Leveraging the digital revolution

November 8, 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

We live in an age where emerging technologies are narrowing the divide between humans and machines. As features of mobile phones become more customized and complex, they cease to be just devices of communication. Mobile phones now store more personal information than ever before. They are increasingly being perceived as personalized devices that enhance our lives.

We are also living in times when remote robotic surgeries and online classrooms are transforming healthcare and education in ways never imagined before. We are truly living in a digital age.

Look around. More than 50 percent of the world’s population is under the age of 30. There are 2.7 billion internet users globally and 87 percent of the world’s population has a mobile phone. According to new research, by the end of 2013, there will be more internet-enabled mobile devices than people in the world.

The strategic shifts in the digital ecosystem have opened up opportunities as well as challenges. Let’s look at what it has in store for key stakeholders.

For consumers, the digital world is all about connection, communication and convenience. Consumers are today connected to the ecosystem of buyers and suppliers. On the one hand, they are able to influence the product lifecycle by communicating their preferences directly to the supply side. On the other hand, they are communicating their feedback to the ecosystem of connected consumers. This is resulting in products and services not only becoming more personalized but also being deemed a success or a failure even before it hits the main street.

The convenience of doing this from the comfort of their homes and offices is changing mindsets and consumption patterns. Buoyed by the ‘convenience’ factor, online shopping, online banking and online education are gaining momentum. Globally, e-commerce sales for instance are expected to reach 1.2 trillion by 2013.

For enterprises operating in this digital world of changing consumers and consumption patterns, success will be dependent on their ability to sense, influence and fulfil tomorrow’s demand. Enterprises need to keep a firm view on the emerging future in order to mitigate its challenges while leveraging its opportunities. The rise of the digital consumer is one of the several global mega-trends that are presenting the next big opportunities for growth and innovation. Some trends that we need to watch closely are emerging economies, healthcare and sustainability.

However, to leverage the true potential of these opportunities, enterprises need to provide consumers with unique, seamless and personalized consumer experiences. The rise of online shopping platforms such as Flipkart, Jabong, Amazon and others is a clear indication of the power of unified consumer experiences. The fact that in 2012, Encyclopaedia Britannica pulled the plug on its print version after more than 200 years to give way to the digital version is another example.

For governments across the world and particularly in emerging economies like India, the digital revolution is providing new opportunities to enable, bridge and scale its inclusive growth agenda.  In India for instance, technology is playing a key role in enabling the government to bridge some developmental gaps. Technology-based unique identification platforms such as Aadhaar, for instance, are enabling the government to provide personalized citizen-welfare schemes and include marginalized sections of the society in the growth story. Initiatives such as filing taxes online and secure e-filing for services offered by the registrar of companies are bringing scale to the government’s efforts of enabling the growth of industries.

Complementing the government’s efforts are several initiatives from the private sector. For instance, Airtel Money allows its users to load cash on their mobile devices to pay utility bills and recharges, shop at merchant outlets and transact online. Airtel Money has a subscriber base of close to 10 million today. In a country where 60 percent of the population remains unbanked and only about 5 percent of 600,000 villages have a commercial bank branch, these mobile-based banking solutions play a critical role in banking the unbanked.

I see tremendous opportunities in the healthcare and education space where technology can play a similar role. There are several pockets of excellence and the need of the hour is for stakeholders to work together to bring scale to these efforts.

However, this unprecedented penetration of technology also brings with it a fair share of challenges. Be it concerns over data security or cyber threats, the digital revolution needs to be leveraged with caution. Several one-time investments are needed. For instance, any effort to provide centralized citizen services will need investments in large data centres to support the scale of transactions involved. Individuals, enterprises, societies and governments need to work together to leverage the potential of the digital revolution.

The digital revolution is here to stay. As we envision a world where future generations have equitable access to an acceptable standard of living, technology will play a critical role in enabling us to realize this vision.

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