Digital India – The next big wave

Digital India – The next big wave

24 jun 2020

We continue to hear in numerous news stories, virtually on a daily basis, that businesses are closing their doors, and governments are increasingly urging their citizens to stay home due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Needless to say, the pandemic has had an unprecedented, and a profound global impact. This is the most significant health-related crisis that has happened, probably in the past 100 years; the only consolation, if any, being that the outbreak has happened in a truly digital age. Millions of Indians are taking part in an unprecedented experiment in “Working from home”. Many are happier, more efficient, and want to hang onto the benefits, even when the pandemic situation ebbs out, or ends. The reality of changing consumer behaviour in the digital age presents a massive opportunity for many sectors. The optimization and simplification of product lines, business models, customer engagement, and sales channels, are being achieved through the introduction of digital technologies and e-commerce.

In 2016, the World Digital Economy represented $11.5 trillion, or 15.5 per cent of the global GDP – 18.4 per cent of GDP in developed economies, and 10 per cent in emerging economies, on an average. Most of the value in the digital economy was produced in only a few economies - the United States (35 per cent), China (13 per cent), and Japan (8 per cent). The EU, together with Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, accounted for another 25 per cent. This entire valuation has been generated in the past 15 years since the launch, and subsequent proliferation of the Internet. Global Internet Protocol (IP) traffic grew from about 100 gigabytes (GB) per day in 1992, to more than 45,000 GB per second in 2017, and it is projected to reach 150,700 GB per second by the year 2022, according to an UN report. Digital platforms’ combined value of the platform companies, with a market capitalization of more than $100 million, was estimated at more than $7 trillion in 2017 – 67 per cent higher than in 2015.

Th digital transformation of the economy is undermining conventional notions about how businesses are structured, how consumers obtain goods, services and information, and how the states need to adapt to these new regulatory challenges. India is not an exception to this at all. The digital economy has facilitated the work from home culture; remote work has many benefits - it leads to less time spent on the road due to travelling, increases the productivity of employees, and also allows better bonding with family members. Although digital transformation is becoming increasingly successful in India, reaching newer heights, several challenges still need to be addressed for future growth. Data privacy, Cyber security, Internet access to all, good governance by strict law enforcement, etc., are all key areas, which need careful consideration. We also need to work towards a targeted policy for the digital era, and try to fill up the skill, capability, and infrastructure gaps. It is important to note that excessive use of technology, should not lead to a massive loss of jobs, or reduce wages.

Digital adoption may result in substantial economic growth in India, according to a recent McKinsey report. The core digital sectors already constitute a large and growing portion of India's economy. According to this report, it could contribute $355 bn to $435 bn of GDP in 2025. India's digital economy in 2017–18 accounted for 8% of nominal GDP, or about $200 billion, according to estimates of MGI. The report mentioned that most of this value – nearly $170 billion - comes from core sectors.

India is using technology to its advantage. The government has transferred aid to over 200 Million 'Jan Dhan' bank accounts, and poor households have received free ration during pandemic period, with the help of Aadhaar-enabled PDS. Millions of people have also received benefits, as a part of the Rs. 1.7 lakh crores package announced by the government during the pandemic. People's faith in the government increases, when governments adopt a transparent method, to help individual households, and provides them with direct benefits.

A lot more new data-driven business models and ecosystems are coming up in agriculture, healthcare, logistics, energy, education, and financial services collectively, which could generate vast amounts of economic value by the year 2025. A sharp rise in the number of smartphones has contributed to the all-encompassing digital growth in the country. The number of smartphones and internet subscriptions could continue to go up rapidly in the next five years. India could add as many as 350 million smartphones, more than doubling its absolute level. Just as data costs have fallen sharply, and sparked a sharp increase in usage, smartphones penetration has proliferated, as average prices have dropped.

To cite a most recent example, the Indian digital economy growth projection can't be sufficiently described, without considering Reliance Jio. The telecom and digital arm of the Indian conglomerate, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), has raised $15.2 billion in 11 deals, over two months, and this too, amidst a worldwide pandemic. Many global investors, such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are positively looking towards the Indian market. The future of the economy lies in the digital market, virtual events, education, e-services, and many more. To cite another example, this time, a global one, Microsoft decided to turn its most significant event of the year, the Build Developer Conference, into a virtual event. This trend presents an opportunity for virtual events startups like Hopin, which combines Twitch-style live streams of keynotes, and Zoom-style video conferencing.

The importance of digitalization, especially in a post COVID-19 world, can never be overemphasized. Digital initiatives, and breakthroughs, are bound to largely drive the fortunes of economies, and nations, in general, once the pandemic situation shows signs of easing. The journey will be arduous, and fraught with challenges, but would be exciting nonetheless. Let us see how India fares in this regard. Can Digital India emerge as the new buzzword, which would dominate the domestic narrative, in a post-COVID world? Only time will tell….