View from India: Post Covid-19, India will be in a new avatar

The Covid-19 pandemic can be an opportunity for a diverse range of industries and businesses to collaborate and strategise a roadmap for the future. This and more was discussed at IET India Digital Conversations, held online last week.

The theme, ‘Getting India Inc Back on Track: A Future Tech Perspective’, stressed the need for new frontiers to solve societal problems. It also took into account the adoption of technology across sectors: discussions revolved around the necessity for developing an ecosystem to enhance the application of emerging technologies as well as the pervasive nature of technology. Consequently, even non-IT organisations have to leverage technology to accelerate their growth.

Suresh Prabhu, India's Sherpa to G20 and G7 and six times Member of Parliament (MP), along with the panelists, shared thoughts on how technologists and future technologies can contribute to India Inc to get back on track in a post-Covid world.

“Use technologies, both the existing ones as well as the emerging ones, to improve the growth rate of India. Technology has always been in use but the manner in which it is used and the speed at which it is rendered has changed,” said Prabhu.

Today, the concern is to make technology inclusive and bring it into our lives. This will help India’s policy planners to fine-tune procedures accordingly. Prabhu lauded IET India for their work in the country, sharing insights on water and agriculture.  

Technologies such as artificial intelligence can be tapped for water-management solutions and can have a transformative affect on other industries, positively impacting the country’s socio-economic condition. “Technically it may be possible to make water in the laboratories. It’s a known fact that water is recycled, but we are yet to find solutions to manufacture water for commercial use,” added Prabhu. This unknown dimension of water trickles a hope of opportunity in terms of innovation, R&D and revenue generation. 

About 15 per cent of India's gross domestic product comes from agriculture and over half of the country’s population depends on it. As a resource, water optimisation is a prerequisite and only the required quantum must be used – in fact, if used in excess, it will adversely affect the crops. Israel, a water-starved desert area, has used drip irrigation for efficient water usage.

These Covid-19 times are an opportunity to revisit our resources; it’s also a time to throw open opportunities for private players in several sectors. A case in point is the space sector, which has now been opened up for private players. “As we wait for other sectors to emulate space, an economically viable option is to use India’s low-cost applications. This can be scaled-up for the global market,” explained Prabhu.

The online event also saw a panel discuss ‘Leading in uncertain times: industry leaders discuss strategies for revival’. Panelists took the audience through possible tweaks for improving several sectors, including various dimensions of energy, such as storage and security, which require tech solutions for better usage. “We require a unified national policy for electricity and energy. A centralised think-tank will help in solving energy-related issues,” said Vijay Karia, chairman and managing director, Ravin Group. Further, other measures can be implemented to create cost-effective solutions to the benefit of the economy. “The speed of the internet calls for improvement. Electricity should be stable and clean. Engineering disciplines must include latest technologies,” explained Karia.

Covid-19 has devastated many plans, workplaces, economies and, most of all, it has destroyed notions. The lower strata of society has been adversely affected. “Covid has given us a jolt and we need to address it seriously. Right from manufacturing to healthcare, all sectors have been affected. Rural India requires healthcare facilities. We have to take care of the community around us and ensure they are safe and comfortable,” cautioned Indra Menon, executive director and president, Senapathy Whiteley Pvt. Ltd.

Nevertheless the pandemic has also made us realise that many institutions can function without large workplaces. On a positive note, pollution levels have come down and priorities have changed. “Health is of top priority, followed by contactless services and experiences, followed by a felt need for shaping India Inc into an export-driven economy,” said Mustafa Wajid, managing director, Meher Group.  

Post-Covid, India will be in a new avatar. With its digital technology and a large English-speaking population, India will hopefully be able to reaffirm its position in the global market. “India is a country of two-three wheelers. Africa also relies on two-three wheelers. We can improve the domestic manufacturing capabilities of electric vehicles (EVs) and create a market for them in geographies like Africa,” said Wajid. Coming to the Indian scenario, EVs – both two- and three-wheeled – can be used for agricultural purposes. Taking a broad perspective, electric mobility will help decarbonise the country as well as contribute to the economic development.

Another significant change is that Covid-19 has kicked off is the world’s largest experiment, which we know as work from home (WFH). In many households, elders live with WFH professionals. This has opened out new possibilities: areas like e-commerce and home-delivery services can actually give room for more employees than before.

“The pandemic has been disruptive. One of its outcomes is that we’ve begun to work from home and remote locations as well. We’ve got used to it,” highlighted Dr Rishi Bhatnagar, chair of The IET Future Tech Panel and president of Aeris Communications in India. The company has showcased pilot projects for many manufacturing units to opt for digital factories. “Prior to the pandemic, many manufacturing units hesitated to switch to digital factories, though we ran pilots. But now several such piloted projects are being implemented in the manufacturing firms,” he observed. Legacy machines are undergoing a makeover as a number of manual operations are being digitised.

The virus outbreak has compelled industries to re-skill and up-skill. Industries are, however, treading with caution, and this care and caution has to extend to various stakeholders in the chain.

“The pandemic situation is an opportunity for everyone to stop, introspect and revisit their strategies and build on it. Now is the time for us to work towards building our internal capabilities and present to the world our strengths across diverse areas,” summed up Shekhar Sanyal, country head and director, IET India.

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