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World has gone Digital. What are you waiting for?

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 wholeheartedly, and forced businesses to examine their time-honored business practices. Businesses have always resisted technological changes, partly fuelled by fear of obsolescence and job security among 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 the usage of Digital Technologies by ordinary Indian Consumers, be it payments, banking, shopping, learning, socializing, or entertaining. If we check the statistics, Digital Payments, for instance, have grown at 55.1% per year for the last 5 years alone, according to the RBI data. The retail industry expanded by 53% between 2013 and ’17 and still growing at 27% in 2020. Off Course, the advent of cheap laptops (including government distribution of free laptops to 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 who have outlived the Internet would remember this: When IT Revolution was well underway in the Developed World, Indian companies were dragging their feet in installing 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 entirely explain the trend.

The lack of robust infrastructure explains the extremely slow growth of real high-end digital applications such as Blockchain Networks and Autonomous Vehicles. Still, plenty of digital applications can leverage the current infrastructure. Also, consumers and 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 Consumers” by Vijay Mahajan in the Harvard Business Review.

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

Inhibiting Factors for Indian Industries in Embracing the Digital Economy

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

The image that Digital Transformation invokes in most of our minds is one of Digital Marketing, consisting of online advertising and sales, thanks to the disproportionately large focus on this in the 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 the lack of consultants who can guide them in this transformation in an affordable, timely, and effective manner. Good help has always been challenging to come by, and often, the industrialists have nothing other than canned reports from 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., 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 the 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, the Indian Industry may 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 can only afford to sit this revolution out and blindly walk into it with a modicum of strategy.

So, in the coming posts, we will help you understand 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, analyze the 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 next time!