As a nation, we have declared the intent to go digital. Great! Most of us are cognizant of the opportunity as seen in the events in recent history. For example, on November 8, 2016, India kicked in its demonetization policy, triggering an exponential growth in customers’ appetite for digital payments. Similarly, the recent Covid-19 pandemic has triggered customer interest for e-grocery - with companies, such as BigBasket or Grofers–and food delivery apps–such as Swiggy and Zomato. Even as adverse events catalyze the adoption of digital systems in India, changing behaviours, when forced to do so, may largely represent a reactive approach for most. Can we be more proactive?
Being proactive would mean that the nation sees a vision for a better life by assimilating digital technologies. Not surprisingly, the government of India has signaled its intent for rapid digitization of the country. As a result, various technology ecosystems have been championed, including the India stack and UPI, amongst others. The potential of such initiatives to transform society and the country is enormous. However, as a society and a country, how will we harness the potential?
The question is important to address. The answer will unify our efforts to capture opportunities and deal with adverse outcomes associated with digitization. Indeed, many such challenges are likely to arise. For example, with increased digitization, we may face cybersecurity-related threats, possible adverse effects on jobs, and other such challenges. So, how do we harness the potential? Three things are crucial– a) create a societal culture related to digitization, b) champion organizational digital transformation, and c) remove individual citizen barriers limiting them to leverage digital technologies.
First, the nation needs a societal culture underlining how we leverage digital technologies to change the way we work, play, educate, pray, and relate with others. Historically, most technologies–think about the wheel, fire, and steam engine–have transformed societal activities. Similarly, harnessing the transformative potential of digital technologies requires an evolved societal culture, one that would emerge through introspection and external debate. However, this introspection and debate may not be only about features of technology but has to focus on their effects on societal growth and evolution. That is, the social culture will underline norms, thoughts, and ways to leverage digital technologies–blockchain, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and many others, including those yet to develop–to enhance our work systems, democratize our societies, enhance our ability to learn, create better ways to pray or relax, and strengthen our social bonds, amongst others.
Second, each nation’s progress depends on how well it organizes. So, how do we leverage digital technologies to create new and transform old organizations? The short answer is by building digitally engendered organizational capabilities. Digital capabilities may make work processes more efficient and effective. For example, various food delivery companies are enabling people to order and consume groceries safely at the height of the pandemic because they have built digital capabilities for ordering and delivering. Similarly, many other organizations, such as Zydus Cadila, Tata Power, and many others are creating digital capabilities. What are the digital capabilities that create value and how should these be developed? These are the questions most organizations should be asking, if not already!
Third, a democratic society prioritizes its citizens’ aspirations. Digital technologies may meet many individual aspirations–such as, to access the best educational courses from across the world, to listen to the best music and news, to talk to their loved ones across geographies, and so on. However, many challenges limit an individual’s ability to realize their aspirations. First, individuals may not have an appreciation for or may feel anxious about the technology. Second, individuals may lack physical access to technology (e.g., smartphones). Third, many individuals lack the skills–say due to language barriers–to access technologies. Finally, many individuals struggle to use the technology appropriately, with fake news or hate speech on social media being examples of inappropriate use. Therefore, we need various citizen-centered learning programs, and other interventions, that enhance individual’s ability to realize their aspirations, giving them an equal opportunity for a prosperous life.
In summary, a three-pronged approach with the focus on building societal culture, championing organizational transformation, and fulfilling individual aspirations is crucial for creating a prosperous digital India.
(Prof. Pankaj Setia, Professor and Founding Chair of the Center for Digital Transformation at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad, India. Views are personal)