Time to convert possibilities to opportunities to serve as reliable growth drivers.

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown have accelerated India’s adoption of digital platforms. Digital adoption rates have even surpassed the swift pace of the last six years. During the lockdown, people have used apps and digital infrastructure for their every need—payments, receiving Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) from the government, grocery and food procurement, medicine delivery and teleconsultations, up-skilling and children’s education, 24/7 entertainment, communication, work delivery and management, and more. When India recovers from the pandemic, we will confirm this to be an irreversible shift in behaviour where digital platforms might be the first choice in any endeavour.
There are many ways we can capitalise this opportunity for economic growth, improved productivity, and delivery of differentiated services to Indians at scale.

Some of the biggest challenges Indian farmers face are accessing markets and selling produce at competitive prices. Agri-tech digital platforms, and consolidation of agri-databases, will enable farmers to improve earnings and income. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government aims to double farmer incomes by 2022 and agri-tech can play a large part in achieving this.
Technology can be leveraged to map out linkages in the market, retail, and supply chain, and to build virtual B2B and B2C marketplaces. Farmers can then access accurate and timely information about seed availability and prices, crop prices, and consumer markets. They can also use digital platforms and databases for information on techniques to improve production, fertilizer utilization, rainfall and weather patterns, and more.

India faces two major health challenges compared to other large economies—a deficit in the number of trained medical staff per million population and low adoption of digital platforms to manage patient care. The WHO estimates there is a deficit of 6 lakh doctors and 20 lakh nurses in India. Further, doctors often have to perform many routine tasks like data entry, patient management, pharmacy interfacing, ensuring the right gear and equipment are present in the required quantities at the point-of-need, and so on—over and above their medical and caregiving duties.
Outside of large private hospitals, the use of digital platforms to automate many of these tasks is low. With the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for every hospital to be on a patient management system has become apparent—be they government, municipal, speciality, or private. This can also help map out inter-hospital bed vacancies and patient transfers in the next Act of God event.
With such a large rural population and insufficient trained medical staff and rural healthcare facilities, India can rapidly adopt telemedicine capabilities to make up for the gap. E-consultations, which took off during the lockdown, can vastly improve access to healthcare in rural areas. Mobile and internet penetration in rural areas is accelerating, and telehealth can piggyback on this trend. A quick e-consultation can determine whether the person has a simple problem or needs to access a facility for a physical check-up. We may find that 50-60% of cases could be diagnosed in this manner, and the remaining might have to travel for a consultation—largely reducing the healthcare burden in the country.

Digital content consumption has soared during the lockdown in many forms—entertainment, news, audio, and gaming. These trends are worrisome for traditional movie makers and distributors, content creators, print media and others on one hand; on the other, the lockdown has proved a fertile ground for the testing and validation of many new formats.
Digital media consumption has gone through the roof, as evidenced by the rise in subscriptions and viewing time of platforms like Hotstar, JioTV, Netflix, and Prime Video. The indisputable king here is any company with strong digital inventory for the Indian market—no longer are Indians satisfied with reruns of US shows and movies. Entertainment 2.0 is being redefined by the enormous success of web-shows like Little Things or Operation MBBS which has proved that even a niche show about medical college in India can build a considerable subscriber base quickly. Indians are watching more, exploring, building communities around their favourite shows and elevating these actors to stardom. With TV too, we are witnessing the boom of digital-strong strategies like Republic TV—again proving that content creation and audience engagement are crucial drivers for success in this new paradigm.
Print media has been on the decline for some time now, and the lockdown accelerated this into a critical condition. Rs 14,000 crore worth of advertising revenues, the mainstay of print, is in freefall—leading to large-scale pay cuts and deferments even in India’s biggest media houses. While publishers have been investing in digital strategies over the last decade, it is clear that they have to develop vastly different models now and reconfigure advertising revenue to sustain themselves.
Gaming has risen multifold through the lockdown as everyone is playing on multiple devices to pass the hours. However, it is fully evident India has not invested in building its own games; the most popular games today are still Clash of Clans, Candy Crush, Pokémon and others and built by Chinese companies like Tencent’s PUBG. The Indian ecosystem must invest in games for the Indian audience to capitalize on the opportunity.
Regional language markets for audio and video content are still largely under-serviced. Hindi is not India’s national language and neither is English; every regional language is its own large segment with a captive audience hungry for regional content. We need differentiated content, more platforms and large investments in each of these target demographics to build a vast Indian media ecosystem that no other country can hope to match in scale or diversity.

Smartphone and internet penetration has exponentially increased in India. With this, we have a tremendous opportunity to improve access to education via large-scale digital platforms. Many highly populous regions in India, like Bihar and Jharkhand, have low levels of education infrastructure but a higher percentage of youth compared to the national average. Today, a majority of these youngsters have a mobile phone with a data connection and are consuming content like never before. Education must take advantage of this shift in behaviour and become easier to access for all.
Just as India leap-frogged landlines straight to mobile, India could leapfrog past brick-and-mortar institution models straight to ed-tech platforms.
Through the lockdown, many education content companies have streamlined their solutions and unlocked new ways of teaching virtually. New methods of certification and gamification of education to make a lasting impact are being consumed now. Moreover, we are seeing a worldwide surge in online or virtual proctoring wherein students can write a test in a remote location, and video monitoring is used to maintain integrity. The convergence of these trends will spell a new era for Indian education.

Today, the GOI and state governments collect terabytes of data on welfare, population and demographics, Aadhar, taxes, jobs and pension (ESI, EPFO and NPS), automobile sales, MUDRA beneficiaries, food security and other subsidy beneficiaries, IT returns, education, and so on, but all under different departments. These data sets can be collated together using Aadhar identification as the fixed parameter. No other country except China has access to such a large data set on which the latest big data analytical tools can be deployed to get insights about India. These insights can then be utilized by the government to make data-backed policy decisions and optimize food security and other benefits.
It is suggested that a Chief Data Officer (CDO) be appointed to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to oversee digitization, data consolidation efforts and to set standards for data collection by every department. This has created immense value for other developed economies like the US, UK, and Germany. It is time for India to embrace digital at its very highest levels and build a top-down systematised resilience on the digital frontier.

Through the pandemic and lockdown, life as we know it has irreversibly changed. A large component of this transformation is the adoption of digital platforms. By capitalizing on this generational opportunity and investing in building world-class, indigenous platforms for a large captive local market, India can accrue innumerable economic and cultural benefits. It is time for our nation to fully take command of India’s digital destiny.
T.V. Mohandas Pai is Chairman, Aarin Capital Partners and Nisha Holla is Technology Fellow, C-CAMP.