The internet has become so embedded in our daily lives, it is hard to fully grasp the depths of its influence. Farmers in Maharashtra's co-operatives are going online to make sure they are getting a fair price for their products; working professionals are eager to upskill and reskill digitally to be in line with the changing paradigm of technology and employment; while a sporting event in an empty stadium in Australia is produced remotely by a crew sitting out of Europe or India.
Today, the seamless flow of data and information generates more economic value than ever imagined. 25 years after Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) launched the public internet in India, we have seen a massive transformation in the Indian business landscape, in our economic performance and the spread of education, healthcare, and more.
As India joined the world in this exhilarating digital race, socio-economic trends, driving and being driven by the Internet, favoured India too. The launch of business-friendly connectivity for Indian businesses enabled more products to reach the masses at lower prices.
Better infrastructure connected the Indian cities with smaller towns and local economies with global trends, creating new jobs for a young India. The internet became the town square for the global village, spurring the Indian economy. Corporate customers maximised relationships with sophisticated software-driven customer relationship management system. This, in many ways, paved the way for India rapidly becoming an important provider of technology and IT-enabled services.
But how can we truly measure how far we have come?
A comparative analysis of the Nifty 50 sector composition in 1995 vs present day serves as a good metaphor to view this transformation in the economy. The weight of the stocks from the financial services sector has grown from 18.2% in 1995 to 33% today, fuelled by the emergence of online banking, and more recently, mobile services.
The largest private-sector employer in the country, the IT sector, was not represented at the time of the internet's inception but today it represents 16% of the index weightage. It was in fact the year 1995-1996 when the Indian IT industry came to the fore.
Indian IT firms lifted the Indian industry and the economy into global view, expanding faster than any other industry through the decade. From email to web-based services to web-enabled services based on big data, cloud services, mobility solutions, etc. all these innovations have transformed the nature and value of enterprises across the country.
Now with industry 4.0, we are in motion for another great leap, strengthening digital transformation and new age technologies with a digital-first persona. Virtual agents, autonomous cars, and augmented reality mirroring real-life experiences spell the way forward for reimagining businesses.
As we look forward to the next 25 years, internet-led services will continue to catalyse sectors at a faster rate, driving innovation, simplifying customer acquisition, and improving the customer experience. Increased adoption of smart networks and the integration of advanced technologies such as IoT, AI, cloud, and cognitive computing will drive a huge push to the manufacturing, retail, and healthcare sectors.
As technology drives more immersive experiences, the media industry and online gaming will only go from strength to strength, while aviation will bounce back to ride the skies again, with far higher levels of personalisation than we experience today.
Taking our heritage forward
August 15th, 1995 is a landmark event in our history and serves as a valuable example of the sustained investment and commitment to building the digital foundations of India. This spirit continues and is evident in the way essential service providers have come together through the COVID-19 period.
We must take time to recognise the silent heroes, the guardians of the internet, who come in the form of on-ground workers, risking their lives through the pandemic, ensuring this essential service remains uninterrupted for hospitals, home networks, enterprise networks and for civic governance.
The launch of the public internet in India by VSNL in 1995, is our rich heritage - one that we continue to build on, making the internet fit for business through continuous innovation and transformation.
(The author is MD & CEO, Tata Communications)
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