In the first 15 years since its debut in 1995, the Internet managed to reach only a meagre 7.5 per cent of India's population. However, a decade more thereafter, the story is remarkably different. Driven by a surge in smartphone usage, nearly 50 per cent of the country's population is now connected to the World Wide Web, and it is estimated that by 2025, close to a billion would be networked. It has also spurred the country's digital transformation though there is still a long way to go to reach its true potential.
While India has leapfrogged to the digital realm in the last few years, Covid-19 has amplified this pace multifold. The crisis, which hit us all unexpectedly, demonstrated just how big a role digitalisation plays in information flow. To begin with, one of the critical pillars of a nation's progress - the education sector, has adapted digitalisation to its core during the pandemic. Digital devices once considered a distraction from studies, have now transformed into essential learning tools.
For businesses, the impact has been transformative. It is a new way of life for businesses to create a framework that allows for quick response to constantly changing situations. Not surprisingly, digital strategy and transformation now find a priority place in corporate boardroom discussions.
The pandemic was a turning point in how people work. It has completely changed our approach to work, mobility, and flexible working models. Most of these new models would be aided by digital platforms in the future. From our own experience it is evident that companies that embraced digital transformation more aggressively have performed better during the pandemic and are reviving faster.
While digitalisation was indispensable to the development of all economic sectors, including agriculture, the biggest beneficiaries of it were services and manufacturing. Businesses from both these sectors have capitalised on this opportunity to innovate their services, products and manufacturing processes continually. They have synergised mechanisation and digital to create the modern digital enterprise scaling over several hurdles of traditional businesses. For example, Machine Learning algorithms enable predictive maintenance of machines, eliminating downtime and ensuring that factory output doesn't suffer due to breakdowns. Similarly, in services, chatbot-based customer support has not only ensured a reduction in the BPO headcount, but has also enabled companies to setup an efficient 24x7 interface with their customers. This and other transformations are undoubtedly going to help catapult revenues, profitability, services offered, and enhance consumer connect and experience.
It is fundamental also to assess how companies engage with customers and the evolving customer requirements and trends. Brands will have to invest continually in tools that allow them to segment customers using data analytics and understand their needs, implement precise customer engagement strategies and deploy personalised engagement. Face-to-face video communication and real-time messaging will outpace most forms of engagement. It is heartening to see that several brands have been quick to pivot to remote sales calls, digital-only customer journeys and the use of augmented reality. The time to act is now, and instead of deploying business-as-usual pre-pandemic approaches, companies must switch to the new mandate to think and operate differently.
However, with increasing opportunities, the digital shift has also brought many challenges for organisations. One of the biggest is being future-ready. The significant difference between the past and the present has been the pace of change. The beginning of this change was with the advent of mobile telephony, and over time the introduction of ATMs, credit and debit cards, payment gateways and a whole host of apps that catered to search, review, shopping, travel, entertainment, social connect and much more. When one scratches the surface and delves deep, the one thing that has truly changed has been the concept of time - what took a few hours earlier, takes a few minutes or seconds now. The world is closer, faster, and time has shrunk.
Today in a world of intense competition, the customer is spoilt for choices. Some organisations went into shock, faced with a severe loss in their businesses and resorted to jobs and salary cuts, while many smaller ones shut shop. Agility and adaptability became the differentiator between the archaic and those who were inherently agile. I also believe that organisations that had people-first policies were ahead of the pack because eventually, people build organisations, processes and culture.
We spend a lot of our time in RPG to focus on our people-oriented policies. With a focus on diversity, we hire and keep the best talent across the organisation. We have observed when people have bright minds, they like to take up bigger challenges, focus on goals, and lookout for new ways to increase efficiency that has a cascading effect on the larger workforce. Our early adoption of technology across the spectrum of business, be it in machine digitisation, drones for various applications, remote working and widespread use of apps have helped us transition to a total online work-life much faster than we anticipated.
In the coming future, managements will have to be prepared for all such eventualities and uncertainties. The management structure will have to be more dynamic in the digital era. The interdependency on the hierarchical chain will have to reduce and autonomy will need to be established to ensure quicker decision-making. Managers will also have to be future-ready for new-age problems. With businesses and processes going digital, emerging threats such as cybersecurity, third-party risks and data thefts will be significant hazards in the new ecosystem. Hence, hands-on knowledge of emerging technologies and its adversities will be important aspects of one's job role. New talents and skills involving tech-savviness, fast learning, understanding interactive technology, digital business analysis, digital marketing, and data analytics will hold a weightage in future hiring. Likewise, constant training and development programmes for managers and the larger workforce will be an essential practice.
A country that was known as a 'land of snake charmers', now ranks amongst the top 15 nations in indicators, including ICT (Information & Communication Technology), online government services, graduates in science and technology and R&D. India has witnessed a paradigm shift in the digital space; however, there is a long way to go. The ongoing pandemic has brought to fore our capabilities, preparedness as well as our limitations to go completely digital. With the right infrastructure in place, I am confident that India will live up to its vision of a Digital India.
(The author is Chairman, RPG Group)