India’s Digital Transformation and the Role of Startups in that Journey

(This post is part of the Think Next thought leadership series)

When we think of digital platforms with over a billion active users, we would think of international companies like Facebook, Microsoft and few others. Very few would think of a platform much closer to us in India. Least bit one that has been created by the government. But as Nandan Nilekani, former chairman of UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) pointed out in his keynote address at Think Next 2016, AADHAR or Unique Identification Number (UID) is a clear sign that the process of digitalization in India is fast underway and its pace can be gauged by the fact that of all the universal platforms with over a billion users, UIDAI was the one which reached that figure in the shortest period of time.


Getting the Ball Rolling (Data enriched platform)

Today's government truly understands the impact digitization will have on India and the people of this country. They know, digitization will drive economics and also fuel innovation. With nearly 200 million smartphones users, 331 million internet users, 219.3 million bank accounts, and open authentication API platforms like UID with details of over 1 billion people, India is very much on its way to a digital economy. No wonder that the list of Indian Unicorns is led by market place and ecommerce Startups like Flipkart, Quikr, Snapdeal and Olacabs!

But it is not just the ecommerce that is driving India’s digitalization process. A whole range of startups, working in almost every sector, are contributing to the process of digital transformation. Be it healthcare, banking, insurance, travel, agriculture or even education, startups have become the platform on which various services are available which were earlier not within the reach of many citizens.

The government too, is creating opportunities for innovative startups to collaborate with established institutions and digitally solve local issues. With the number of smartphones expected to climb to 700 million by 2020, and access to one of the most data enriched platforms in existence, the potential for digital transformation in India is huge.

Driving Home the Advantage (The India Stack)

On the back of improved connectivity and internet penetration, startups are now building solutions that is helping the ecosystem create job opportunities while remaining lean and nimble themselves.  By 2020, India will have no less than 15000 tech startups. While they will themselves create jobs, these startups will create a collective ecosystem of digital mobilization of work force.

Not only that, startups are also working on enterprise level solutions that help bigger companies deliver better value to their customers and reach to newer markets. The rise of tier II cities’ participation in online purchase of goods, insurance and health services indicates that digitalization is not just touching niche and urban market but spreading to areas where the solutions are adding greater value. 

With Machine Learning, Bots technology, IoT coming in to picture, Startups have the opportunity to create digital channels which will grow the market so as to match the social goals. The open source architecture of platforms like India Stack will help in speeding up the process.

India Stack is a complete set of API for developers which includes data from the Aadhaar for Authentication API, e-KYC documents (safe deposit locker for issue, storage and use of documents), e-Sign (digital signature acceptable under the laws), unified payment interface (for financial transactions) and privacy-protected data sharing within the stack of API. This is like a master key for startups. Using these data, startups can create applications that will help provide better services in the banking, finance services and insurance (BFSI), education, healthcare sector, thereby accelerating the economic growth.

[also read: How Startups Can Energize Healthcare Sector]

Backing up the Growth (Microsoft enables scale for startups)

The problem that startups face is when it comes to delivering in scale across the country. This is where companies like Microsoft and our partners step in. At Think Next, Bhaskar Pramanik, Chairman, Microsoft India stated that to achieve the objective of digitally connecting the entire population to a single system, huge data centres will be needed. That will not only require scale, but data security and safety too will be of prime importance. Intelligent data centres, intelligent cloud system and security system being setup will help the government accelerate the process of digitalization and create the backbone for future smart cities. These systems will enable storing of huge data. But data is useless if not acted upon immediately. Startups working on intelligent cloud system that have machine learning and analytics capabilities, will be able to provide real time value and information. This will create a healthy ecosystem for IoT enabled devices to interact with Bots and create a completely digital experience.


[also read: How startups are changing the BFSI industry in India]

Playing the Part (Microsoft bringing it all together)

In last four years we have worked with various stakeholders to grow the startup ecosystem - almost 100 startups have graduated from our accelerator, and helped another 150 through our partners, building a robust portfolio; forged deep relationships with organisations like iSPIRT, Nasscom and various chapters of TiE, and with leading investors and thought leaders; helped corporates including Temasek, Reliance Industries and TCS to develop their own engagement models with entrepreneurs, and built a strong world-class Go-to-Market engine for the startups. Going forward, we hope to continue being the platform for these stakeholders to drive their innovation agenda, now powered by India Stack and achieve a larger goal of accelerating the economic growth of India, transforming it into a truly digitally empowered country.