India's technology prowess is a defining element of its global brand image. The information technology (IT) and IT-enabled services sector generated $100 billion in revenue in 2012, even as India's internet user base, currently third-largest globally, is set to become the world's second-largest.
Yet, large parts of India remain untouched by the power of technology. Some 300 million people lack access to electricity, 300 million workers are under-schooled or without formal vocational training and 120 million rural households lack even a basic bank account. While a little over two billion e-government transactions were logged by 2013, India ranks a low 124 among 190 countries in the UN's e-government rankings, far below other emerging economies. With aspirations of its people rising fast, India needs to urgently address these challenges of growth, inclusion and governance.
Rapid transformation is on the horizon for India as disruptive technologies reshape global value chains, profit pools and millions of lives around the world. For example, by 2025, mobile internet could connect an incremental two-three billion people, mostly in developing economies. Knowledge work, formerly taken as the exclusive domain of human workers, is being increasingly automated - 400 million people around the world are already using intelligent digital assistants on their smartphones. McKinsey Global Institute estimates a dozen such disruptive technologies, drawn from a list of 100 potential candidates, have the potential to drive global economic impact in the order of $14-33 trillion annually in 2025. Over the coming decade in India as well, 10 transformational technologies could contribute three-five times the current economic impact of the IT/ITeS sector to the economy. Together, they can transform health care, education, financial services, citizen services, energy and agriculture. These technologies are ubiquitous connectivity, the internet of things, cloud technology, digital payments, universal biometric identity, automation of knowledge work, renewable energy, advanced oil and gas, advanced energy storage and next-generation genomics.
Each of these is at an inflection point of adoption. India in 2025 could see, for example, 60-80 per cent of its people online (almost three-fourths of them through inexpensive mobile devices) and five-10 billion transactions enabled through digital payments, up from 1.4 billion today. Millions of inexpensive intelligent sensors could be embedded in common items found across retail stores, energy grids, schools, health care centres, farms and transport networks, reducing wastage and minimising leakage.
Beyond economic impact, these technologies can improve millions of lives. Take health care where an incremental 500 million people might have access to affordable quality primary care by 2025, through technology-enabled training, diagnostics and treatment protocols. In education, computer-based adaptive learning, delivered at Rs 50 a child a month, can achieve better learning outcomes and lower drop-out rates. Coupled with technology-enabled vocational training, this could deliver additional economic impact of $160-200 billion.
We are optimistic this can be achieved. An explosion of technology-based innovation can be seen in multiple successful pilot programmes already - emergency services agents providing pattern-based insights to help improve citizen safety; rural tuberculosis patients being monitored for prescription adherence through biometric devices; eye check-ups being conducted using mobile phones. Rising awareness will drive up pressure for more digitisation, open data and back-end technology-enablement in government. And, as users gain critical depth and mass, entrepreneurs will respond with customised offerings to raise engagement, such as mobile-based services, local language and picture-based interfaces, and even para-technicians helping less digitally literate people navigate the online world.
Technology stops for no one. Business leaders can position themselves well by being early adopters or innovators who turn disruptive threats into opportunities.
The government can enter into accountable alliances with technology providers and private and social sector organisations in sectors such as healthcare, education, energy and financial services. These would help build much-needed institutional capabilities and break silos that come in the way of faster technology adoption. Policymakers can also help with greater support for basic research, setting standards and facilitating the emergence of new products and services to capture the power of these transformational technologies.