The first phase of the technology revolution over the past few decades has touched the lives of the top of the global pyramid of consumers and enterprises. It is only in the past few years that technology has started making its way into the lives of businesses and families at the bottom of the pyramid in the emerging markets. Because of the lack of legacy and an inherent need, adoption of some technologies has turned out be extremely rapid. In India, about 300,000 computers are purchased every month, as compared to 2 million cellphones. Now imagine what would happen if computers were available at the price points of cellphones. We will then see annual computer sales at 12-15 million for many years to come, making India among the top three markets in the world. What does that mean for the global IT players for whom India has so far been a rounding off error in their revenues and profits? Emerging markets, by virtue of their large numbers, have the potential to be the hotbed for disruptive innovations. They are the new markets which can ignite growth at technology companies. But at the same time, they need solutions which need to be at different price-points from what the developed world has been paying. This is both a challenge and an opportunity.
The opportunity for emerging markets like India is to create solutions using the newest technologies to leapfrog the present infrastructure gaps. Emerging markets are where more than two-thirds of the world resides. They are the next 90% of the market. They are, in the words of CK Prahalad, the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. Technology today offers the building blocks to put solutions together which can help build out the digital infrastructure of these countries at a fraction of the price point of that in the developed markets.
India Action: Build the Emerging Market Tech Utility
Business Week wrote recently about how technological innovations are helping the poor in rural India: No laptop, however cheap or durable, can compensate for India’s lack of a nationwide power grid, or a comprehensive network of highways. But digital technology can deliver information — information the rural poor desperately need — about crop conditions, fertilizer prices, health care, and more. Reliable information can help India’s poor stretch their resources — to plant the right crops, deal with bureaucrats more effectively, operate on a level playing field with customers and merchants. The digital revolution in India is largely an information revolution.
What India needs to do is build out the equivalent of an tech utility which makes available commPuting as a utility to the masses across the country. A centralised platform that makes available computing as a service and accessible via thin clients over a high-speed broadband infrastructure, neighbourhood computing centres that provide access on a pay-per-use basis, a community-centric content platform which makes available local information and helps SMEs connect with each other, investments in education and healthcare to make sure they reach rural Indians these are the elements of the tech utility. India can use the technology trends to its advantage by looking ahead. By making things work in India, entrepreneurs can open up new opportunities for themselves in other emerging markets also.
The world of technology, like time, does not stand still. Innovation and change are the only constants. Indian organizations have the opportunity to leapfrog by simultaneously leveraging many of the new innovations that the technology industry is making available. The force of digitisation is at once a threat and an opportunity. The choice is for each one of us to make.
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