The pace of technology disruption has reached a crescendo in 2018. Society, in general, and industry and government, in particular, are spiritedly embracing digital technologies. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of things (IoT), augmented reality, virtual reality, machine learning (ML), big data analytics, robotic process automation, and 3D Printing are increasingly becoming mainstream, cutting across industries.
For instance, blockchain was originally thought to be an application in financial services and retail. It has now found its way into agriculture, healthcare, governance, logistics, etc. These technologies are providing numerous new opportunities for large enterprises as much as they are aiding the start-ups in developing new products and service lines, improving efficiency, productivity, and competence levels, giving thrust to the economic growth of the country while simultaneously bringing about social equality.
While opening up an abundance of new opportunities, these technology disruptions are presenting a formidable challenge to the $167 billion (2017-18 revenue) strong Indian information technology (IT) industry, which is employing about four million professionals. Today, upskilling and reskilling of over 50% of the industry workforce has become an indispensable obligation for the IT-ITeS industry. Also, students and fresh graduates need to be skilled in these new technologies. As a major step to mitigate this challenge, in February this year, Nasscom launched “Future Skills,” an AI-enabled learning platform to get India accelerated on the journey to building skills. The platform enables the discovery, continuous learning, and deep skilling in the emerging technologies with the ability to customise individual learning path for each professional based on their ambitions and their capabilities to learn.
The Union government has identified IT as one of the 12th champion services sectors earlier this year and initiated an action plan. It has also set up a Rs 5,000 crore fund for realising the potential of these champion services. As a part of the Union Budget 2018-19, it is heartening to see NITI Aayog setting up a national level programme on AI. This is a quite a forward-looking step to leverage this important technology in key sectors such as healthcare, education, agriculture, smart cities and infrastructure, and smart mobility and transportation.
In 2018, we also saw a major spurt in startups in India. India has retained its position as the third-largest startup base in the world with over 4,750 technology startups, with about 1,500 startups in 2018 alone, as reported by Nasscom. Startups are dynamic engines for employment generation and worldwide, startups create 60% of the new jobs. It is gratifying to see India embarking on this strategy and creating an enabling ecosystem for startups. In the context of India scaling up 30 positions in 2018 over its 2017 ranking of ease of doing business, it would be prudent to expect that the Indian startup ecosystem, especially the tech startups, would attract greater interest from investors across the world.
As we step into the new year, the future continues to look bright for the Indian IT-ITeS industry. The industry is anticipated to grow around 10% for several more years. Apparently, the talent requirements for the new opportunities are different from that of the past. To monetise the opportunity, we as a nation in general, and as IT industry in specific, have to make interventions in technology, talent, and ecosystem. Indian IT companies have to adopt these new technologies in a big way by skilling their employees and by taking risks in building products around these technologies.
To create growth momentum, the government of India has to create clusters around each of these disruptive technologies. The creation of Centres of Excellence (CoE) in big data, analytics, and AI is a good first step in this direction, but we need to populate these CoEs with domain experts to truly provide the right advice and consultancy to the industry. In 2019, we anticipate some interventions to promote the industry ecosystem with better infrastructure. It is imperative to have more incubators to fuel the startup ecosystem. On that count, every technology institution in the country should have an active incubator.
Talking about technology institutions, we anticipate a number of interventions from the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) in 2019 to improve the employability of talent being produced across the country. Revamping the pedagogy, encouraging learning using massive online open courseware (MOOCs), upgrading the quality of the existing faculty, improving the industry-academia connect, placing priority on emerging technologies at the undergrad level, etc. are some of the trends you will see in the short term. I believe 2019 will be challenging, yet with an abundance of opportunities on the horizon, it could be quite a gratifying one as well.
The author is the founder and executive chairman of Cyient, and former chairman of Nasscom.
Views are personal.