You are here
Home > Cover Story > Are we ready for the New Normal?

Are we ready for the New Normal?

New Normal
S.Ramadorai Author
Subramanian Ramadorai, CBE (born 6 October 1945) was the adviser to the Prime Minister of India in the national council on skill development, Government of India. He held the rank equivalent to an Indian Cabinet Minister. He is also the chairperson of the governing board of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Bharathidasan Institute of Management, chairman of Indian Institute of Information Technology, Guwahati and Tata Elxsi. Earlier, he was CEO and MD of Tata Consultancy Services from 1996 to 2009 & Vice – Chairman of Tata Consultancy Services till 6 October 2014[2] transforming TCS from a company with $400 million revenues and 6000 employees to one of the world’s largest software and services company with more than 200,000 employees working in 42 countries and revenues over US$20.0 billion.

Digital Transformation

The new normal – are we ready?

Covid-19 has accelerated digital adoption. Be it virtual board meetings, virtual classes, online grocery shopping, virtual doctors or even shopping online for cars – we have seen it all in the last few months. Organisations, whether traditional companies or startups, are reorienting their business models to be more digital as a direct result of the Covid-19 impact on changing consumer behaviours.

Digital transformation, digital disruption and the digital native are not new concepts. Recent years have seen the rapid evolution of technology in business, from the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain to chatbots, machine learning and virtual reality. Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated pre-existing trends, ushering in the arrival of a future we were already on track to realise. As per a recent Nasscom and McKinsey report, the world has leapfrogged on digital adoption by 3-5 years in the last nine months. Knowingly or unknowingly, we have started our journey on an adventurous path where we have reluctantly let go our old normal and settling for what seems to be a new normal.

The Future – pervasive connectivity

The next few years will witness another technology revolution, this time, driven by advancements in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. With a rapid increase in connected devices over the years which is expected to reach 1.0 trillion by 2025, technologies like IoT and Big Data Analytics will be deployed to improve the quality and productivity of life, society and industries. We shall witness connected cars, smart appliances and energy meters, smart homes, connected wearables, smart cities and connected healthcare, basically a connected life. Due to proliferation of smartphones and pervasive connectivity, provisioning public services through mobiles will empower citizens to access services through an Anywhere Anytime Anyhow paradigm and tremendously increase service outreach in different sectors, such as healthcare, education and skill development, clean energy, agriculture, etc.

Agriculture – Digital transformation

Healthcare – Computer aids, blockchain technology, targeting the diseased cell…

The healthcare sector is generating a lot of data. Doctors and software engineers have moved to computer aided diagnostic tools to guide the interpretation of data, where the physicians will still have the final say. The healthcare industry has now reached a point where the datasets are large enough, machine learning is sophisticated enough and the amount of investments being made on research is huge enough that it is increasingly evident health care will be disrupted by Artificial Intelligence.

Another important technological use in the health sector is blockchain technology which will be introduced to the electronic medical record industry. The blockchain will securely store health records and maintain a single version of the truth. Different medical organisations and individuals — like doctors, hospitals, labs and insurers –  can request permission to access a patient’s record from the blockchain. Patients will have more control over who sees their data, while healthcare providers can provide better patient care based on more accurate data thus drastically reducing the time required to access patient’s information, enhance system interoperability and improve data quality.

Health Care – Digital transformation

Mobility and digital technology platforms have the potential of allowing doctors to remotely treat patients in under-resourced areas efficiently and economically.  Pharmacogenomics will be another area of rapid growth. Targeting the diseased molecule or cell rather than all cells – will dominate drug development in the years ahead. Growth in this area is due to the positive feedback loop of next generation DNA sequencing. Diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart ailments and cancer are potentially reversible and this drives accelerated research and investments currently of targeted therapies.

Education and Skill Development – At home

In education and skilling, the current wave of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) brought in by Coursera, Edx, Khan Academy, SWAYAM, DIKSHA, e-PG Pathshala, etc., has brought education into the homes of people. It delivers simplified training for the masses and can morph into personalised modules which can take cognizance of the understanding and learning capability of the student and deliver modules accordingly. The trend has already begun. AI tutors will use this for personalised tutoring of students requiring remedial learning, thereby reducing the cost of collegiate education. AI-based methods for automatic grading of students, is getting popular. On similar lines, MOOCs can also be leveraged for vocational education by adding a curated set of content, catalogued and organised to teach vocational skills on an open platform. This can help provide the required impetus to the Skill India Mission, thereby helping the country realise the true potential of its demographic dividend at a rapid pace.

The future of work will arrive faster, along with its challenges—many of them potentially multiplied—such as income polarisation, worker vulnerability, more gig work and the need for workers to adapt to occupational transitions. This acceleration is the result not only of technological advances but also of new considerations for health, safety economies and labour markets.

Clean Energy – distributed production, storage…

A great shift in the energy consumption is on the horizon, thanks to advances in solar and wind power as well as in the ways to store it. The cost of production of carbon-free renewable source of energy per kilo-watt hour is on the decline and the storage and associated battery technologies have vastly improved. It is predicted that the production and storage of such renewable energy will become more distributed ‘behind the meter’ in businesses and homes. Such combined distributed generation and storage will be large enough to supply all sorts of services to the grid which will make the high capex based building of power plants and centralised storage capacity unnecessary or reduced significantly.

Agriculture: farms more like factories

Farms will be even more mechanised, automated and factory like than today. We could see robot tractors, robot harvesters and drones and satellites to monitor how a crop is doing. Much of the irrigation is likely to be through grid of pipes laid alongside rows of crops rather than sprinkler systems. Soil monitoring will control these pipes automatically. The consequence will be higher yield and higher income for the farmers and will help the planet of ten billion feed itself as the world population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. The need to use land and water efficiently to cater to this is a challenge that AI can help address. Precision Agriculture, as it is called, uses AI in a variety of areas, be it weed removal or pest monitoring and control or advisory tools. AI-powered advisory tools to keep a track and predict the right time for planting, irrigation and harvesting have also been deployed in India.

Towards Erasing Rich Poor Gap

The digital revolution will make services more tradable and will enable India to grow rapidly with a different growth model compared to other economies around the world. But the crisis is spreading those benefits unevenly and widening socio-economic inequalities, such as income and wealth inequality, digital divide and gender disparity which could become a blight on our development hopes and therefore, must be addressed urgently as we move towards the new normal.

The gap between the haves and the have-nots is now a deep chasm. A January 2020 study by Oxfam India suggests that India’s richest 1 per cent hold more than four-times the wealth held by 953 million people who make up for the bottom 70 per cent of the country’s population. The study added that India’s top 10 per cent of the population holds over 74 per cent of the total national wealth.  India is continuously focusing on equitable, inclusive growth and on bridging income inequalities. Adhering to the core values of inclusiveness, the Union government and the state governments have launched a number of schemes like Jan Dhan Yojana, Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN), Ujjwala, etc. Though the incidence of poverty has declined in India over the past five years, six out of 10 Indians still live on less than $3.20 per day. Given the prevalence of inequality both in terms of income and wealth, there is substantial scope for improvement for India in this aspect. Herein lies an opportunity for India to leverage its IT prowess to find solutions that democratise wealth flow, raise the living standards of the poorest and create a more equitable society.

Low Internet penetration

However, India’s digital divide remains high as more than 400 million people still have no access to the internet. Spatial divide is also huge, with the internet density in rural areas, where more than 60 per cent of the people live, is still low at 25 per cent compared to the internet density in urban areas (90 per cent). The digital divide between the urban and rural areas was evident most recently during the pandemic as schools couldn’t move to the virtual medium for teaching and learning activities due to lack of internet and smart devices with students or their family members to switch on to online classes. Gender digital divide is also huge within India, with far fewer women with access to mobile phones and internet services. Efforts are being taken by the government and private sector to bridge the digital divide in India. The Digital India campaign launched by the Government of India is trying to ensure that the government’s services are made available to citizens electronically by improved online infrastructure and by increasing Internet connectivity, making the country digitally empowered in the field of technology.

Steep fall in labour participation by women

India has one of the most significant opportunities to boost the economy by advancing gender equality. Unfortunately, India slipped four places on the Global Gender Gap Index 2020 released by the World Economic Forum – from 108 to 112, which benchmarks countries on their progress towards gender parity in four dimensions: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment.  Unsurprisingly, this coincides with an all-time low labour force participation amongst women in India. According to the data released by the World Bank in June 2020, India’s female labour force participation (FLFP) has witnessed a steady decline in the last two decades – From 30.3 per cent in 1990, India’s FLFP dropped to 20.3 per cent in 2020.  The already falling labour force participation of women in India has been hit further by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in widespread job losses across the board.

New grassroots systems…

While the Indian government is still trying to fix the country’s socio-economic problems in a top-down fashion, non-governmental organisations or NGOs and social entrepreneurs are taking things into their own hands and creating new grassroots systems for delivering public goods and services to local communities to augment government’s efforts. The private sector also has stepped up its efforts through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to bridge the socio-economic inequalities in the country.

the startup and digital india push

Entrepreneurs are essential to the future development of the country. Cultivating the spirit of innovation along with the skills which support entrepreneurship among our young population would prove to be a mission-critical endeavour going ahead if we are to deliver on the promises of food, clothing and shelter through employment in the future. Over the years, startups in India have evolved, matured and, most importantly, its age old talent for entrepreneurship has been unleashed like never before. New ideas are exploding into business models and investors are lining up to provide the requisite finance and mentoring, to take the startup to the next round of funding and higher valuations.

Rise of Indian IT companies, large talent pool, increased expendable income of Indian middle class and availability of capital have contributed to the growth of India’s startup ecosystem. More recently increased usage of smartphones, access to the internet and recent reforms to push digital finance have given further impetus. Also, there has been a significant push from the government through initiatives like Startup India and Digital India. The entrepreneurial spirit of young Indians and the startups they create will rewrite India’s economic road-map and will lead India’s march to $5 trillion GDP. However, only those startups that are willing to embrace the change and adapt proportionately will be able to thrive in the new normal era.

Technology is driving us at high speeds into a new age.  The pace of change is indeed quite astonishing and not entirely foreseen even by industry insiders. The technological revolution like all other revolutions before reflects man’s indomitable quest to explore what lies beyond, to invent new things with new technologies, to search for new knowledge. Our lives and the lives of our future generations rest on our collective wisdom to use these technologies wisely, for development of all rather than for a few, for peace rather than destruction, for preservation of the planet rather than extinction.

This site is using SEO Baclinks plugin created by Cocktail Family
S.Ramadorai
Subramanian Ramadorai, CBE (born 6 October 1945) was the adviser to the Prime Minister of India in the national council on skill development, Government of India. He held the rank equivalent to an Indian Cabinet Minister. He is also the chairperson of the governing board of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Bharathidasan Institute of Management, chairman of Indian Institute of Information Technology, Guwahati and Tata Elxsi. Earlier, he was CEO and MD of Tata Consultancy Services from 1996 to 2009 & Vice - Chairman of Tata Consultancy Services till 6 October 2014[2] transforming TCS from a company with $400 million revenues and 6000 employees to one of the world's largest software and services company with more than 200,000 employees working in 42 countries and revenues over US$20.0 billion.

Leave a Reply

Top