Innovation a cornerstone of India’s tech revolution

by Arvind Gupta

A Digital India expert weighs up how innovation in India can leapfrog developments to lead a 4th industrial revolution.

Technology is a game changer, and India has the potential to not only be a leader for our 1.3 billion but also leapfrog development and lead in introducing the 4th industrial revolution to the next 6 billion globally.

Innovation has been the cornerstone of India’s technological revolution, with Bharat – the 70 per cent of India that lives in villages – being an equal stakeholder and beneficiary of this digital disruption. Unlike the previous urban-centric revolutions, the Bharat Net project, which is ensuring high-speed optical fibre net to every local level government in the country, will ensure that Bharat and India benefit from the innovations of the 4th Industrial Revolution, as creators and consumers.

Digital journey

So far, the government has been the superstar of India’s digital journey, through a combination of disruptive technology and agile policymaking. It has paved the way for India to produce a secure platform around Digital Payments, Identity and Documents (the ‘India Stack’) which have over 1.2 billion users combined – the only public platform in the world to achieve this feat in record speed, scale, and cost.

The backbone and innovative interlinking of the Jan Dhan, zero-balance accounts to the Digital Identity Programme and mobile phones has translated into 320 million bank accounts opening in the most inaccessible parts of the country, with an individual being able to open a bank account in less than a minute. India’s innovations are being appreciated and adopted by global technology giants – Google and WhatsApp are using the Made in India Unified Payments Interface, a groundbreaking financial inclusion technology which has seen 190 million transactions in April 2018 alone. The government’s Direct Benefits Transfer programme, of which 436 schemes are a part have benefitted immensely in removing the middleman and endemic corruption from welfare distribution, with an estimated $12 billion saved to the government.

Technology entrepreneur Bill Gates appreciated India’s advancements and said that “Digitisation, coupled with bold decisions has helped India leapfrog into inclusive growth”. According to a ‘Harvard Business Review’ report, India’s digital innovation is a game-changing platform that is beneficial not just for citizens and government, but also for businesses. India moved up by 30 places in the global ‘Ease of Doing Business’ index, and the implementation of a singular nationwide tax – the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has amplified seamless, hassle-less and paperless taxation process in India and an increased inclusion across the nation into the formal economy. Revenue collection through the GST crossed the $15-billion mark in April in India, a record-breaking feat. The availability of real-time tax data allows the government to analyse information and create greater systemic efficiencies.

AI, blockchain & cybersecurity

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology have not only been the buzzwords of the year but will also be the platforms based on which India will propel itself into the future. This will form the real backbone of India-UK collaboration. India is transitioning from a data poor to a data-rich society and AI will be the game-changer, revolutionising healthcare, credit, education, and employment. The UK is a leader in AI, especially with the new £1-billion AI sector deal and intensive capacity building in the sector. Given the shared democratic and progressive morals, India and the UK have the capability to produce radical positive changes in the field. India has already begun trials in the field of blockchain, especially in digitising and storing land titles and legal cases. Work is also underway in the localised implementation of AI. India is also building capacity with a FutureSkills program, ensuring that Indian engineers continue to be amongst the best in the world.

With powerful technology comes the need for responsibility and protection, and cybersecurity and data protection are pertinent for both countries. The UK’s National Cyber Security Strategy 2016-21 calls for International Action, and India and the UK must collaborate on the cyber front to ensure safety, trust and security for their businesses and citizens. A joint cybersecurity framework has already been developed by both countries to ensure information sharing, capacity building and research in the field. The implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the UK will also hold key shared learnings for India as we build our own Data Empowerment Protection architecture, both of which will have significant consequences for bilateral businesses.

Creative sector tie-ups

The creative sector is at the heart of the innovation economy, with the sector forming £92 billion of the UK’s economy and India looking to grow its £15-billion economy by over five-fold by 2025. There is room for both lesson and collaboration in the creative industries, with both countries producing content that has a global market and benefiting from an increased bilateral market penetration. Equally, the successful implementation of India’s National Digital Identity Programme, combined with effective policies that have allowed for open innovation and for anyone to build on top of the “IndiaStack” has learnings that would be critical for the UK in building their own digital identity, and perhaps to take it further to the Commonwealth as well. Again, our common value system and democratic political beliefs will be fundamental on which these technologies and policies will be based.

India’s transformation from the software powerhouse of the world to a thought leader in emerging technologies is an exciting phase and will allow us to co-create with the UK on an equal footing. India is now in the top three start-up ecosystems in the world, with over 30,000 active start-ups in the country, a testimony to the power of innovation.

This technological revolution isn’t just a software one though. Till now, India imported most of its smartphones, however, the incentives to electronics manufacturing in the country have led to 120 production units for mobile phones in India and over 220 million domestically manufactured mobile phones.

The reality is that India is moving into the digital future at an unprecedented rate, and combined with the strengths of the United Kingdom, it promises to be a bright one.

Arvind Gupta is an Eisenhower Innovation Fellow, member of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Digital Economy & Society Futures Council and CEO of MyGov – Government of India.

*The views expressed in this article are personal

About the Author: Arvind Gupta