India Inc India Inc: Thursday, 02 July 2015 11:26

Tech Speak with Nitin Dahad - New horizon for Indian digital literacy and start-ups

by Nitin Dahad

The beauty of technology is that it has levelled the playing field for doing business globally. On social media, I’ve been following Alpesh Patel, who has just recently held a number of business round tables in various cities in India, talking about why the UK is a good place for Indian start-ups to go global from.

I can add many real examples why. I have just completed a study of the mobile entertainment market in Latin America for an Indian digital media platform company – via the UK. Many Indian tech companies (mostly IT services) also approach me to look at expanding their presence in Europe and the USA, and often look at using the UK as a base from which to so.

Conversely, Indian technology businesses are also beginning to see the benefits of globalisation. They are increasingly able to easily tap resources and opportunities from overseas. Not a day goes by without reading a story about some tech entrepreneur coming back to India, like Natasha Jain coming back from Silicon Valley in the USA to do a start-up that changes payment behaviour (read: cashless society); or overseas investors looking at investing in Indian tech start-ups.

But I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Digital India initiative, which just launched its Digital India Week (1st July), will no doubt produce even more people capable of setting up digital businesses, or innovative tech start-ups.

This may be as a result of becoming digitally literate as part of the National Digital Literacy Mission, which will be a key focus of Digital India Week; or it may be from villages being more connected and then able to tap into the global resource that is currently being enjoyed by tech start-ups in super-connected tech hubs like Bangalore and many other tier one and tier two cities.

Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recently said, “The programme will generate huge number of IT, telecom and electronics jobs, both directly and indirectly. Success of this programme will make India digitally empowered and the leader in usage of IT in delivery of services related to various domains such as health, education, agriculture and banking.”

The three-pronged objective of Digital India is to enable:

1) Digital infrastructure as a utility to every citizen
2) Governance and services on demand
3) Digital empowerment of citizens

Digital literacy is a key part of enabling this. While there are ongoing public initiatives, there are also private sector businesses helping to improve digital skills. One such company, Clone Futura, has already taught 11,000 senior citizens and schoolchildren various levels of digital skills through its courses which range from beginner to advanced programming.

The company is on a mission to ‘bridge the divide the technological and digital wave has brought in that has left innumerable feeling displaced and disconnected today’. It estimates that well over 600 million people in India can benefit from varying levels of digital literacy skills.

Its main target is senior citizens and housewives, who are mostly neglected by mainstream courses or have lack of customized training or individual attention; it also aims to address their fears of technology. For example, one of its courses is ‘Learn smartphones in 2 hours’. At the other end of the scale, it offers customized training for ‘genius juniors’ aged 4-18, on coding, cloud computing, web site development, and so on.

It is not just literacy or basic skills that are being addressed in India. There are also many programs to foster innovative tech start-ups in leading edge technologies at a higher level in the technology ecosystem.

For example, the STPI (Indian software technology park association) and IESA (the Indian semiconductor industry association), have partnered to set up an ‘Electropreneur Park’, to help develop and support start-ups in electronics design and manufacturing. This program will look for start-ups with breakthrough technology or ideas that can create IP (intellectual property) or products locally, so that dependence on electronics imports can be reduced. The start-ups will be supported with funding, software and electronics design tools support, prototyping assistance, and help with commercialisation of their products.

At another level, the internet of things (IoT) is an area where many global start-ups are developing solutions to solve various local and national challenges. This technology is also a core element of smart cities, so very relevant to India’s initiatives in this area. The IoT essentially uses wirelessly connected sensors and devices to collect data, send it wirelessly to a data storage area (eg. the cloud), analyse the data (what’s called data analytics), and then take a course of action dependent on what the data says – for example it could be corrective action to tell someone to take medicine because some health parameter is too high or low.

According to the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), the Indian IoT industry is expected to be a $15 billion market by 2020. To tap this, the local entrepreneur chapter of TiE teamed up with IESA in Bangalore recently to foster the Indian IoT ecosystem with an IoT innovation showcase. Out of the 12 finalists, Cardiac Design Labs was chosen as a winner and also had a sponsored visit to a major innovation conference in San Jose, California, last month (June).

Cardiac Design Labs has developed a product called MIRCaM™ (mobile intelligent remote cardiac monitor). This is an ambulatory cardiac monitoring and diagnosing system capable of real-time, intelligent, monitoring, analysis and diagnosis of a wide range of cardiac conditions like arrhythmia, myocardial ischemia and infarction.

It helps decentralise cardiac care by providing extended healthcare to sub-urban and rural places in India, by enabling a doctor to diagnose potential cardiac patients and monitor the ECG of the patient accurately and in real-time. It can connect to an expert from the remote location if required to effectively treat or refer afflicted patients.

Such initiatives by government and private sector to connect villages, enhance digital literacy, and foster innovation and start-ups in global leading edge technologies could potentially make India a powerful force in the digital economy – even more so that what we have seen from the success of the software outsourcing industry since the 1980s.

Returning to my opening argument, technology has levelled the playing field, and with more Indians and Indian start-ups coming into the global tech and innovation ecosystem, the world is their oyster, and Indian tech is likely to play just as big a part in the global economy as software has done in the past.

Nitin Dahad is a consultant and advisor to the technology, industrial and media sector, and to government agencies and trade organisations, to develop global market strategies and programs based on nearly 30 years’ experience across Europe, US, Asia and Latin America

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