Pandemic Disruption ensured fast transformation with Digitalization

“The IT sector has grown exponentially in the last two decades, providing close to 4.5 million direct and 10 million indirect jobs within the country. As per estimates, the sector’s revenue is currently at about $194 billion which is expected to reach $350 billion by 2025, creating many more jobs in the process. Even in the middle of the pandemic, leading companies in this sector continue hiring in large numbers across experience and job levels. Overall, the sector is expected to witness a 12% increase in hiring this year ”, asserted Jyoti Arora, Special Secretary and Financial Advisor, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy), Government of India in conversation with Poulami Chakraborty of BW Businessworld. Excerpts Below:

In the times of Covid, Digital Technology has been acknowledged widely and vividly across the general masses. How do you observe the transformation of IT sector across domains of operations?

We have witnessed a tremendous shift towards the adoption of digital technologies across sectors, over the last five years. Several initiatives have been the backbone of such widespread adoption, such as Aadhaar, mobile penetration, public digital platforms such as UPI, Jan Dhan accounts, DBT, GeM, GSTN and Ayushman Bharat, amongst others. One of the other key factors that has enabled this widespread adoption is capacity-building across sections of society. 

The Indian IT sector has always maintained resilience and the disruption brought about by the pandemic has only fast-tracked the adoption of digital technologies across all sectors and business functions – be it healthcare, logistics and supply chain, financial services, education, manufacturing, e-commerce etc. Digital technologies and platforms have been a Coid response strategy from central government’ and also for the recovery of economic activities across various sectors.

The impact of the sudden lockdown reduced the reliance on physical service delivery channels and gave a boost to the IT sector. This accelerated transformation would be driven by the investments being made across multiple areas including hardware manufacturing in the country, artificial intelligence, developments in language technology, cloud adoption, IoT etc. All of these, together have the potential to create economic value worth $1 trillion in next 4-5 years.

What special measures are been taken by MeitY to push the domestic IT and electronics manufacturing?

Over the years, MeitY has taken a lot of initiatives to make India a global electronics hub. In the five years upto FY20, the domestic production of electronic items has grown at an impressive CAGR of 23%. Between 2012 and 2019, India has almost tripled its share in global electronics manufacturing. 

Schemes like M-SIPS (Modified Special Intensive Package Scheme) have been successful in pushing the spirit of ‘Make in India’ to propel electronics manufacturing. India being the second largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world is testament to our efforts. In the midst of the pandemic, MeitY has last year introduced three new schemes to boost the domestic electronics manufacturing sector viz. PLI (Production Linked Incentives Scheme), SPECES (Scheme for Promotion of Electronic Components and Semiconductors) and Modified Electronics Manufacturing Clusters 2.0. under the National Electronics Policy 2019 with a total budget outlay of Rs. 55,000 Crores to be spent in the next five years. The overall impact of these new schemes will be an increase in domestic value addition, creation of country champions for electronics manufacturing and incremental manufacturing of Rs.15 lakh crore and exports of Rs.10 lakh crore, along with employment to more than 10 lakh people in electronics manufacturing sector over next 5 years. We are also incentivizing the setting up of Semiconductor FAB and GaN FAB units within the country.

The COVID 19 Pandemic has changed the concept of IT for healthcare in a massive way. What is your observation about the transformation of the healthcare sector with IT in the past one year? What predictions do you hold about the roadmap for IT for healthcare in the coming days?

The health-tech industry in the country has witnessed unprecedented growth in the last few years, with both start-ups and established healthcare entities augmenting their operational capabilities through the use of AI, ML, image processing, 3D printing, robotics, IoT, and other such technologies. We are already one of the largest markets for health and fitness wearable’s in the world. 

The past year has seen not the only the private sector but also the governments at central as well as state levels invest heavily in digital health technologies. The National Digital Health Blueprint provides the backbone framework to enable an efficient and affordable healthcare ecosystem in the country.

The pandemic has further necessitated the need for a fundamental shift in the approach towards healthcare administration in the country. I see digital health as one of the most dominant trends in the Indian market in the times to come, across various functions including health infrastructure planning, intelligent diagnostics, disease surveillance through smart medical devices, tele-consultations and telemedicine, personal electronic health records management, amongst others. I also see a growing role of start-ups in the healthcare technology space, which can ride on the digital health backbone being proposed by the National Digital Health Mission. 

What has been the key focus for MeitY while deciding its budget?

Our vision of Digital India is based on harnessing digital technologies to create an inclusive, strong, secure and sustainable digital economy. This is based on five strategic areas viz.

  • Digital Services – improving public service delivery leveraging public digital platforms; 
  • Digital Inclusion - technology enabled equitable access to opportunities; 
  • Digital Infrastructure - creating robust next generation network, cloud and access infrastructure;
  • Digital Confidence - ensuring transparency, trust and security of the digital ecosystem, and; 
  • Digital Economy - technology driven sustainable economic growth of the country.

MeitY, in its budget is focusing on enabling these five strategic areas, through targeted interventions, towards consolidating India’s position as a digital powerhouse, for which strategic partnerships with the private sector shall play a crucial role. We are already providing support through various modes including investments in product development, research and innovation, establishment of CoEs for various emerging technologies, promotion of electronics manufacturing in the country, investments in infrastructure backbone such as data centers and cyber security, setting-up of public digital platforms etc. 

The budgetary allocation also focusses on specific areas for capacity building and manpower development, skill development, digital inclusion, enhanced service delivery through CSCs, creation of a National Knowledge Network, enabling the digital payments ecosystem, incentives for electronics manufacturing and software product development, cyber security and also for implementing various digital programs through various technical organizations of MeitY like National Informatics Centre (NIC), CDAC, CMET, UIDAI and NeGD to rollout various e-governance initiatives in partnership with various Central and State Government Departments. 

MeitY was to come out with some data centre policies. What progress been made about the same? Would you elaborate the concept with us?

With 800 million plus internet subscribers, data consumption in India has grown significantly over the past few years. As per published statistics, mobile data consumption itself crossed 25,000 PB in the quarter ending December 2020. Indian Data Centre market has already seen tremendous growth in the past decade, riding on the explosion of data. I believe growth of a strong data center infrastructure within the boundaries of the country would form the bedrock of the growth of country’s digital economy. 

The draft data center policy has already been released by MeitY for public consultation. Over the last few months we have done multiple consultations with the industry as well as state governments and the final policy is now ready. 

The intent of this policy is to provide a robust framework to create a conducive and collaborative regulatory and operational structure to fast track growth of the Indian data-centre industry. The policy aims to promote investments in the sector, encourage Indian start-ups and MSMEs in data center solutions, promote innovation and put India at the forefront of hyper scale computing. It intends to enable creation of large data center parks and hyper scale data centers in the country, ensure faster and hassle-free clearances for setting up of data center parks and give a fillip to use of green and sustainable sources of energy. This policy aims to address some of the existing challenges of the industry in order to accelerate the current pace of growth and propel India in the direction of becoming a global Data Centre hub.

Earlier last year PM Modi introduced the concept of Atma Nirbhar Bharat for a self–reliant goal for India? How is MeitY working to empower India to be self-reliant about its IT innovation and manufacturing standards?

Focus on high quality research and generating more patents and intellectual property are paramount to attain the goal of self-reliance. MeitY’s initiatives like National Supercomputing Mission, National Mission on Power Electronics and Technology, Natural Language Translation Mission, Microelectronics Development Initiatives, etc. have a common objective of ensuring India’s prominence in the high-tech sectors.

In addition to Centers of Excellence (CoEs) in emerging technologies like AI, Block chain, AR/VR, IoT, Geospatial technologies, Fintech, etc. we have also invested in CoEs in Nano-electronics, e-Waste, Silicon Photonics, Medi-Electronics, Additive Manufacturing as well as incubation centers for (Electronics System and Design Manufacturing (ESDM), electronics and fabless chips; emphasizing our intent to move up the value chain in high-tech manufacturing. MeitY is also working closely with Bureau of India Standards (BIS) to establish standards for manufacturing of electronics and technology products. There is also a constant endeavor to put research in Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) framework. Being an applied ministry MeitY also supports a program to productize the research to make it market ready.

India currently has close to 50 unicorns and we as a nation should be invested in the success of more such successful home-grown startups. Specific programs like MeitY Start-up Hub, TIDE and various other incubation programs are designed to encourage domestic entrepreneurs and innovators to develop indigenous solutions. MeitY also runs special schemes and programs for IPR facilitation and supporting international patent protection. MeitY’s IPR portfolio now consists of more than 65 granted patents, ~ 500 copyrights and 80+ registered trademarks. This is expected to expand significantly in the near future, giving a fillip to our vision of Atma-Nirbhar Bharat. 

What message or vision do you have for Indian youngsters when it comes to making them IT knowledgeable?

MeitY has a layered approach to ensure that the youth of this country are digitally skilled. At the grassroots level (Gram Panchayat Level), the PMGDISHA scheme has benefitted more than 3 crore and it targets to reach 6 crore beneficiaries soon. At the graduate level, we have setup electronics and ICT academies at premier institutes like IITs and NITs to train faculties on new age skills and more than 1.6 lakh candidates have been trained so far. At the postgraduate and doctoral level initiatives like Visvesvaraya scheme, designed to attract and retain talent within the country, have benefitted more than 1,200 PhD scholars and 150+ young faculty research fellows so far. 

There is also a lot of emphasis on providing vocational skills for improved employability. In this area we have been able to train close to 4 lakh candidates. We also actively collaborate with the industry for its sector skill councils in Electronics, Telecom and IT-ITES sectors. To make digital skills more inclusive, we run specific initiatives for the weaker sections of society like the EMDP and IT for Masses programs and specific programs for the North East region of the country. 

Close to 50% of India’s population is below the age of 25, indicating that a sizeable number of youngsters enter the workforce each year. As business models are becoming more technology driven, the jobs of the future would also require the work force to be equipped with new age skills. India’s high-quality IT talent pool is well acknowledged across the globe and it is important for us to remain a dominant player in this ecosystem. 

Is Indian IT sector generating enough jobs presently? Your views

IT sector has grown exponentially in the last two decades, providing close to 4.5 million direct and 10 million indirect jobs within the country. As per estimates, the sector’s revenue is currently at about $194 billion which is expected to reach $350 billion by 2025, creating many more jobs in the process. Even in the middle of the pandemic, leading companies in this sector continue hiring in large numbers across experience and job levels. Overall, the sector is expected to witness a 12% increase in hiring this year. 

At the same time, it is also important to take into account the surge in digitally enabled jobs across other sectors. The accelerated technology adoption and automation across sectors like BFSI, logistics, retail, education, healthcare, pharma, etc. is also creating a whole new group of digital and IT enabled jobs. As economic activities become more technology driven, there will be an ever-increasing demand for workforce with digital skills. As we transition to a true digital economy over the next few years, I strongly believe the IT sector will continue generating both direct and indirect jobs within the country.