Is India Closer to Creating World Class Technology Companies?
Technology is the buzz word today. People of all age groups swear by technology. Is it really anything new ? I do not think so. In every phase in human civilization, technology played a pivotal role. When a crude tool was invented by the humans in pre-historic times, that would have excited people’s wonder and curiosity. When fire was invented, people must have gone crazy with delight and wonder. That could be true for every discovery-from airplanes to forays into the outer space. Then how can the present beso different from the past? My only explanation to that is the swiftness of communication. Now, the mass communication has grown to such an extent that discovery in one place reaches another country separated by thousands of miles in a few seconds. Earlier, it used to take months and years together for a news to travel from one place to another. Now, it is only a matter of a second or two. That may be the differentiator now.
At the same time, I believe a sweeping generalization may be out of place. Some people say technology has occupied a central place in human behavior than ever before. One should not discard this view as just one opinion. It could be because of more people cutting across age and country profile started using technologies. That was possible on account of the fast disruptions that are taking place in the technology space. I often point out mobile phones as an example of disruption. If one looks at mobile technology and how it has transformed human life, it would be a saga of technological revolution isn’t it?
I like to pose this question: who holds the patent for mobile phones? Interestingly enough, the patent is with an Indian born-Sam Pitroda, who played an important role in India’s telecom revolution. He also holds patents for several first level electronic devices. Indeed, it is a lesser known fact. The precursor to the mobile phone was the electronic diary, the patent of which is registered in the name of Pitroda. To many Indians it was a great news when some media reported about this lesser known fact. Even then people did not believe that. When Pitroda himself tweeted, people started believing it.
While everyone is waiting for the formal launch of the high speed 5G, which can transform the digital space drastically, this lesser known fact should invigorate us to join the mobile bandwagon keeping our heads held high. This basic innovation or discovery by an Indian has totally changed the world.
I am a great fan of disruption. It gives the technology a human face and massification of its use. There is a distinct advantage for the hardware. It has an inclusive advantage; more direct than software. Happily, the software advantage is slowly penetrating into the grassroots. Even people in the remotest areas of India are getting on to the mode of an online culture. From ticket booking, applying for certificates from Panchayat, registering deaths and births and for a host of trivial things, people are glued to the online rather than visiting the respective offices.
One of the advantages of hardware is its power of disruption and impact it can have in human life. All facets of human life have benefited from disruption, such as health, education, judiciary, logistics, transport, and agriculture.It is interesting to see how health is getting benefited from the disruptions of digital technology. Tele-medicine, palliative care, diagnostics, surgery, treatment etc will be greatly impacted by the digital disruptions. Some of them are already there to see, particularly tele-medicine, which has been put to great use in some countries where medical help is inaccessible.
I feel that health will be the largest beneficiary in the next level of technology breakthrough. I foresee a situation a doctor sitting in Manhattan treating a patient in a remotest part of Africa or Asia through virtual media through an interactive process. The language barrier between the doctor and the patient will be bridged through simultaneous translations using artificial intelligence to make each other understandable and thereby building a bond between the two. It is not that one has to reinvent the wheel. The technology is there. What is important is to deploy the technology for mass scale application, across the continents.
I am emboldened to say that the people at the helm of global technology companies have realized the fact that money is not everything. Some of the statements that they have made recently are standing testimonies for their commitment to the society. Should these techies come together and pool their resources to commit to eradicate poverty, destitution, illiteracy and ill-health? That could be the greatest service they can extend to the society. I feel that such an eventuality is possible since most of the techie entrepreneurs are first generation industrialist and it is only brain power that has catapulted them to the exalted position and not familial lineage. They know the rigors of an ordinary person’s life.
Coming back to the core issue of this column on when India would create world class techie companies, I have a few opinions and views. The first view is that India can create a proliferation of techie entrepreneurs. I am emboldened to say so because India has produced hundreds of world class techie professionals heading giant corporations across the developed world. They are there mostly heading them or part of a core management team. But they are not known as entrepreneurs. Even those people like Sam Pitroda, who have a number of patents to their credit, have built the reputation as entrepreneurs when they had left the shore. Does it mean something is missing in our entrepreneurial ecosystem? I do not have an answer. We have to find an answer collectively not by indulging in blame game but introspecting on what we lack. Let not our startup culture remain as a rhetoric but an organized effort to galvanize our idea to create a new environment, where we respect and reward original ideas.
Last but not the least technology policy should occupy a central position in our planning process. That needs a lot of action and less of rhetoric for creating scientific temperament among the polity and to trigger their thought process to newer and unfettered visages and horizons. That is the challenge we face in creating thousands of Pitrodas and Narayana Murthys.