In India, talk about Digital India and Smart Cities is quite the rage. But as with many transformational propositions, there is much hype but limited discussion about how will digital be seen and felt across the economy.
Understanding how digital will influence our economy is important, since digital is likely to enable much of the leap-frogging that India needs to do in order to catch up quicker with the world’s middle income economies. Here are a few examples below, which together pick up on four themes which underpin what digital means, namely Social media, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC):
- In Sales and Distribution, many parts of India are not served by good physical sales and distribution outlets and channels. Digital technologies which help companies connect their suppliers better by using analytics and cloud provide many options for businesses to reach customers over the web and mobile. This will help them both sell and deliver goods more efficiently.
Relevant example: Flipkart, one of India’s most innovative eCommerce companies, is using analytics and cloud to organise its delivery chain better, and to connect electronic and physical channels in getting goods to the customer, cash on delivery. Buying on Flipkart is conditioned by social media feeds about products and services.
- In Retail, India lags in offering customers a truly engaging shopping experience, both in-store and off-site. Digital technologies such as analytics enable businesses to collect more and deeper information about a customer, including combining context from different sources to create a more enriched and insightful view. Mobile helps with data collection, and then helps the retailer connect more efficiently when the customer is on-site and when they are at home.
Relevant example: Book My Show has made it easier to pick up tickets at venues and theatres without queuing, and the mobile application also enables the customer to view and choose entertainment options while at home or still at work.
- In Healthcare and Learning, digital technologies which enable service providers to provide remote services (such as monitoring blood pressure via a monitor while the patient remains at home) will enable India to avoid billions of extra dollars in public infrastructure investment, while continuing to improve public attainment and welfare.
Relevant example: BBC Janala is providing millions of Bangladeshis with customised English language learning over mobiles. This is substituting the need for expensive class attendance in often faraway towns at higher expense.
- In Smart Cities, digital solutions will help police contain and reduce crime – through CCTV, video surveillance and other techniques which with predictive analytics will drive quicker action to where it is needed. Some solutions will use analytics and geo-positioning technology to give people up to the second transportation and traffic information. Yet more solutions will allow families to remain connected with each other through the day of moving about the city, and will enable people to control appliances and home and in the car from afar.
Relevant example: Surat Municipal Corporation is connecting with citizens already on several fronts around public services, using social media to engage, as well as analytics.
The above examples show exactly why definitions of digital are centred on Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC):
- Social: Customers, individuals or employees are using social media to express themselves and connect and exchange views, vote on each other’s choices and compare notes on all manner of things from work to school, from housing options to movies, and religious views to political opinions. Such social media are rapidly creating new platforms for expression and communication, giving businesses new opportunity to promote their products and engage, as well as protect the brand.
- Mobile: Connected mobile devices can now connect people and things almost anywhere and anytime. This makes the customer a 24/7 phenomenon, reachable at any time and who can transact at any moment, infinitely broadening the opportunity as well as the threat from competition. With access to applications which reside on the cloud, almost every mobile device with internet access today has access to a huge amount of computing power.
- Analytics: Behind the scenes, there is enough firepower now to analyse almost anything that generate data – not just in terms of patterns of usage and consumption, but also to predict relevance and behaviour based on collecting wider, more contextual data – often referred to as “Big” data. Big data has not really scaled yet, but it is only a matter of a few years till it does.
- Cloud: All of the above is now supported by huge and globally available computing power and storage capacity, meaning that individuals, enterprises, governments and connected things can all benefit from immediate access to a vast pool of technology.
The role of the mobile industry will be key, because almost all digital impacts will involve the flow of data and communications, between people and machines. There are some 5 billion mobile connections today, and the GSMA predicts there will be some 26 billion connected people and devices by the mid 2020s. Referred to as the “internet of things” or IoT, the mobile industry has an opportunity today to be at the centre of the connected world which goes well beyond people and into “things” everywhere. As the IoT takes off, communications technology will pervade more and more industries, through technologies such as Machine to Machine (M2M), enabling the sorts of digital transformation illustrated in the few examples above.
It is not just connectedness that matters, that is having a “dumb pipe”. No, it is actually the nature of connectedness that will be fundamental to how much impact can be created through digital. In tomorrow’s world, customers will be asking:
How robust is security when my information is going across all sorts of networks?
What is my latency for viewing video while the page uploads or the app updates?
Is my network coverage consistent enough to connect anywhere as we move around?
Is my network sufficiently integrated with GPS information so that I can isolate locations accurately and quickly?
Does my network provide adequate coverage today to connect non-mobile technologies, at high speed and with high quality?
Whoever coined the phrase “dumb pipe” did a disservice to the mobile industry, one it has been trying to shake off for a decade now. The above questions demand that in the digital world, networks and their operators have to be extremely intelligent (not dumb), capable of providing connectivity fit for the need. There is significant value in being able to do this, and it is up to operators to go out into the market and acquire the skills and capabilities to be able to tap this.