A Tailwind For Digital Transformation
Forbes India|January 15, 2021
Across sectors in India, the Covid-19 crisis pushed businesses to embrace technology at a rate they wouldn’t have thought possible otherwise
HARICHANDAN ARAKALI
In November, the state government of Maharashtra launched a programme called Swadhyay to improve the online education of children around the state. The programme tapped WhatsApp to provide weekly assessments and learning activities to students in classes 1 to 10. Six weeks into the programme, some 1.1 million students in the state were using the service, according to ConveGenius, a Noida-based education tech-social enterprise.

Maharashtra tapped the expertise of ConveGenius and Leadership For Equity, an organisation working to bring positive change to education systems. A cloud services company, Cloudstrats, is helping the state put the programme on the internet. The programme is open to students of schools affiliated to the state education board and is run by the State Council for Education Research and Training.

Poor households even shared smartphones among themselves so that their children could access these tests and activities, said ConveGenius in a press release.

In such ways, ‘digital transformation’, a term commonly associated with large businesses looking to use technology to improve their operations, is slowly becoming a reality even in small-town India, driven by the sheer need for innovation during a global pandemic. Swadhyay is also an example of how grassroots initiatives in India are playing a role in transforming the country into a market for digital services that investors around the world are increasingly interested in.

“Covid-19 is really providing a tailwind for the segment. In the last six months a considerable amount of demand has been brought forward and broader use has emerged. The amount of progress in a short period of time is really stunning,” said Bob van Dijk, CEO of Naspers, in November, discussing the company’s performance in the six months ended September 30.

South Africa-based Naspers, a multi-billion dollar internet economy group with investments around the world, is a leading investor in ed-tech startups, including Byju’s in India. Helped by the pandemic, “Byju’s saw 180 percent growth in students on top of very high growth rates over the last few years,” van Dijk said at a conference on November 24.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced businesses and governments to embrace digital transformation with an enthusiasm they had never been able to summon before. From enabling remote working for hundreds of thousands of employees, in some companies, to increased automation of customer support with artificial intelligence (AI)-based bots, businesses and governments have adopted many digital technologies at a rate they never would have accepted earlier. Consulting doctors on the phone zoomed. Students enrolling for online classes surged. The smallest shop owners have taken to selling online and accepting payments through smartphones.

Years of adoption of digital technologies at pre-Covid rates have been compressed into days, a survey by the consultancy McKinsey has found. Many of those changes will be permanent, the survey’s respondents say. In combating the pandemic itself, technology companies are attempting to build ‘digital twins’ of the entire vaccine production process, allowing for rapid simulation of multiple scenarios, with the resulting data helping in accelerating the time to approvals and mass production. And new-age startups have built software to manage the entire supply chain of getting the vaccines out to the world.

In health care, a natural partnership arose with governments tapping even startups to help get the word out on Covid to the masses. For example, an early respondent was Yellow Messenger, a Bengaluru-based AI-based virtual assistant provider. In response to the pandemic, Yellow Messenger, in partnership with Facebook Messenger, was appointed by the National Health Authority of India to provide chatbots to several state governments, including Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan to assist with citizen engagement over WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

In the wake of the pandemic, technology that was only being used in the back-end is now at the forefront of this health crisis through tools like telemedicine, says Practo Technologies, in an email to Forbes India. This has encouraged countries to implement long-term telehealth tools and enhance the interoperability of electronic medical records.

There is greater acceptance and attention for digital health solutions during the coronavirus crisis and Practo expects that the trend will continue even after the pandemic. Doctors have never been more supportive of digital technologies than now, and patients are slowly getting used to telemedicine as an option of accessing health care. Practo’s telemedicine platform has witnessed a growth of 10x since March 1, the Bengaluru startup says.

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