By Dhurjati Mukherjee
Technological change through scientific innovations is undoubtedly an important driver of economic performance as the ability to create, distribute and exploit knowledge has become a major source of competitive advantage, wealth creation and improvement in quality of life of a major section of the population.
Some of the main features of this transformation are the growing impact of information and communications technologies (ICT) on the economy and on society, rapid application of recent scientific advances in new products and processes; a high rate of innovation, a shift to more knowledge-intensive industries and services and rising skill requirements.
Changes imply that science, technology and innovation has emerged a key factor for improving economic performance and social well-being though it is imperative that governments have to put the right policies in place. Limits on public spending, increased competition and globalisation, changes in the drivers of the innovation process, and a better understanding of the role played by science and technology in economic performance and societal change, have led governments to sharpen their policy tools.
Increasingly, governments are becoming a facilitator, enabling business and consumers to adapt to the demands and opportunities of the new economy. But there are other areas, such as investment in fundamental research and ensuring stakeholders’ involvement in policy design and implementation, where an active role of government is indispensable.
In tune with most countries, technology in India has been growing rather fast and the stakes are obliviously quite high. In fact, Indian technology sector is expected to be around $1 trillion opportunity in next 5-7 years and has the potential to contribute 25% to the GDP.
Though much has been said about the country’s technological advances, experts believe that except mobile phones, other devices have penetrated only about 8-10% of population, be it laptop, washing machine, medical devices. In comparable countries the same is well over 62-65%.
In coming years, the challenge is to make technology sector globally competitive as even now Indian entrepreneurs have already a high reputation. Innovation and knowledge-based solutions through extensive research and development is, no doubt, the need of the day which calls for government support.
Though India has been progressing, other emerging economies like China and South Korea are far ahead. There is huge potential in the country itself as also outside, say for example in neighbouring countries of South and S E Asia, and both public and the private sector have to join hands to put India in a commanding position. The world has currently 252 unicorns – companies valued at $1 billion plus of which 106 come from the US, 98 from China and only 10 from India.
Meanwhile, internet usage has been increasing at a fast pace and it is estimated that by 2020, half of the country’s internet users will be rural. The internet is about to transform the consumer segment just below the affluent middle class as the country’s data usage grew five times in the last one year. The country’s network carries 2.1 exabytes data per month, way ahead of North America, EU, Latin America, China, Eastern Europe and Middle East.
Undeniably, the entry of Jio made lot of difference as with reduced prices it helped in increasing data consumption. The almost 60% cut in data prices has driven a sharp increase in volumes. The total data carried per month by the top four operators increased five times over the past year. Telecom operators have over the last five years invested a hefty amount of over Rs 9 lakh crores to create a world-class infrastructure currently serving 1.15 billion subscribers in the country.
Increasing penetration of high speed 4G networks along with affordable smart phones and budget friendly data packs is leading to a massive boom in data consumption. In fact, video is now touted as the new language of internet and is witnessing the highest growth, say technology experts.
With massive growth expected in the coming years, India needs a regulator as a check on the market power of technology companies and adjudicate as these try to dominate adjacent spaces based on customer lock-in. This is all the more necessary as consumer internet businesses, which deal with sensitive consumer information, has been growing. China has been undertaking data security legislation since 2006. Similarly France, Germany Malaysia and South Korea all have consent requirements for data transfer outside their borders.
Another important aspect that needs serious attention is to boost up manufacturing in the technology sector to compete with firms of China, Japan and South Korea. Government support through subsidies may be necessary in the initial two-three years for Indian companies to be cost effective to match international prices. However, there is need to emphasise on quality to attract people from buying local products and break the domination of international giants.
The call to make the country digital has to be taken up in right earnest. Though recently a lot of start-ups have been set up in past decade, some are doing quite well more such endeavours have to come about, considering the size and population of India. The IITs, IIESTs, NITs etc. should come forward to help entrepreneurs to start such technology companies in unexplored areas, which unfortunately has not been done to the extent desired. Recently, the news of IIT, Kharapur building bio-toilet, that doesn’t need constant supply of fresh water, once 500 litres of water are filled, and can be used by a family of five for a lifetime, is a big innovation.
A McKinsey study few years back, has shown that around 19 -29 million workers (5-8% of India’s non-farm labour force in 2025) could potentially be negatively affected by technology and would need new employment opportunities and skills training. Some 6-8 million of these workers would be employed in routine clerical, customer service and sales jobs that could be affected by advancements in machine learning and natural language interfaces (speech recognition) that make it possible for computers to take on work that had been thought to be beyond machines.
An additional 13-21 million jobs in manufacturing, trade, transport, and construction could be affected by technology applications. To create a workforce that can adapt to such shifts, India will need a radical overhaul of education and vocational training systems as well as investments in continuous learning.
The study further pointed out that opportunities will likely be created for millions of workers and entrepreneurs by empowering technologies. Up to 20 million SMEs could gain access to digital business tools in the cloud at a fraction of the cost of running in-house IT. About 90 million farmers could raise productivity with real-time market information and as many as 22 million through precision farming. Millions of workers with little formal education could become knowledge workers in community health care, education, banking, and agriculture. With a bit of training and equipped with tablet computers linked to powerful cloud-based knowledge applications, they could make rudimentary diagnoses, teach lessons, provide farm-extension services, or help illiterate Indians conduct financial transactions.
Though these projections appear quite optimistic, questions remain. In a country like India, the spread of technology in rural and semi-urban areas has to be fast to enable the nation to reach the desired heights. There is need for proper planning by those in authority and institutions like the IITs, NITs, similar organisations must be roped in for success. —INFA