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For all the repercussions that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause, its influence on digital penetration into the nation’s hinterland cannot be denied. Digitisation has been gathering force for a few years now, but the pandemic made it an essential rite of passage for businesses and consumers looking to adopt the new/next normal. Alternately, it can also be said that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital adoption has accelerated by several years.
In India, the inertia of holding on to a cash-based economy came to a grinding halt during the lockdown of 2020. Businesses saw digitisation as the only way to reach out to customers, while customers had to switch to digitised platforms en masse to consume while maintaining safety. The government, on its part, was always keen on a digital India and saw its fruition during the pandemic and in subsequent days. We look at how the popularity of contactless technologies has facilitated digital adoption in India.
Measures were introduced early into the pandemic which combined global positioning systems, AI and data analytics to collect and disburse healthcare-related information. Smartphones were provided to Anganwadi workers to cater to their local population and decentralise the use of technology. The Jan Dhan Yojana, the key to the disbursal of e-governance benefits, also received improved response during the pandemic. 4 crore new accounts were registered during FY 21, as the total deposit rose by Rs 20,000 crores despite the decrease in earnings and job losses owing to the pandemic.
Technology was used by people in innovative ways. Whether it was bridging the gap between loved ones separated by closed borders, or making hospital visits safe through video calls, technology made these tough times slightly easier. Technology was also used to manage service and safety in containment zones, enlisting unskilled labourers like hand cart and rickshaw pullers for local supplies, and increasing active users among unorganised street vendors. It also helped in monitoring and disinfecting localities or even managing the demand and supply of essentials and medical items.
Aggregator apps brought the local grocery store closer to home-stuck citizens through the tech-aided ordering and delivery solutions. 69% of Indian workers expressed high confidence towards the adoption of new technologies, according to a PwC survey. The need for digital skills has increased due to the pandemic, something that was asserted by 90% of respondents in a SalesForce and YouGov study. Many digital skillset requirements are coming in from non-IT companies that have gone digital due to the pandemic. It was also a wake-up call for companies that were underinvesting in digitisation, as the pandemic proved that technology was crucial for competitive advantage.
Digital adoption by small businesses is bound to expand their reach and speed of service. For example, women artisans in rural Gujarat benefited from digital training imparted by an NGO named SEWA. Through WhatsApp groups, social media presence and cashless payment acceptance, these artisans were able to cope with the lockdown effect on their traditional business model. Pandemic was not easy for most small businesses. However, 54% of small businesses who opted for digitisation noted cost reduction, while 51% admitted to having gained a competitive advantage (survey by Dun & Bradstreet). These benefits can cancel out the negative impacts of the pandemic through long-term growth.
Education never stops, and digitisation made sure that students continue with theirs despite the lockdown. Online meeting tools came out of MNC meeting rooms and connected teachers and students in many schools. The government introduced DIKSHA, a digital content platform for school education. It provides open access to NCERT, CBSE and National Institute of Open Schooling, and is available as a mobile app also. It also facilitates training in coding at the middle school level, thus promoting digital adoption at an elementary level.
The softer aspects of digital adoption cannot be overlooked as well. Technology was widely used to support, inform and protect people during the pandemic in the form of apps and online services. There was a 30% spike in data consumption in India by the middle of 2020. Internet penetration facilitated people’s needs for content streaming, video calling, gaming and official needs. To ensure last-mile connectivity, Google committed an investment of $10 billion in the next five to seven years. Similarly, Reliance Jio opened up for fresh funding to invest in their drive for a digital India. Thus, digitisation and technology also addressed the aspirational and lifestyle needs in India.
It's safe to say that the pandemic reiterated the need for a more digitised ecosystem in the country. The government, corporates, and individuals responded to it with their promptness towards digital adoption. From government policies to the strategic digital transformation of businesses, and from digital consumer patterns to the hyper-personalised and connected customer experiences, the acceleration in India’s digital reset has been obvious since the COVID-19 outbreak.
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