India is Innovating Faster than Before - and That’s Good News

India needs to radically rethink and modernize delivery of various public services to improve reach, scale, and quality. I believe this process, which began a decade ago, has gathered momentum in recent days. This, I believe, is the direct result of our innovation ecosystem maturing and scaling rapidly. Two news reports I recently read have reinforced my belief that not only has the pace of technology-led innovation has picked up across sectors in India, it has also become more broad-based.

The first report was on how Narayana Healthcare (founded by renowned cardiac surgeon Dr. Devi Shetty) has fitted 700 beds at its cardiac hospital in Bangalore with sensors. When connected to patients using these beds, these sensors can monitor vital parameters. Data such as each patient’s temperature, blood pressure, SPO2/oxygen levels, pulse rate, ECG, breathing etc. are regularly measured and transmitted to dedicated computers and smartphones. Nurses and doctors can monitor each patient’s health and take quick action as and when necessary.

The idea is not new, as many factories in India (and elsewhere) that have embraced “Industry 4.0” have already gone down a similar path. Real-time data from an array of sensors fitted to various machines on shop floors are securely streamed to devices so that supervisors and managers are instantly alerted to breakdowns, abnormal variations in energy consumption or sub-optimal performance in terms of productivity or quality.

What is perhaps new- or at least becoming more visible across India- is the ability to cross-pollinate ideas and best practices across industries and evolve innovative solutions that are powered by technology so that reliability is improved. Dr. Shetty has often spoken about the impending shortage of healthcare professionals in India, and the need to train youth for jobs as medical technicians, so that the load on doctors is reduced and more patients can get their attention for treatment instead of performing tasks such as conducting tests etc. Dr. Shetty also pointed out that with this new system, nurses will no longer need to awaken sleeping patients just to measure and record vital signs. When innovations like this are replicated across hospitals in India, the quality of care will improve- even in government hospitals. The initial investment too will come down as more companies offer such automated, real-time health monitoring solutions.

A second report that provides evidence in support of my view was on drone startups. Thanks to an expanding vista of applications (e-commerce delivery, telecom, energy, disaster management, defence etc.) and various government policies (PLI, Drone Shakti etc.), this sector is attracting significant investments. Reports suggest that the twelve months ending 30 June 2022 saw twice the number of VC deals related to drones as in the preceding twelve-month period. At an estimated US$87 Million, the quantum of investment too in the 1 July 2021- 30 June 2022 period was more than 3.6X the US$24 Million invested in the preceding year. Trends indicate that India will soon be home to a rapidly-growing vibrant drone industry.

As our world grapples with multiple threats including climate change, a reduced emphasis on traditional models of globalization and new geopolitical fault lines, new technologies in critical areas emerging rapidly. These technologies will soon alter societies and security paradigms. In such a milieu, no country can afford to remain dependent on foreign technology. India must ensure that we build a large, robust and sustainable base of domestic capabilities in areas such as AI/ML, robotics, drones, healthcare, high-tech manufacturing etc.

To keep up with the changes (including in laws, business models/strategies, hybrid working arrangements, war for talent etc.), professional services firms too need to evolve to up their game. Siloed capabilities and solution approaches that worked even five years ago are no longer enough- but that’s perhaps a topic for a future write-up.

India must ensure that we build a large, robust and sustainable base of domestic capabilities in areas such as AI/ML, robotics, drones, healthcare, high-tech manufacturing etc.