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View from India: digital growth and plans for the future

In the second part of the 'National Technology Day' story, View from India captures some of the significant measures taken by the government to promote the IT industry.

The IT industry has played a significant role in enhancing the Indian economy, besides putting India on the global map.

Looking back, the Government of India (GoI) has launched several policies for the development of science and technology. The beginning was made with the 1958 scientific policy resolution; later the 1983 technology policy statement; followed by the 2003 science and technology policy, and eventually the 2013 science, technology and innovation policy. GoI from time to time has introduced various policies and measures to encourage the growth of the IT industry. Being government initiatives, many of these measures have been scalable for mass reach.

The IT industry began to open up post 1990s. Over time, the industry has contributed significantly to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). As per NASSCOM’s 2020 Report titled Strategic Review — ‘Techade: The New Decade,’ the IT-BPM industry generates $191bn in terms of revenue and is hiring 205,000 new employees in FY 2020. As part of the report, NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Services Companies) has announced that the IT services sector has garnered the highest revenue of $97bn, with a growth of 6.7 per cent, followed by e-commerce which stood at $54bn. The sector generated exports of over $147bn in terms of revenue in FY2020, growing at 8.1 per cent from the previous year.

A noticeable trend that happened last year was the continued focus on digital revenues, which grew by over 23 per cent. Again, it is a testimony to the prominence digital technologies and systems that are gaining across portfolios. Investing in digital skills continues to rise as an imperative for the industry. Organisations will build their capabilities and align business models to digital practices as up to 28 per cent of organisational revenues was recorded for digital segment. Indian enterprises spent over $2bn domestically to accelerate digital transformation.

The IT industry has evolved from an outsourcing segment to a digitally enabled transformative sector. From mere programming, the software professionals have scaled up to customise top-class software development services for global clients. The thrust is on improving business performance, increasing productivity and enhancing customer experience.

Seen realistically, a confluence of factors have made the IT industry what it is today. Just as the IT industry has contributed towards the GDP, GoI on its part has set up IT clusters and generated jobs through e-governance. Another differentiator is the time gap between India and US. The 12-hour gap makes it ideal for outsourcing work.

The fact that India is home to a large English-speaking talent pool is reason enough for global IT companies to strengthen their India relations. They’ve gone beyond outsourcing by establishing development centres (DCs) and R&D units in India. The focus is on verticals like software/internet, telecom, semiconductor and automotive. Along with IT firms, tech startups too have contributed to the growth of the industry as they have fine-tuned their offerings to meet the demands of global clients.

Every sector has integrated technology and this includes manufacturing, finance, banking, marketing, entertainment and education, among other applications. As against this background, it’s no surprise that the number of engineering colleges has increased and has spread to tier-city locations as well.

Indian born telecom engineer-inventor-entrepreneur Sam Pitroda is credited for laying the foundation of the country’s telecom industry. Pitroda began by working closely with the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to establish the Center for the Development of Telematics (C-DOT). Subsequently several measures were implemented to make telephone lines available for rural and urban Indians. 

From landline phones, GoI set out on an ambitious task of providing broadband connectivity to the gram panchayats (these are local self-government institution at the village level, whose head is the focal point of contact between government officers and the village community).

BharatNet, GoI’s flagship project will link each of the 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats through optical fibre network in a phased manner. This is the largest rural connectivity project of its kind in the world and is the first pillar of Digital India Programme. It will facilitate the delivery of various e-services and applications including e-health, eeducation, e-governance and e-commerce in the future.

GoI’s 2018 National Digital Communications Policy has set certain goals to be achieved by 2022. The intent is to provide broadband for all. Also on the agenda is to create four million additional jobs in the digital communications sector. It is hoped to enhance the contribution of the digital communications sector to 8 per cent of India’s GDP from 6 per cent in 2017. 

As indicated in the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) website, India is currently the world’s second-largest telecommunications market with a subscriber base of 1,189.28 million (of which mobile telephone connections are 1,168.32 million and landline telephone connections are 20.96 million). The number of Internet subscribers (both broadband and narrowband put together) now stands at 665.31 million as of June 2019. 

With 4G networks, data consumption is expected to increase drastically as consumers download content and enhance the e-commerce segment with online purchase.

The fifth generation of mobile network communication technology or 5G holds the promise of applications with high social and economic value, leading to a ‘hyper-connected society’ in which technology will play an even more important role in people’s lives. The network data speed and downloads will be exponentially high. 5G will also add a new dimension to the missions like Digital India and Smart Cities. Many mobile companies are preparing to launch 5G phones in the country.

GoI envisages positioning India as a globally synchronized participant in the design, development and manufacturing of 5G based technologies, products and applications. A multi-disciplinary high-level forum has been constituted to suggest vision, mission and goals for 5G India 2020 along with action plan and roadmap.

DoT is supporting research and study in 5G through financial assistance to institutions of national importance for establishment of ‘Indigenous 5G Test Bed at IIT Chennai, in collaboration with premier technology institutions including the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mumbai, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore.

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), Internet of Things (IoT) and robotic process automation (RPA) are among the technologies that will make Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution what it is. These technologies will disrupt the manner in which goods and services are exchanged. Skills will be required to build devices and machines. Secondly, skills will be required to communicate with these devices and machines. Thirdly, devices and machines need to be equipped to connect and communicate with one another.

Niti Aayog, GoI’s policy think tank, has released India’s National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (NSAI) in June 2018. The strategy, called ‘#AI for All’ combines the economic potential of AI with social development and inclusive growth. It positions India as the ‘AI garage of the world’. With this, India has joined an elite list of countries with a well-defined AI strategy.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) are working together to make India one of the world leaders in supercomputing. With an estimated cost of Rs 4,500 crore, over the next seven years, the aim is to enhance India’s capability in solving challenges of national and global relevance. Supercomputing aims to empower scientists and researchers with state-of-the-art supercomputing facilities and enable them to execute cutting-edge research in their respective domains. Some of the application areas include climate modelling; weather prediction; aerospace engineering; computational biology, and atomic energy simulations, among others.

The emergence of the SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) Stack has urged thousands of IT services companies, R&D units, startups and entrepreneurs to cater to this growing demand. Startups have generated millions of jobs in digital services. Another trigger off is that small and medium businesses have sprung up in order to offer allied services for digital jobs.

When we talk about digital services we need to take into account digital connectivity. It then becomes crucial to protect data about an individual or institution. In future, there will be a need for in-demand skills, most of which will be used for cyber security and data-related jobs.

As per the National Policy on Software Products (2019) the Digital India Programme launched by the GoI in 2015 has ensured that the Indian IT industry delivers world-class services at competitive quality and costs. The programme is leading to a transformation of India into a knowledge-based economy and digitally empowered society based on technology that is inclusive, affordable and sustainable.

This has ensured digital access, digital infrastructure, digital empowerment and bridging of digital divide with the common thread of digital inclusion. As a result, India’s digital footprint is one of the fastest growing in the world with the potential to become a trillion-dollar digital economy by 2025. India’s movement of digital transformation is finding global resonance.

A disruptive combination of technology and business model resulted in the 'JAM' trinity. This is an acronym for Jan Dhan Yojna, Aadhaar and Mobile. With this, India pursued the digital trail and brought to its citizens payment options like BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) and Rupay scheme, which opened up the fintech revolution.

It is hoped that this momentum will continue to drive the growth of the IT industry in the coming years, evangelising innovation in the domain.

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