For decades, it has almost been a joke that Indian parents only want their children to be either engineers or doctors. But the parents’ proclivity is today massively paying off for the country. The world’s most valued companies are technology companies. Every company and every country is trying to make technology an integral part of their operations. So, the world just can't seem to have enough of engineers, and those who know science, maths and statistics. And India, with its phenomenal and abundant talent in these fields, is in the sweetest spot it can think of as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of our independence.
When we look ahead at the next 25 years and the role India will play in shaping the technology landscape worldwide, the potential looks immense. Debjani Ghosh, president of the IT industry body Nasscom, said on our webinar last week that we are in an amazing place today in terms of the opportunities that are present and the capabilities that we are seeing getting developed in India and by the Indian ecosystem.
“Technology is the greatest tool we have in our hands to actually be in a position where we can think of solving some of the really big problems that's facing humanity. And I honestly believe that India is tremendously poised to lead this shift that we need to see – from the focus on innovation and implementation, to creating large-scale impact at scale across sectors, from healthcare to education, to agriculture.”
Ghosh said the digital public goods platforms that have been built in India, like UPI, provide a unique advantage. Especially with regards to the scale of the solutions that are built. She said one should think of these platforms as the digital highways that will help connect every citizen to service providers. “These platforms enable companies – big and small, multinational or Indian – to all come and play together, and create their unique solutions and products with the ability to reach people right up to the grassroots level,” she said.
The immense, untapped talent potential of the country is another factor that is expected to help India leapfrog other countries in tech domains in the next few decades. “If you look at the business process management (BPM) industry today, almost 50% are women. But the reality is, there is still a huge untapped resource base of women as well as other people,” said Keshav Murugesh, group chief executive officer of WNS Global Services, one of India’s leading BPM companies.
Talent in smaller cities in India, Murugesh said, is the other main vein of gold waiting to be taken advantage of. “We are investing in more of these locations. Work from home has become a model that everyone is talking about, and we are creating new offices in these tier-2 and tier-3 locations, and telling staff that they don't need to leave their hometowns,” he said.
Sandip Patel, managing director for IBM India and the South Asia region, said the ability of our existing talent to grasp new technologies is also deeply impressive. “Very recently, we launched some programmes in the northeast, in places like Nagaland and Assam, and the output that we are seeing there, and the potential that we are able to untap there, with the right kind of skilling initiatives, it's just phenomenal,” he said.
Patel said technology would be crucial for India to develop a prosperous economy over the next 25 years. “India's rollout of 5G communication technology, growing adoption of hybrid cloud, artificial intelligence, quantum technology, internet of things, these are going to be critical in paving the way for a trillion dollar digital economy by 2025,” he said.
Deep tech and data
There is also tremendous opportunity in the deep tech space, Kunal Bahl, co-founder of the AceVector Group, said. AceVector includes Snapdeal, the e-commerce firm that Bahl co-founded 12 years ago. “India is still in the very early stages. We have really high-quality engineering talent, and it's driven largely by the history of many of the global technology companies opening their development centres here. This has created an enduring momentum of a huge talent pool that is very adept at understanding how global quality products are built,” he said.
But talent alone, he noted, is not enough for a deep tech ecosystem to flourish. Availability of very large pools of data is crucial to train algorithms. Here too, Bahl said, India has a massive advantage. “I met a company some time ago that was building a deep tech product for insurance companies to assess, using a simple camera from the assessor’s phone, on whether a car has dents or not. Now, the challenge in western markets is they just don't have enough dents on cars. We don't have that problem in India. So, the team just walked around the city and took videos of cars parked on the street, and over a period of time built a huge data set that actually created an accurate algorithm that they're now selling to global insurance companies.”