View from India: Digital India vision gets thumbs up

There have been many noteworthy developments in 2017 that have helped shape Digital India, as envisioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

As India celebrates 70 years of independence this year, looking back there have been several tech initiatives that have shaped the IT landscape and given a boost to the economy over the last seven decades. Reviewing 2017, we can also see many noteworthy developments.

India will be home to the world’s first IT campus for persons with disabilities. The Telangana Government has entered into an agreement with Vindhya E-Infomedia to establish a 10-acre campus in the IT Park near the Hyderabad International Airport. The aim is to train disabled people and create employment opportunities for them.

As part of its work culture, Vindhya E-Infomedia believes in inclusive workspaces and has differently abled individuals working out of its offices in Hyderabad and Bangalore. This announcement was made on the eve of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), December 3 2017.  

The spotlight continues on Hyderabad, as last week the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) was held in Hyderabad in partnership with the US government. For the first time, South Asia became the base for the high-profile summit. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ivanka Trump, the adviser and daughter of US President Donald Trump, inaugurated GES 2017.

In his speech, Modi indicated that the number of smartphone users in India is projected to grow to over 500 million by 2018. It’s understandable that this growth rate offers immense potential for the development of any venture, in terms of outreach and job creation.

Modi reinstated that the ‘Start-Up India’ programme is a comprehensive action plan to foster entrepreneurship and promote innovation. It aims to minimise the regulatory burden and provide support to startups. Over 1,200 redundant laws have been scrapped, 87 rules for foreign direct investment have been eased in 21 sectors and several government processes have been taken online.

All this is backed by an improved business environment, reflected by the fact that India’s ranking in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business Report’ jumped from 142 to 100 in three years. Besides creating channels for doing business, the government is in the process of opening Tinkering Labs in more than 900 schools to promote a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among children.

Going ahead, digital literacy has been the crux of the Global Conference on Cyber Space (GCCS) that was held in New Delhi. Information and technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad unveiled an ambitious project under the Prime Minister digital literacy programme at GCCS. The project is envisioned to make six crore people in rural areas digitally literate. Although it seems an ardent task, things have begun to move as one crore citizens in backward areas have already been made digitally literate under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMG DISHA). This community of people will extend to another six crores in the next two years. It’s also intended to make cyberspace an enabler for the differently abled.

GCCS, which was initiated in London in 2011, is one of the world’s largest conferences on cyber space. The fact that India hosted it for the first time indicates the growing importance of cyber power in the country.

The Government of India is also in the process of allocating Rs 500-crore fund, towards pursuing R&D in 5G. A high-level committee has been formed to work on a roadmap for the rollout of 5G by 2020. The grand plan unfolds with an Indian IPR (Intellectual Property Rights), besides bringing in 5G where required to improve existing scenarios. This includes giving a thrust to 5G-dependent technologies like the Internet of Things, along with 5G development applications required for progress in rural India.

Net neutrality, which is considered core to the future of India’s digital economy, has won favour in the recommendation paper from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), India’s telecom regulator. Based on a series of consultations with stakeholders, TRAI has mandated that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) should not deploy any discriminatory practices. This includes blocking, degrading or slowing down of certain web traffic while giving preferential treatment to any specific content at the same time. In its effort to facilitate telecom business, TRAI has suggested that a timeline of 30 days should be fixed by the telecom department to approve the merger or transfer of licences after the National Company Law Tribunal's (NCLT) nod, as it sought to ease the norms for conducting telecom business.

The Indian Appliance and Consumer Electronics (ACE) market is expected to grow by approximately 10 per cent by 2022, according to a PwC 2017 report titled ‘Championing Change in the Indian Appliance and Consumer industry’. Several factors are expected to drive the growth of this segment including the emerging middle class, rising disposable incomes and progressive government reforms such as Digital India, Make in India and the Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile based governance. However, a key challenge for the ACE market continues to be the low domestic cumulative value addition in the production cycle, which is less than 40 per cent for most new-age ACE products and 7 per cent for smartphones - both far lower than the global average.

As per the CRISIL research report on the corporate outlook of Q2 FY18, many segments supported revenue growth in the first quarter. Take the case of IT services. The rupee revenue of Tier-1 IT services companies stayed flat, expanding 2 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter, mostly due to the strong rupee. The rupee gained significantly by 4 per cent year-on-year against the dollar, affecting the rupee revenue of players in general. Billing rates continued to decline in traditional IT services owing to their increased commoditisation. On the other hand, the rupee revenue for mid-tier companies rose by 6 per cent year-on-year, driven by an increase in volume.

This is big ticket announcement as far as Karnataka is concerned. The government of Karnataka announced the launch of a Centre of Excellence for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence with NASSCOM as its programme and implementation partner. To be established with an estimated investment of Rs 40 crore, the CoE aims to position Karnataka as among the top five global innovation centers of AI over the next five years. The center will provide technology infrastructure and promote investment into research and innovation of cutting-edge DS and AI solutions, proliferate data-driven decision making by enterprises and government and enhance the capacities of academic institutions to impart DS and AI education.

In an effort to boost digital infrastructure in Karnataka, the government has initiated a project whereby Wi-Fi will be installed in all gram panchayats across Karnataka. A beginning will be made this year with 2,500 gram panchayats, which are the local self-government institutions at the village level, whose head is the focal point of contact between government officers and the village community.  

Globally, India ranks third after US and China when it comes to energy consumption, so it’s understandable that the country is in the process of giving a transformative push to the electric vehicle segment, whereby all vehicles both personal and commercial will be powered by electricity by 2030. Policy makers and auto giants have come forward to fulfill the 2030 vision.

Tata Motors Ltd has won an order to the tune of Rs 1,120 crore whereby the company will supply 10,000 electric cars to India’s state-owned Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL) in two phases. Part of the order has also gone to Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd. These EVs will be used by the government and its agencies. Besides that, the TVS Motor Company plans to roll out hybrid and electric two-wheelers over the coming months. Honda Cars India Ltd is working on a strategy to introduce hybrid and electric vehicles in India. Indian Oil Corporation has set up a charging station at its petrol pump. Agreeably we need charging stations and an ecosystem for EVs but what we need to take into account is that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council has taken a favourable stance. GST has set a tax rate of 12 per cent for electric vehicles, compared with 28 per cent plus cess for petrol and diesel cars and hybrid vehicles.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a choice to make informed business decisions. What is interesting is that IIoT is being leveraged to monitor the efficiency of large buildings. Startups are beginning to tap this segment with their Idea2PoC (proof of concept) package and many of them are in the trail stage. IIoT seems to offer what can be described as a transformative push for organisations to connect in a more productive manner with their brownfield developments or even in the case of turbines.

Besides that, a noticeable development in data analytics is the subscription-based business models. Leasing or revenue-sharing models are also slowly being tapped.  

The future will be increasingly automated and converged, largely driven by technology. Given the premise that the Government of India is largely promoting its Digital India vision, corporate houses are proactively collaborating with state governments to offer in-house applications and platforms that help in visualisation and fast delivery of services to make this dream a reality.

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