India has long been able to offer innovative solutions to political, social and economic challenges. For example, amid some of the bloodiest independence struggles, Indian freedom fighters showed that non-violence (ahimsa) could deliver political freedom as well as widespread social reform.
Independent India’s model of local self-governance (in the form of the Panchayati Raj system) has encouraged economic democracy and stands out as a legislative innovation for achieving large-scale decentralization.
As India continues its march towards becoming one of the world’s largest economies, it has a new and even more important opportunity: democratizing its fast-paced economic growth and rising levels of wealth.
To capture that opportunity, Indian businesses and governments should adopt an approach that embraces three things: innovation, digitalization and customization.
Innovation is the growth engine of any economy. In recent years, India has left a distinctive mark on global innovation. The nation has swiftly ascended from jugaad (workarounds) to frugal innovation.
Over the last decade, an increasing number of Indian enterprises have gained an advantage over their competitors by launching affordable yet simple-to-use goods, services and technologies. But customers from a wide array of income groups are now demanding personalized experiences, anytime and anywhere. Moreover, an increasing number of international companies are also embracing frugal innovation.
To satisfy customers while also maintaining their global competitiveness, it is now imperative for Indian companies to up their innovation game. They can do this by profitably delivering high quality, affordable, contextualized experiences to customers.
Many companies lack the in-house expertise needed to deliver this “affordable excellence”. To compensate, they should create an open and flexible infrastructure that encourages and enables grassroots innovators and start-ups to share new business ideas with them.
Multinational corporations have already taken action. US retail giant Target, for example, has launched an accelerator programme in India, while Microsoft Ventures has started receiving applications for the sixth batch of its own accelerator programme in the country.
Governments and investors must do their part by ensuring that ideas from small but important innovators get captured and transformed into products and services that improve the daily life for as many Indians as possible.
Businesses and governments can use digitalization to drive innovation while also increasing incomes throughout the country.
Digitalization is not the same as digitization, which is about equipping employees with mobile devices. Digitalization takes place when employees use those devices to collect data and extract profitable insights from it.
Through digitalization, a resource is transformed into a new source of revenue. For example, the Connected Crop Solution for Smallholder Farmers, developed by Accenture Technology Labs, reveals how digitalization can drive innovation and simultaneously reduce income inequality.
The tool connects an agricultural company’s field agents with the specialist knowledge they need to be more effective. The agents use mobile devices to gather and record information from farmers, and offer advice at critical points in the growing cycle. The information gathered helps agro-input companies to further innovate and develop their products.
This also spreads prosperity into India’s hinterlands. How? With better advice, farmers can enhance their productivity. Moreover, agricultural-school graduates and young village workers can use the information to become trusted advisors to farmers, thus earning a decent living.
For governments, digitalization will play a central role in the affordable delivery of timely and impactful services, especially during emergencies. Consider the government of Andhra Pradesh, which began using digital technology to involve citizens in disaster management after Cyclone Hudhud struck.
Scores of people uploaded pictures of storm-damaged areas from their smartphones and shared them with state authorities. These pictures have been shared with the National Remote Sensing Centre for geo-tagging locations and put on a satellite map to enable authorities to swiftly identify the locations and evaluate the extent of damage. The programme helps authorities arrive at more accurate loss estimates and deploy more targeted support during and after emergencies.
Delivering digital customization is going to be the new business reality. Businesses and governments must come to terms with the fact that Indian citizens are becoming increasingly tech-savvy. As a result, consumer products and government services will have to be ever more intelligent and deployable in real time.
Companies will have to manage this not only for urban Indians but also for a burgeoning mass of rural consumers. Accenture research shows that of the 205 million internet users in India in 2013, 68 million live in the countryside. This rural base will likely grow swiftly, given that the cost of internet access is decreasing with more competition among mobile service providers.
Customization of digital channels, digital messaging and digital delivery of product and service experiences tailored to customers’ preferences is a new imperative. Companies that cannot provide such experiences will risk being rejected by their customers as “digi-bores”. To avoid this scenario, companies will need to rely on more than just internal sources of insight to brainstorm, develop and market profitable innovations.
For example, they could build a mass of brand ambassadors by harnessing the knowledge and skills of tech-savvy and social-media-friendly rural youth. This will even create employment opportunities for young people in remote areas.
Innovation, digitalization, customization – these three components will raise India’s growth rate and bring prosperity within reach for more and more citizens.
Companies that understand what each element of this approach involves, and how the three components work together, can help India take its next steps towards inclusive growth.
Authors: Mark Spelman is global managing director and Raghav Narsalay is India lead at Accenture Institute for High Performance.
Image: A broker monitors share prices while trading at a brokerage firm in Mumbai August 22, 2013. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui