Responses to Covid-19 have significantly speeded up the development and adoption of digital technologies. Mostly likely these responses have brought about years of change fundamentally changing the way governments provide services, companies interact with customers and organize their value chains, and citizens lead their lives.
This reality is particularly true in India where the pandemic has caused an immense leap in digitalization across business areas, as well as within the public sector. Funding for digital initiatives has increased more than investments within any other area during the pandemic, meaning that changes will be long-lasting. India has also attracted foreign investments worth over $38 billion in technology companies over the same period.
Compared to Western countries, India joined the digital transformation bandwagon a little later in the day, but what it lost in terms of time, it now makes up for in terms of rapid progress. To fully utilize the benefits of digital technologies, and bridge the digital divide, India is now shifting from e-governance to m-governance. This is a welcome shift given that many families in rural India still lack computers access, but many times have a mobile subscription.
During the pandemic India has witnessed an immense growth of telemedicine consultations on the eSanjeevani platform (co-developed by the government and private companies). The platform has been implemented by 23 Indian states and covers around 75% of the population. The Ministry of Health recently stated that the tremendous growth of consultations on the platform is a testimony to the fact that the public has started preferring telemedicine over visiting hospital. Last year also saw the launch of a national Digital Health Mission to transform the way healthcare is delivered in India. By launching the mission, the government is pushing for a paradigm shift to ensure universal, but digital, access to healthcare. This means that the delivery of healthcare will become totally technology-enabled through data-integration and standardization. Technologies such as IoT, wearables and AI will help ensure everyone’s right to quality care. The mission would furthermore enable all Indians to get a unique, easy to remember health ID, that would carry their records and history.
Education is another sector that has experienced profound and abrupt digital transformation. Indian schools have been closed since mid-March pushing an immense number of schools to shift to online learning. The government funded platform DIKSHA has been a preferred choice for many schools. Shifting to online learning has significantly raised digital literacy and competence among kids and youth in India. The new National Education Policy NEP 2020, released during the pandemic, will further accelerate the development of tech savvy youths by several initiatives such as introducing training in coding from middle school level. Such policies are of course a strategic way of responding to skilling challenges and creating a competitive workforce. The Indian edtech sector includes over 4,000 startups working to democratize learning and the number of companies is growing rapidly.
Digital payments and cashless transactions have received a tremendous upswing. Since the beginning of the Indian lockdown in late March, the government has distributed around $5 billion in cash benefits to citizens in need of assistance, entirely through payments made via digital platforms. Data from the Reserve Bank of India shows that India is now recording around 100 million digital transactions a day with a volume of $67 billion, a five-times jump from 2016. Most of these payments are powered by the United Payment Interface (UPI). UPI is a real-time payment system developed by the National Payments Corporation of India. Its widespread adoption is a critical push factor behind digital transformation since it pushes citizens to open bank accounts and move towards cashless digital payments.
One of the most exciting success stories has been the digitization of small businesses. Just four years ago, only one-third of all small businesses in India had an online presence. Today, 26 million small and medium sized companies have a digital presence, which has enabled these companies to interact with more than 150 million users at a monthly basis. What’s more, small merchants across the country are now equipped to accept digital payments. This has made it possible for a large number of small businesses to become part of the formal economy and get improved access to credit, a very important step towards building a robust welfare state. This shows that the pandemic has also resulted in frugal innovation, which in a country like India is essential to scale and reap the benefits of digitalization.
Public-private partnerships are becoming increasingly important. Many new partnerships are being formed to accelerate talent building and technology development. For example,Niti Aayog and Microsoft India have signed a partnership to deploy AI-based solutions across sectors such as agriculture and healthcare. Niti Aayog also signed a partnership with Google where Google will train and incubate Indian AI start-ups. Finally, we happily note a new partnership between Niti Aayog and ABB to prepare key sectors of the economy (eg. power and water utilities, heavy industries, transport and agriculture) to better utilize technologies such as IoT and AI.
The willingness in India to form new partnerships, whether B2B, G2B or G2G, is good news for Sweden and we hope to see many new partnerships in the coming years as Sweden is well positioned to play a leading role in digital transformation.
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Fanny von Heland, Leena Kukreja & Mini Nair