has become the new oil that has fueled digital innovation. The pace of innovation has been such that we have broken Moore’s Law as well.  The Fourth Industrial Revolution has advanced the establishment of a cyber-physical system that has been facilitated by data analytics, digital connectivity, and increasing computer power. Much like previous industrial revolutions, the advancements will impact all spheres of life, including education, healthcare, environment, financial inclusion, and governance. 

Here’s a sobering fact: five private tech companies with a combined market capitalization of $4.5 Tn control nearly 95 percent of the global advertisement revenue. And most of these companies are working overtime to prepare for the future. Google is one of the first examples of the trend that shows that the companies of tomorrow are planning ahead. The reconstituted Alphabet is working in energy, housing, transportation, healthcare, telecommunication, finance, and many more industries. 

What India did differently

All over the world, providing connectivity and digital inclusion has been initially focused on high and middle-income families. India flipped this model and decided to focus on the families earning the lowest. The plan was accompanied by providing the entire population with affordable telephone devices, an official identity, bank account, and a medium to use digital services.  The strategy to increase digital inclusion also has the following features at its core: 

Mobile-first: to capitalize on the increasing mobile penetration and falling cost of accessing the internet on mobile

Regional languages: to cater to a diverse and multi-lingual user base in a language familiar to them

Voice-enabled: to ensure that even those who are unable to operate a mobile phone can be included in the fold

Assisted mode: to support and assist familiarizing of technology for first-time users

Lowest tech: to ensure that simple and uncomplicated technology is offered to as many individuals as possible

Offline inclusion: to ensure that remote places with limited connectivity have ‘centers’ that offer digital payments, financial, and e-governance services

These developments, when coupled with the rapid drop in the price of data plans on all major telecommunication carriers, have resulted in bringing major swathes of the population coming into the digital fold and also paved the way for innovative digital companies to disrupt the existing marketplace. One of the most successful examples is that of Reliance Jio that was able to acquire 108 million customers in 170 days and bring down the customer acquisition cost to almost $1 per customer by using existing digital channels efficiently. The use of technology and Aadhar enrolment has also simplified the implementation of existing social schemes, sometimes, rather unexpectedly. Today, pensioners can submit ‘proof of life’ digitally using their fingerprint, as opposed to undergoing physical verification periodically. 

With 1.2 billion mobile connections, 1.23 Aadhar enrollments, 612 million unique bank accounts, 560 million internet users, and 375 million social media users, India has set a solid foundation for a hyper-connected future. The model followed in the Indian market has been to acquire, manage, retain, and then monetize users. On the back of data-driven actionable insights and reduced customer acquisition costs, this model has given a fillip to how new-age digital companies and programs are operating in India. As we step into the future, we must balance development, innovation, and access with privacy as well. 

(This article is based on the session ‘Digital Innovation and Privacy’ by Arvind Gupta, Co-founder & Head, Digital India Foundation, at TechHR 2019.)

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Topics: Technology, #TechHRIN

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