04 Sep 2018

Digital Spearheading Industrial Change

1995-2001 witnessed extreme growth in the usage and adoption of the Internet and a lot has changed since the dot-com boom. India first went online when the Educational Research Network (ERNET) was launched in 1986 under the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Back then, Internet was only meant for educational and research purposes. 

It was August 15, 1995 when the Internet was formally launched for the Indian public by Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL). Who knew, 23 years into the future, the Internet would power our lives in ways that are unimaginable. 

Remember those times when we used to wait for the modem to connect with the landline for accessing Internet? That tingling dial-up tone opened our doors to communicate with the world and today, connecting with people from across the globe is just an app away. From internet access using a modem, to having access on our smartphones, India has become the second largest online market, ranked only behind China with over 460 million internet users! By 2021, it is expected that there will be about 635.8 million internet users in India

Four things, that contributed to the evolution of the internet landscape in India are: Increasing ‘Smartphone’ penetration, declining Internet data prices, increase in disposable incomes and the growing use of ‘Social Networking.’ 

According to IAMAI, India is the second largest smartphone market in the world in terms of number of users, connecting more than 292 million people across the country. Interestingly, 80% of all web traffic in the country emanates from mobile – second highest in the world, after Nigeria

Declining smartphone and Internet data prices is fueling growth for internet adoption. In just three years from 2014, monthly data usage in the country increased 15 times, as smartphones and mobile internet became cheaper and faster.

As per the TRAI data, from the year ending 2014 to the end of 2017, the average monthly data consumption increased from 0.26GB per person to over 4GB per person.

You might be wondering what makes people cling to their smartphones today? It’s the ability to stay connected with your peers 24×7 through social networking apps and the growth in productivity, business, gaming as well as entertainment applications, that has made our lives mobile and very simple

The golden period of social media started in the middle of 2000s. Right after we were done with one-on-one online chatting. Do you recall Hi5.com, Orkut, MySpace? We have progressed rapidly with adopting networks like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter pumping up the social media users to 226 million in the country and it’s expected to grow to 258 million by 2019.

In fact, India has also become the world’s fastest-growing market for mobile applications.

According to app market data and insights company App Annie, three of the top ten apps downloaded in the country fall in the video streaming category. No wonder apps like ‘Netflix’, ‘Amazon Prime Video’ or ‘Hotstar’ are among the most popular content streaming services in India! And other apps like Facebook, Tinder, WhatsApp and Facebook messenger take up major chunk of people’s time on their smartphones

Overtime, the internet has given birth to e-commerce which has changed peoples’ lives to the extent that one can order food, clothes, furniture, books and even fruits and vegetables online! There’s an app for almost everything you can think of. 

I still remember the time when I would call up restaurants or food delivery outlets to satisfy my taste buds, now there’s Zomato, Swiggy, UberEATS to do the job. I recall going with my grandma to buy fruits & vegetables, but now we have Grofers and BigBasket or Amazon Pantry to do that job. Shopping with friends and family used to be a recreational activity for most of us, coupled with dinner or a movie, but now we have Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, Myntra, Jabong, Koovs…and the list goes on! There were also times when I would find inner peace spending time reading at a bookstore, nothing beats the smell of fresh books but now we still turn to Amazon or Flipkart for ordering them or read it on the ‘Kindle’. If all this wasn’t enough, we now don’t even need to take out physical currency from our pockets because paying through mobile wallets is just a click away and UPI (Unified Payments Interface) is changing the way we bank in the country! 

All this innovation has one thing in common and that is to empower people through technology.

While innovation in digitalization has taken place in various sectors in India, I’d like to focus on new technologies and industries that have really changed the way we use tech to our advantage. 

FinTech Industry 

On the night of November 8th, 2016, the Government of India announced the demonetisation of all ₹500 and ₹1000 currency-notes. How would you feel if suddenly the money you hold has no value at all? I was in the United States during that time witnessing the worry people had for the Presidential Election results but India was making bigger waves to draw all the attention towards itself with a sudden demonetization announcement. When I read the news online, I wasn’t even sure how to react. While we can debate whether this move by our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi did any good to evade black money or not, it surely led to a positive change with an early adoption of Digital Payments. 

During this time, Paytm was quick and aggressive in its marketing of ‘Mobile Wallets’ in India. As people struggled to withdraw cash from ATMs and since the two most highest denomination notes couldn’t be used, people grappled with transacting offline with physical cash. That’s when ‘Mobile Wallets’ came to rescue and one could pay gas bills, electricity bills, cab fares etc. just with tap on their app. Even kinara stores started transacting through Paytm, which would seem unlikely until a few years back.

Subsequently, to the demonetization phase, The Government of India’s push towards a cashless economy with UPI, is further changing the way Indians bank. Apps like BHIM, PhonePe, WhatsApp Money, Google Pay, etc. are reshaping the way people transact or make money transfers. Technologies like NFC (Near field communication) and QR (Quick response) code are further simplifying the payment experience. NFC converts your mobile phone into a payment device, eliminating the need to swipe your debit or credit cards. With QR code, all you need to do is to scan the code to make a payment.

Going a step ahead, Blockchain technology helped to do away with third party reconciliation for transactions and provides cryptographic security. Bitcoins, which use the blockchain technology, have already become a rage.

However, this technology is not just restricted to bitcoins, payment transactions and banking industry but will also foray into various sectors like telecom, travel, media and hospitality.

E-commerce Industry

E-commerce has completely changed the way we shop! It has become a way of life for a number of Indians and the total number of online shoppers is estimated to almost double from 180 million in 2017 to 329 million by 202025% of the total organised retail sales will be driven by E-tailing and is expected to be $240 billion in India by 2020

The world has shifted dramatically and we now live in a place where the consumers are always-on, always-connected and operate in an on-demand mode.

This “always-on” connected society presents a unique opportunity for e-commerce to harness the power of mobile, social and big data.

A significant evolution of e-commerce is the ability to browse and shop on mobile via apps. While the app usage in India is already on a rapid rise, shopping app usage grew to 54 per cent in 2017. With smartphone and data penetration to tier-II tier-III areas, this industry is only going to expand in the coming years. 

Technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), will continue to transform the e-commerce industry. The adoption of these emerging technologies in e-commerce will not only enhance customer shopping experience and make it more immersive, but shall also improve business efficiency. Based on the past shopping behavior of the customer, AI can predict accurate future behavior. These technologies will of course benefit the e-commerce apps tremendously in taking the right decisions and giving what the always-on customer demands. 

On the other hand, VR technology coupled with AR (Augmented reality) can remarkably change the whole shopping experience of a customer. Whenever you shop for clothes online, don’t you imagine if you could possibly try them or at least be able to see how it might look on you before making a purchase? AR and VR incorporated seamlessly can revolutionize the online apparel shopping experience.

Artificial Intelligence will enhance our life 

Any industry or sector can immensely benefit with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. AI has finally caught the attention of the Indian government. In fact, the government has allocated $477 million in 2018 to promote technologies like AI, machine learning and 3D printing

Globally, several countries have invested millions of dollars to AI programmes and research. Five countries leading the AI pack, based on the number of research papers published every year includes, China, USA, Japan, UK and Germany. AI goes beyond the current existing digital assistants, like Siri, Alexa, Cortana or Echo. Digital assistants have already become a way of life for many of us. It’s like talking to a friend to get things done or ask information from.

Relationship with an AI assistant is increasingly becoming more like human connections. The more time you spend with someone, the better you get to know them, the better you understand their likes, dislikes, how might they react to things or situations, correct? Similarly, the more we talk to these digital assistants, the better they will understand us. Isn’t it true that AI assistants are trying to become more human while helping us lead a simple, care-free life? All with the help of Machine Learning and Behavioral Analytics. 

Though a late entrant to the sector, given the significant budget allocated towards AI research in India, the country can advance in the sector considerably by creating a positive impact on various aspects of citizen’s life through technology.

We all are aware that India is one of the most polluted countries in the world! Can AI be the answer to curb environmental pollution? By installing pollution meters across factories, commercial places like malls, offices etc. accompanied by real-time tracking and monitoring pollution levels, can help spot specific source(s) of pollution. Highly accurate models can be developed using this data which can help civic agencies to predict and prevent spikes in pollution levels and keep them in check. The possibilities of using AI are endless. From using it in National security, Disaster management, Judicial system, Banking, Healthcare to having our own personal AI assistants, this tech is already on the route to enhance our lives.

We are at a time where machines are learning to be human by working with us to make life more efficient.

More so, even when I’m writing e-mails, Gmail gives options as to how I might respond to an email or complete a sentence! I absolutely don’t have to use my brain thinking how to complete a sentence anymore.

While there isn’t any doubt that AI will have a significant impact on the workforce in the long run, humans are always looking for effective and efficient ways to work and AI is the answer to achieving this.

The opportunities such innovations provide are manifold but there are downsides to such technological advancements.

While we all are getting empowered through technology, there is a big piece that’s getting lost: the humaneness .

I understand, no matter how much technology advances or how intelligent machines become over time, they will never be able to have empathy or emotions like human beings do. Though, unfortunately, humans are spending more time with their smartphones than with real people around them. 

Recently, I spent a few months living in Hong Kong and that experience changed my perspective about the digital world. There are numerous studies that show how time spent on mobile phones has increased, but experiencing that first-hand, observing people using technology in every aspect of their life, really opened my eyes to what the future holds. I observed groups of people out for dinner but stuck on their phones. No one talks to each other, they probably eat while staring at their smartphone screen and there’s absolutely no personal communication. 

While I’d be running to catch my tram to work, it’s easy to observe that Hongkongers have mastered the art of walking on the streets while staring at their phones! MTR (Mass Transit Railway), at any time of the day is packed with people, there is no place to move, specially during the busy hours of the day but everyone is able to squeeze their phones in front of their eyes! I was once out for a walk in a beautiful park when I noticed about 50 people gathered around, all heads down, of course on their phones. It was a strange feeling to cross the herd of people but what I noticed was them playing, Pokemon! As per my observation, what’s common about their smartphone addiction is the use of messaging apps like WeChat or Whatsapp, playing games, and video streaming. Smartphone dependency in Hong Kong seemed to be way more than that in India. I wonder where the world is headed? Who are we building relationships with and what gives us more happiness? It’s the technology that has become our friend. It’s the virtual world that is overpowering our real lives. Just like the movie “Her,” where the male protagonist falls in love with his virtual assistant.

Keeping aside the lack of human touch with tech advancement, data security & privacy is another big challenge that India is facing to become truly digital.

India’s cyber security market size is about $4 billion and is expected to grow to $35 billion by 2025.

There is a need for greater security measures to curb cyber threats. India’s rapid transition to a cashless economy since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetization drive has exposed new avenues for severe cyber threats across the nation. Similarly, with Aadhaar, which is a digital identity to supplement physical identity – from fingerprints to retina scan, all the information is digitised. Today, Aadhaar, an Indian innovation is globally acknowledged as the world’s largest digital identity programme. As India’s digital imprint grows, the need to address privacy concerns and cyber threats has become more critical than ever. 

Our lives are steadily evolving to a point where no two days are exactly the same. Digital technology is evolving at a fast pace and empowering us to build a future that is fair, fast and beneficial for all. The future of such innovative technologies will be interesting to witness!

The article first published on LinkedIn.

TESTIMONIALS

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