World has gone Digital. What are you waiting for?

Srinivas Narasimhan

The world is witnessing a major revolution fuelled by technology. It was heralded by the so called Big Tech (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, etc.), embraced by consumers whole heartedly and forced businesses to examine their time-honoured business practices. Businesses have always shown resistance to technological changes, partly fuelled by fear of obsolescence and job security among the industry workers. But this revolution is different, and you can’t sit this one out. We will tell you why:

But first, we don’t need hard statistics to sense the growth in usage of Digital Technologies by the ordinary Indian Consumer, be it payments, banking, shopping, learning, socializing or entertaining. If we do check the statistics, Digital Payments for instance, has grown at the rate of 55.1% per year for the last 5 years alone, according to the RBI data. The retail industry also grew at a fabulous 53% between 2013 and ’17 and it still growing at a respectable 27% in 2020. Off Course, the advent of cheap laptops (including government distribution of free laptops to the poor students) and affordable smartphones, along with a smart breed of entrepreneurs launching startups to tap the digital potential helped usher in this change. However, businesses are still not tuning into Digital with zest and purpose.

Those of you who have outlived the Internet would remember this: When IT Revolution was well under way in the Developed World, Indian companies were dragging their feet in installing the ERP systems and office automation tools. The Government and Public Sector worker unions went one step further and opposed computerization as they feared it would lead to mass unemployment. We are witnessing something similar to this in the present situation, but without unions going up in arms. Year after Year, newspaper and analyst reports highlight this lagging trend and cite the lack of infrastructure as the primary reason. However, I believe, this does not completely explain the trend.

Lack of robust Infrastructure does explain the extreme slow growth of real high end digital applications such as Blockchain Networks and Autonomous Vehicles, but there are plenty of digital applications that can leverage current infrastructure. Also consumers and the startups are able to leverage the existing infrastructure to avail or provide digital-enabled services. For an interesting take on this, please read “How Indian Companies Are Using Technology to Reach New ConsumersbyVijay Mahajan in the Harvard Business Review.

Unlike the past, the Digital Technology is already present among consumers, the public at large. During IT Revolution, the transformation was driven by internal factors such as efficiency, cost reduction and Management Information. In contrast, the Digital Technology is driven by external factors, such as the new ways in which customers engage with businesses and how they engage with one another. Hence there is both an opportunity to engage with customers in several new ways to grow your business as well as threat of losing customers on top of everything else to Digital-embracing competitors, both existing and new.

Then what is the reason that most of the Indian industries are hesitant to test the waters of the new Digital Economy? In my opinion, the following are the inhibiting factors:

Under-appreciation of the potential scope of the wide-ranging benefits

  The image that Digital Transformation invokes in most our minds is one of Digital Marketing, consisting on online advertising and sales, thanks to the disproportionately large focus on this in literature on the subject. Benefits in other areas such as Planning, Materials Management, Manufacturing / Production, Quality Control, Warehousing, Shipping, Plant Maintenance, Human Resource Management, Financial Management etc., etc. are by comparison, never clearly articulated.

Lack of tools, experts and information to help industry scale the mountain

  For the Indian industrialist, adopting Digital Technology by and large seems to be a Do-it-Yourself (DIY) project, because of lack of consultants who can guide them in this transformation in an affordable, timely and effective manner. Good help has always been difficult to come by and often the industrialists have nothing other than canned reports from the global consulting firms to go by. While there are a slew of startups coming up with tools that usher in Digital Technology in industries, each tool tends to be technology focussed, such as Robotics, IoT, AI, 3-D Printing, etc.[AS1]  leaving it to the industries themselves to figure out how to connect the parts together to come up with an appropriate solution

Lack of information on experience of others who have tried, succeeded or failed

As of now, there exists no Knowledgebase that has captured the activities, success stories and best practices in this area other than the occasional media coverage or word of mouth. Building a robust Community of Practice around the accumulated knowledge would go a long way in helping industries cross over this different kind of Digital Divide.

If these above factors are properly mitigated, it is quite possible that the Indian Industry will adopt the Digital Revolution for the greater good of their stakeholders, the society and the nation at large. And as we have pointed out earlier, you cannot afford to sit this revolution out, nor blindly walk into it without a modicum of strategy.

So, in the coming posts we will help you understand the Digital Technologies, how you can adopt them for your benefit, compare alternative technology choices when available, share anecdotes from others’ experiences, understand the tools offered in the market, analyse government’s policies under the Digital India initiative and do some crystal ball gazing when interesting new technologies show up on the horizon!

Keep watching this site for updates, or write to me if you want to ask me, or share something with me on the subject. See you until next time!

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1 Response

  1. Ananda Padmanaban says:

    Good article. Lookin forward to future posts.