Expert Speak Urban Futures
Published on Jan 26, 2022
Digital India today, means different things to different people, but for the world, it means that India with its technology is here to lead
India’s Leap: Embracing IR 4.0 to Building for the World

This piece is part of the series, India@75: Aspirations, Ambitions, and Approaches

Envision this:

Saravanan nods with a smile when the payment soundbox tells him the exact transaction amount in Tamil. He sells toys and chocolates outside a school in Tiruchirapalli. Dhabalesh Majhi raps out of a small house in Kalahandi District in Odisha, using his phone to reach out to lakhs of his followers.

5 years from now:

Anurag who has just completed his undergraduate degree intends to help his father in the farms near Bhagalpur. Using digital advisory applications (for planning and pre-planting – IMD forecasts, soil health), Internet of Things (IoT) monitoring devices (in-season care) and digital marketplaces, he helps raise farm revenues—all this using an app via open platform and data sharing. Vikas requests, processes and gets his MBA loan approval in less than 10 minutes on his phone. Vidyasagar, a resident of Balkonda Mandal, has been selling his produce through commission agents at Nizamabad market yard for 20 years. He used to stay back in the market yard till weighment completion and wait 20-30 days for payment. Through e-NAM, he sells through direct purchase orders and saves on commission and hamali charges. Furthermore, he gets the payment within minutes online. Bhanu, along with his classmates, and social media student friends from Assam designed a rooftop rainwater harvesting structure for his locality in Beed, Maharashtra. He posted his success story via a live video on the National Atal Innovation Challenge and got selected within a day. He now gets funding to scale this idea and work with experts in Atal Incubation Centres. Reena wants to venture into robotics and artificial intelligence. Through Swayam and NPTEL offerings, she curated her personalised course toolkit (rather than a packaged course) to learn what was interesting with live demo sessions. Along with the certification, she managed to interact with experts and meet peers in her cohort with like-minded ideas. She is now ready to tinker and build for India! More than 70% of Ravi’s crops were destroyed due to untimely rains in Nalanda. He logs onto his mobile app and applies for crop insurance. Through geo-tagged data and satellite imaging, his claims are processed within a day and funds are transferred into his account. India has more than 750 million internet users today and innumerable small success stories that affect lives—from the kirana store, which has now widened its audience to outside its street, to textile weavers who sell through social media platforms. India is at the cusp of disruptive digital change, one that is already creating the next large businesses, democratising ideas and driving inclusion at a scale never seen before.
India has moved from being the business process outsourcing hub of the ’90s and 2000s—with call centres and software testing—to being at the frontier of innovation and cutting-edge technologies at a population scale.
Today, India is powered by consumption by a burgeoning middle class (70% of total spending) supported by rising disposable incomes and affordable internet penetration (marked by Jio’s entry into the telecom space in 2016) across rural and urban areas. Post liberalisation, India has moved from being the business process outsourcing hub of the ’90s and 2000s—with call centres and software testing—to being at the frontier of innovation and cutting-edge technologies at a population scale. During the 1990s, India saw a boom in the services sector—predominantly in Information Technology (IT), IT Enabled Services (ITeS), and financial services with the IT industry growing from US $150 million in 1991 to more than $5.7 billion in 2000—which, for the first time, created a new set of Indian-made companies, like Infosys, Wipro, and TCS, have become world beaters riding the 3rd Industrial Revolution Wave. This marked the start of a change in India’s perception of “Electronification and Information Technology’’. Over the last decade, cyber-computing improvements have steadily narrowed the gap between the real and digital worlds accelerating the onset of Industrial Revolution 4.0 as we know it. India has been a major disruptor in this space taking giant strides in implementing unique, large-scale projects powered by public digital infrastructure. India’s Century - Digital Innovation being India’s driving force
  • Unified Payments Interface (UPI): India’s real-time mobile payments system, which is universally interoperable, low-cost (replaces PoS), and mobile-first has seen incredible growth, clocking more than 4.5 billion transactions worth INR 8.26 lakh crores in just December 2021. In 18 months, we have seen more transactions per month in UPI than we have had in 40 years on credit and debit cards!
  • Aadhaar: The largest identity programme in the world with 1.29 billion individuals, has moved from being an identity marker to powering India’s Digital Stack with 410 million Jan Dhan Accounts (part of the JAM trinity of Jan Dhan accounts, Aadhar, and Mobile Number), INR 8 lakh crore Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) annually to beneficiaries, and 9.3 billion e-KYC transactions.
  • CoWIN: To tackle COVID-19, India’s open source, modular real-time vaccine monitoring platform has clocked more than 1.5 billion vaccine doses and, with open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), is becoming a key Indian export for global healthcare during the pandemic.
  • National Digital Health Mission Stack: This aims to create a unified network (remote, decentralised, coherent) to match people with resources across public and private sector services. This will cut costs, save time, and increase the ability to monitor health compliance for millions of Indians. With the right security infrastructure in place, it can help in timely interventions to check the course of a pandemic or in the long term for the nation at large.
  • Jan Dhan Yojana: With more than 44.3 crore beneficiaries banked, the scheme has enabled banking penetration, financial services usage and, more importantly, financial inclusion for a variety of demographics. This has been a true force multiplier when combined with Aadhaar and DBT to increase transparency, efficiency, and productivity of government delivery.
  • E-Shram: This is designed as a National Database of Unorganised Workers, which is the largest in the world. It currently has over 21.5 crore unique registrations in less than six months, seeded with Aadhaar along with details of occupation, skills and educational qualifications, amongst others. This unlocks huge opportunities for the Government to extend suitably tailored social security schemes, targeted skilling initiatives to increase employability and bring the large informal workforce into the digital fold. With a unique UAN number, we will gain unprecedented insight into movement of workers, and the demand-supply market marked against skills across varied geographies of India.
  • eNational Agriculture Market: With more than 2.1 lakh traders, 1 lakh+ commission agents, 1000 mandis and 17 million+ farmers, this pan India electronic trading portal aims to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities. More importantly, it aims to arm small farmers with the power of “choice” and “information”, increasing their bargaining power across India. With Jan Dhan (banking penetration, payments), and a unified logistics interface platform (transport), this is in line to be a true game-changer in the coming decade.
  • Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT): Focussing on maximum governance through technology, DBT has transformed the Government delivery system over the past eight years with over 311 schemes, ning 54 ministries, and reaching more than 900 million citizens. Along with the JAM trinity, it has increased the productivity of Government spending with leakages coming down by more than 90%.
  • API Setu: To facilitate an open API policy, and build interoperable digital platforms for seamless government delivery, this platform by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) currently helps provide information from more than 300 central and state government departments by accessing 973 different data points including Driver’s License, vehicle registration, PAN, e-KYC, to name a few.
What is worth noting here is that all such large public digital solutions are built with an open architecture, and are modular with plug and play that essentially seek to democratise and decentralise technology usage. India has been building ‘open digital platforms’, which are tremendous force multipliers (Platformisation). This is critical and unique in being affordable, interoperable, API-driven (and hence scalable), mobile-first in vernacular languages, and allows India’s entrepreneurs to build on the rails of these platforms to innovate and solve problems at scale and for trust.
India today is building cutting edge technology for the world with offerings ranging from social commerce, Software as a Service (SaaS), payments, ed-tech and much more.
India’s start-up landscape has benefited immensely with Aadhaar, UPI, and Jan Dhan (financial inclusion) coming in. The boom in the past five to six years has been phenomenal. Vnture Capital investment surpassed all records in 2021, with more than US $17 billion in funding and 840+ deals. India is home to 81 unicorns with a total valuation of US $275 billion (as on 29 December 2021), 44 of which were born in 2021 itself. According to MeitY, India’s public and private digital offerings are on their way to unlocking more than US $1 trillion in digital value by 2025. India today is building cutting edge technology for the world with offerings ranging from social commerce, Software as a Service (SaaS), payments, ed-tech and much more.

Seizing the Digital Opportunity

India’s emerging digital ecosystems supported by robust innovation in start-ups and favourable demographic dividend (with an increase in working age population till 2041 and 3.6 million STEM graduates annually) give us a unique opportunity to lead in the decades to come. This wave of digital growth would help core digital sectors and ones with immense growth potential (newly digitising logistics, education, healthcare, agriculture) to exponentially increase potential by 2025—financial services (170X) agriculture (70X), education (30X), Government Emarketplace by 25X. India is already on its way to be the software development engine of the world. This is evident in the fact that it is the fastest growing country in terms of developers contributing on open source, with the number projected to grow to 10 million by 2023. Open-source software development, at the core, solves large-scale issues and democratises technology usage. Indian start-ups have already started exporting software extensively as well (a change from only providing IT services two decades ago); for example, more than 17 million developers and 98% of fortune 500 companies use the ‘Postman API Platform’ today.

Future is Digital

Digital forces have started to re-define how we connect and transact with each other and institutions, it has enabled organisations to automate routine tasks to enhance productivity, and it has brought about data-driven decision-making for organisations and governments. Interaction of these forces will carve out new digital ecosystems in the times to come. India stands to gain due to its cutting-edge tech stack.
Indian start-ups have already started exporting software extensively as well (a change from only providing IT services two decades ago); for example, more than 17 million developers and 98% of fortune 500 companies use the ‘Postman API Platform’ today.
India’s Tech Stack backed by a sound foundation (UPI, Aadhaar, open-source architecture with strong data security measures), digital reach (> 1 billion internet users, local language content), can propel India to be the digital factory of the world (software innovation, data analytics). Digital enablement will drive productivity from MSMEs to big companies, redefine impact in schools and universities (fortifying student skills, increasing Return on Investment and learning outcomes); transform India’s agriculture ecosystem (digital farm advisory, IoT enabled monitoring) to healthcare (demand-supply mismatch – telemedicine, improve quality and trust). Sectors and industries will radically be impacted and change with digital adoption. For example, software and applications layer would account for 60 percent of the value of an autonomous vehicle in the future (Morgan Stanley). Illustration below: Leading this digital transformation, the India of tomorrow will drive services and make major strides in manufacturing in the future. (SAMARTH UDYOG Bharat 4.0 aims to create technological solutions at scale and increase the share of manufacturing in GDP to 25 percent by 2025). Digital India today, means different things to different people—with most being things we take for granted—from ordering food at 2 AM, shopping online, transferring a portion of the salary back home in real-time to creating a reel in the countryside, but what it does mean for the world is that India with its technology is here to lead!
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Adil Zainulbhai

Adil Zainulbhai

Adil Zainulbhai is the Chairman at Capacity Building Commission of India and Quality Council of India.

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