Impact of Technology: The power to take India back to the future

Technological changes can help you leapfrog over beaten pathways. Take the case of mobile vs landlines, or ecommerce vs retail, smartphones vs PCs, taxis vs car ownership, or even carpooling over taxis. The list goes on


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This Independence Day, I was reading a column about India’s economic progress. Around the same time I happened to read another article about the 4th Industrial Revolution which builds on the last Digital Revolution. The 4th Industrial Revolution is about new technologies like the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Driverless Cars, Solar Energy, 3D Printing etx which are likely to shape the world going forward.

Of course, it came as no surprise that India and more so Indians around the world, stand at the heart of this global technological revolution with an amazing talent pool driving change. India is today in the midst of a startup boom with over 4,750 startups, a number that is expected to grow to over 10,500 by 2020. As the third largest tech start up hub in the world, it now has more tech driven startups than Israel or even China.

Yet, I couldn’t resist thinking : Is India truly reaping the benefits of these technological advancements?

Or is this turning out to be an opportunity lost? Don’t get me wrong. I am all for new technologies. But the moot point is whether India is making the most of these new technologies in dealing with fundamental problems. I believe technology has a much larger role to play, particularly in developing countries like India.

Fundamental technology advancements are an opportunity of a lifetime. The printing press, the steam engine, the telephone, the light bulb, the personal computer, internet, smart phones have created a fundamental shift in the lives of people. They allow you to create new industries, disrupt existing industries, businesses and business models. They help make new products and services possible, bring down costs of distribution, make prices more affordable and in the process create viable new opportunities for entrepreneurs. Today, every Industry is ripe for disruption and can be reimagined using technology – be it Music, Entertainment, Financial Services, Retail, Healthcare, Education, Media, Manufacturing and more.

Technological changes can help you leapfrog over beaten pathways. Take the case of mobile vs landlines, or ecommerce vs retail, smartphones vs PCs, taxis vs car ownership, or even carpooling over taxis. The list goes on.

But here is what I’d like to focus the spotlight on. Technology holds the key to solving many of India’s age-old problems. Technology enabled business models can make transformative changes to Healthcare, Education, Jobs, Pollution, Traffic, Skilling, Sanitation, Infrastructure, Financial Services etc. Technological solutions can help empower people in villages. Education, Health, Banking and other Services which would have taken years to reach them otherwise can be taken to their doorstep overnight. Yet, 66% of startups are confined to just three urban areas – Bengaluru, Delhi NCR, and Mumbai – as was over 75 per cent of startup financing in the first six months of 2016.

There is urgent need for entrepreneurs who have a long-term perspective, can cast a wider net, and have a deep understanding of problems facing India. There is a pressing need for startups to harness these rapid advances in technology to provide new age, scalable solutions to many of these India specific problems. That is the true transformation that India’s start-up entrepreneurs can bring about.

There are several entrepreneurs who are working in this field, making admirable efforts in alternate energy, waste management, even education or healthcare. To give just a few examples of such startups:

NavAlt has built India’s first 75 passenger solar ferry boat; Manak Waste Management or ‘Cashify’ is a ‘recommerce’ company, which recycles electronic waste by connecting sellers of used goods like mobiles to used goods merchants. Or Prozo, which has created a dedicated online marketplace for study materials; or SustainEarth Energy Solutions which is striving to provide safe, affordable and clean cooking fuel to rural households.

Yet there is so much more to do. Even where a beginning has been made, there is more required to help improve quality, increase reach, and make services more affordable. Interestingly, this is also an area where they are unlikely to encounter serious competition from multinational corporations or global technology companies who do not really understand these issues as well as we do. Technology is how you make fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid.

The argument that technology based companies could hurt jobs in India does not really hold water if you look deeper. For, these companies can also help create millions of high quality jobs for all kinds of new skills in areas that it would open up.

Magic is created at the intersection of the old and new, and innovative solutions are found for old problems when looked through the prism of new technology. This I believe is the true calling of India’s new entrepreneurs. This is the real power of technology in a new global India.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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