Digital technology can help minimise the coronavirus impact on economy: here's how

Written By: Priyanka Deo
Delhi Published: Apr 28, 2020, 03:37 PM(IST)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs the 4th interaction with Chief Ministers of all states and Union territories through video conferencing in New Delhi during the extended nationwide lockdown imposed to mitigate the spread of coronavirus; on Apr 27, 2020. Photograph:( IANS )

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The national lockdown has brought new digital ecosystems and business models to the forefront within days and weeks.

As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in India and across the world, economies are taking a hard punch to the gut. The world economy is falling into recession. India’s healthcare sector, in particular, is getting overwhelmed in the process.  As disparaging as this is, the pandemic does present a unique opportunity for India. The lockdown has demonstrated one thing: digital technology can quickly connect the country together. But can expanding our digital activity significantly help the economy?   

Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared his thoughts on COVID-19 on LinkedIn to young working professionals and students. He stated that “The workplace is getting Digital First…[and that] India, a youthful nation known for its innovative zeal can take the lead in providing a new work culture.” The Prime Minister also invited young people to take part in the workforce. 

The impacts of COVID-19 are not going to disappear after the lockdown ends. The economy will take some time to recover. However, the pandemic does give a wide-open opportunity for digital players. Even before coronavirus, India’s digital space was already surging exponentially. In fact, India is digitising faster than most countries in the world. With a whopping 560 million internet subscribers as of 2018, the nation is one of the largest growing and fastest markets for digital consumers. The exponential rise in smartphone usage over the past six years has resulted in 1.2 billion mobile phone subscriptions and over 12 billion apps downloaded in 2018. The best part? There is room to grow; only about 40 per cent of the population has an internet subscription. 

Moreover, the Modi government’s implementation of the Aadhar scheme has provided over 1.2 billion citizens with a digital identity and the GST has brought well over 10 million MSMEs, businesses and firms onto a common, transparent digital platform. The national lockdown has brought new digital ecosystems and business models to the forefront within days and weeks. These new models can be seen across multiple sectors including healthcare, retail and agriculture. 

Job opportunities can now be seen in formalising these new business models, as well as, in digital solutions for banking, insurance, transportation of goods and healthcare. Government portals are now aggressively working towards going truly digital which will further open up the job market. For instance, the government is currently finding ways for making it easier to incorporate rural and tribal products into e-commerce platforms. Creating digital platforms for teleconsultations for patients is another example that is already boosting the Indian healthcare sector. Digital solutions for mapping out the most efficient directions for cargo transportation; especially for perishable items; are the need of the hour. 

The real question is if going digital will help minimise the hit to the Indian economy caused by COVID-19. The answer is an objective yes. All sectors have the ability to get tech-enabled. Firms that are able to adapt to digital will be serving a market of 700 million smartphone users and approximately 800 million internet users by 2023. If they do, significant economic value will be added.  

Going digital will double the nine core sectors by 2025. These core sectors alone have the potential to contribute up to $150 billion in economic value. Furthermore, if non-core sectors (ie. retail) can go digital, they can not only add value to the GDP but also create significant employment and skills development opportunities. With cross-sector digitisation, digitisation India can look at potential value adds; for instance, $130 billion for electronics manufacturing, $250 billion for IT-BPM and an overall total of up to $435 billion by 2025. That’s about 10 per cent of India’s GDP.

 Additionally, going digital calls for policy adaptations. For instance, new digital platforms will require more ease and redefined rules in things like founding start-ups and hiring digital age employees. More women will enter the workforce; in particular, those that are currently unable to work due to logistical, safety and/or other reasons.  

Citizens need to accept the idea of a digital economy. Going ‘COVIDigital’ is the new normal. The time to act is now. Youth must take lead on the discourse for innovation and using technology for solutions. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has jolted India in multiple ways. We are still in lockdown. But in an adverse situation always comes opportunities. The coronavirus crisis has proven that our government and citizens are capable of unified action at large scale. Going 'COVIDigital' will not only significantly bolster the immediate economy, but also establish the groundwork for a smart, tech-enabled and solution-based long-term growth. 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Priyanka Deo

Priyanka Deo holds masters' degrees from Harvard University, the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Southern California

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