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How Technology Has Leveled the Playing Field for India

India

The changes seen in India over the past decade and a half have been transformative, unrelenting and irrevocable. One can only attribute the speed at which the country has taken to technology for this.

True, India is still a poor third world country, where a large section of the population, especially those living in urban slums, does not have access to an indoor toilet, but here’s where it gets interesting, because they are more than likely to own cell phones.

There are 960 million mobile phone users in India, out of a population of 1.25 billion, and that number grows by the day. It is not unusual at all to see beggars and street vendors talking on cell phones in India. 220 million smartphones have been sold in India and the number is expected to reach 600 million by 2019 – such is the speed at which Indians are taking to the latest technologies.

Only as recently as 5 years ago, it was usual to find serpentine queues outside government offices in India, as people rushed to pay their electric or water bills. No longer. Today, all utility bills in India – telephone internet, electric, water bills – are paid online by credit or debit card or by ECS.

Another major issue in India was that the property records were unreliable and buying a house was often a risky affair. Today, all private property records registered with the government have been computerized and saved in large databases. Nobody needs to worry anymore about a property transaction in India.

Everybody knows that India is the world’s biggest democracy and that an Indian general election is a massive event – with over 800 million voters participating. What you probably didn’t know was that Indian elections are completely paperless – there are no paper ballots, votes are cast on electronic machines. The opportunities for mischief or manipulation are limited, if not non-existent.

Over 65% of India’s population is under the age of 35. Which means, India has one of the youngest populations in the world. And with such a young population jobs are a big priority. No, the employment situation in India is nowhere as good as it should be – a large number of young graduates are either unemployed or underemployed.

However, there has been a significant change in the hiring process. Job seekers no longer form queues outside employment exchanges or corporate offices, waiting patiently for their interviews. Today, job interviews are done by Skype or mobile after a preliminary online test, which candidates take from home. Documents are scanned and uploaded to the company’s website and appointment letter sent by email.

Social media is also quite massive in India.  India has over 125 million Facebook users, which is second only to the United States, over 25 million Twitter users and a massive 33 million LinkedIn users. Almost everybody you know in India is on the social media, which completely dominates the public discourse in India.  It is not unknown for the mainstream media to use the latest Twitter trends while deciding on the main stories for the day.

The media is another big part of the Indian success story. There are literally hundreds of news and entertainment channels in India. 70 percent of all households in the country (and 88 percent of urban households) have either cable TV or DTH (Direct-to-Home Digital TV) connection at home. This is massive, and similar to what one expects to see in a developed country. The TV news media in India is free, highly competitive and dominated by private broadcasters.

A major part of the credit should go to India’s software companies and the phenomenon of outsourcing, which has made India a force to reckon with. Almost all Fortune 500 companies have outsourced their backend to India.

Nandan Nilekani, the founder of the top Indian IT company, Infosys, explains what outsourcing means to India in Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, one of the best books ever written on globalization: “Outsourcing is just one dimension of a much more fundamental thing happening today in the world… the playing field is being leveled.”

Indeed. Technology has leveled the playing field for third world countries like India; however, there is still a long way to go as large parts of the country have still been left untouched by technology. What is clear though is that there is no question that technology in the most important driver of both economic growth and social development in a country like India.

 

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