Article (June-2018)


Digitization - A search for directions

Dr. Vinayshil Gautam

Designation : -   Internationally Acclaimed Management Expert. Chairman, DK International Foundation

Organization : -  


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The Indian world of work is buzzing with references to digitization. The crescendo picked up dramatically after the Prime Minister projected the virtues of digitization.
This is understandable because we are basically a compliant society and there are a lot of expectations of rewards by being on the right side of power. That being on the right side does not in any predictable manner assure rewards, is another matter altogether. Many things would come in the way including the sheer numbers of the compliant people. Further, being complaint on one aspect, to the neglect of others may not please the masters.
One thing that the approach of the ruling elite, however, does determine, is the allocation of resources. The ruling elite is bound to allocate generously for the causes it seeks to pursue. India is no exception. Thus it is that digital investments see an abundance of resources.
The missing links in the theorem are several. The lead up to action may require certain prerequisites which may not be available. Consider digital endeavours. For that, power is a necessity. It is true that the serving government has claimed that every Indian village is electrified. The qualifying attribute is there being an electricity pole in the village. How an electricity pole draws power and how much, not to forget, when, is another matter altogether. The characteristic television debates which followed this governmental claim were conspicuously missing on a reflection on the relationship between the electricity pole and how much power being available and at what time. Nothing to worry about, because, that is how these debates go. So the Nation drew strength that a major milestone on the developmental trajectory had been passed, as indeed it had been. The question of how much and when, has been raised in the preceding lines. It is equally important to ask to what use is this 'power'? If one bulb on an electricity pole comes alive for two hours, it is of course better than not having anything. But does it really help anyone? These are heretical questions open to political accusations and applaud. Typical of television debates, it generates more heat than light.
It is necessary to take the subject back to digitization. Any digitization process needs power. It also needs instruments. It needs machine maintenance facilities; it needs machine acclimatization and above all keyboard literacy. If there is any city in this country where a mall has all these requirements met under a roof it must be one of the better kept secrets. Hence it is that barring mandated transactions where they simply will not accept any other mode of transaction save digital, it hasn't picked up much. Similarly, glitches such as cards not working, cards being debited and no payment being shown has many of the faint hearted shying away from active use of digitization.
Nevertheless, talk of digitization remains fashionable and it is not uncommon for some banks to push the customers to seek their rewards, of say a competition, only through internet banking. To make an argument against it is like swimming against the water current.
Clearly, digitization is here to stay. It is not the case of this writer to debunk digitization or argue against it. It has its uses, say in supply chain management. Be it process planning, raw material procurement, product development and manufacturing, distribution, sales or marketing, digitization assists through a central control or link to create active interfaces amongst these elements. Costs can be reduced, products can be transferred quicker and then obviously, the business model changes. Value additive opportunities increase. Indeed digitization as a technological process also helps to reduce time to enhance revenues, expand market share and foray into unchartered territories. This is where the tribal world comes in. Once again, ever since the Prime Minister talked of Jan-Dhan, Govardhan, Van-Dhan, it has almost become a chant. Prima facie there may be nothing wrong with it because it is amongst the few things where this Government has tried to strengthen indigenous modes. Now there is attempt to standardise processes in these domains but perhaps it's too early to ask for even clear approaches. That notwithstanding, analysing consumer demands and predicting sales should be eminently possible. This would be particularly helpful in pre-literate communities, especially those in far flung rural areas or dealing with non-timber forest products.
The amazing thing is there is no major National Institute of Technology which is focussing on developing either these models or technologies. Under these circumstances, the slogans powerful as they are, run the danger of disappearing with the incumbent who coined it. To stabilise the variables, it would help to encourage active research in looking for solutions for the Indian industry not only in its urban manifestation, but also in its less fashionable but equally critical pre-literate communities and enclaves.
In many pockets of the world, the corporate is taking the lead in this direction. Several IT companies are working on electronic connects, cloud based storage and retrieval, often leaving the consumer hapless while all the time claiming that they give choices to the consumer. The present debates on aggregation of public data or right to privacy basically means a whole lot of learning and unlearning is taking place simultaneously. It may be true that our educational systems, in some of its significant parts, are revolving on a pivot of obsolete cycles.