Why India has the perfect conditions to make the most of digital technology

School children in India gather around a computer

India is ready to exploit all that the latest technologies have to offer Image: Salesforce

Arundhati Bhattacharya
Chairperson and CEO, Salesforce India, Salesforce.com Inc.
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  • India is the fastest-growing economy in the world and this is fuelled by digital transformation.
  • Technology is perhaps the most important and opportune area where the public and private sectors can work together to upgrade every corner of India.
  • Combining a significant talent pool and a digitally motivated population with supportive government policies, strong academic institutions, lower costs of living and doing business and world-class research and innovation facilities, India has all the ingredients for success in the digital world.

India is the fastest-growing economy in the world, forecast to overtake Japan and Germany to become the world's third-largest economy by 2030. Like every nation in 2023, India faces headwinds, including a pullback in foreign venture capital funding. But India’s forecasts remain strong, thanks to a demand-driven consumer economy largely insulated from global challenges, such as inflation. This means that, while the world is in the grips of another complex year, we are uniquely placed for significant economic growth. We are on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation growth opportunity and digital transformation is an essential fuel for our engine.

Digital transformation is key to India's economic growth

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated India’s digital connectivity. Today, our internet population is nearly double the entire population of the United States. That’s over 627 million people. This rapidly expanding connectivity amongst consumers is one of the reasons why technology is transforming all aspects of daily life – everything from education to food delivery has gone online. In fact, every citizen now has a digital locker, a ‘Digital Yatra,’ which unifies many of our services and payment needs. Indians are on a big digital journey.

This growing consumer appetite for technology is already driving real economic growth here. But there’s more growth ahead. India’s digital economy is estimated to be worth $1 trillion in just two years.

At Salesforce, we’re witnessing this digital growth first-hand. India is a major talent and innovation hub for our global business. In recognition of this, we recently expanded our research, development and customer support Centre of Excellence in Hyderabad. Our ecosystem in India is flourishing, with more than two million developers and more users of Trailhead – our free online digital skills platform – than in any other market outside of the US.

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Opportunities for business

As well as having a global impact, digital transformation is driving growth for Indian businesses of all sizes. CEOs across the country tell me, daily, that digital transformation is fundamental to the future success of their companies. In the past, some pockets of Indian business – often large organisations with legacy systems and a cultural resistance to change – might have been slower to act. But they now see technological innovation as an imperative for survival. Operating in an economy where change is happening so quickly and where a predominantly younger population wants everything digitally and now, they’ve recognised the choice they must make – stay agile or become irrelevant.

The answer, those CEOs I speak to agree, is the 'cloud.' Across the world, cloud technologies have been proven to drive efficiencies, customer engagement and innovation. Research last year found that the adoption of the cloud across global Fortune 2000 companies could generate $3 trillion in global economic value by 2030. That is a huge growth opportunity for Indian businesses.

Salesforce provides some of India’s biggest brands with digital transformation solutions to help them deliver on their long-term growth objectives. Air India, for example, is elevating its customer experience through a combination of data, AI and the cloud.

Beyond business

Technology is a necessity for ensuring that a country as large as India can navigate the societal challenges of the future on every level. Our country is now home to one-fifth of the world’s population. Everything we do, by nature, is big.

Traditional bricks and mortar methods are, therefore, no longer the most effective way to serve our people. Technological solutions can maintain and upgrade healthcare provisions, reinvent traditional agricultural processes and improve the quality of education on a scale required to meaningfully reach our 600,000 villages – many of these in highly remote locations.

In other countries, innovation may be driven to a greater extent by private companies seeking growth. But in India, the catalyst is the public good as much as it is a business need. Technology is perhaps the most important and opportune area where the public and private sectors can continue to work together to upgrade every corner of our country quickly and impactfully.

We’re at a watershed moment for technology. Innovations, such as generative AI, could fundamentally change the way we work and live, with the potential to solve some of the biggest challenges in society. We don’t have a crystal ball, so cannot predict AI’s future. But what we do know is that this is a major moment. If we choose to use AI for the good of humanity, it could transform so many things – such as agriculture, education and health. Thinking about the societal challenges that face a country the size of India, that’s a significant opportunity.

Reports suggest that the Indian government is already working on integrating ChatGPT into the India Bhashini platform, for example, which aims to facilitate Indians with easy access to the internet and key digital services in their own language. This would further accelerate connectivity across the country. We must ensure the right guardrails are in place and it’s still early days, but the possibilities are exciting.

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Our talent sets us apart

Ultimately, I believe the key to India’s digital-first, economic opportunity is our people. We are a tech-savvy nation. We produce between 500,000 and 1 million engineers every year and a significant portion of our large population is young and digitally minded. It’s not just about young people, however. All Indians are open to digitisation. All Indians are comfortable with digital platforms and interested in the opportunities they deliver. Even my 94-year-old aunt is digitally switched on, choosing to read the news on a desktop every morning, instead of a traditional newspaper.

Combining a significant talent pool and a digitally motivated population with supportive government policies, strong academic institutions, lower costs of living and doing business and world-class research and innovation facilities, India has all the ingredients for success.

The door to major economic growth is ajar. This is India’s big moment – for our economy, our businesses and our society. I’m looking forward to being part of the journey.

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