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Assisted Digitization: Part 1

In my decades of experience in the Information Technology sector – as a practitioner,


observer and bystander at different stages of my career – l always have been fascinated by the
ingenuity of our entrepreneurs to build technology solutions that solve a variety of real world
problems.
Mechanization, Computerization and Automation have, over the years, enabled enterprises
and individuals to perform efficiently, thus facilitating them to extract a higher return on their
investment. In the present day and context, the new and emerging dynamic is Digitization.
This refers to the leveraging of digital technologies to increase efficiency, improve quality
and reduce human effort.
I’ll be elaborating on the impact of Digitization on various aspects of our life through a series
of articles. To begin with, I shall deal with the effects of Digitization on rural consumers in
this post.

Unequal impact: Where it all starts


Being the early adopters, large businesses and enterprises have been the first to embrace
digital technologies, and continue to extract manifold benefits from them. Technology
solution and service providers catering to this section have seen their businesses swell, riding
on the back of the industry’s rapid growth.
When it comes to end consumers, digital technologies have had a tremendous impact through
smart phone apps, ecommerce, digital market places and ubiquitous social media platforms
like Facebook and WhatsApp. These, individually or together, have fundamentally changed
the way people work, communicate, commute, buy, engage and entertain.
However, despite the apparent spread of digital devices, there are a few important segments
that remain relatively unaffected. One such is a class of consumers, a large and vital section
of the society, characterized by:
– People living in small towns or rural areas
– Lacking English literacy
– Cannot afford smart phones
– Experience severe limitations on bandwidth.
This segment constitutes a big business opportunity because of their large numbers and
constantly improving purchasing power.
Solution: Bridging the Divide
Though the aspirations of the urban and rural consumers appear to be the same, the execution
requirements are distinctly different. Non-metro consumers require a different messaging as
compared to communicating with tech-savvy consumers living in metros. Non-metro
consumers need assistance. It could be either an individual or a business entity that can help
them through the online process. The ecosystem for providing such assistance is now
possible, thanks to a series of digital solutions coming fortuitously together due to
interconnected developments. These include:
– New technology platforms that reduce time, cost and risk
– Deeper penetration of communication platforms and the Internet
– New business models that are built on charging for usage, thus keeping upfront costs low
– A vibrant start-up ecosystem, innovation and risk-taking culture
– Most importantly positive interventions by the Government.
Mr. Nandan Nilekani calls this opportunity as ‘Assisted Digitization’. It is rightly getting the
attention of think tanks like iSpirt (Indian software product industry round table), venture
capitalists and fin-tech start-ups.

Huge Opportunities: Tailored Solutions


Assisted Digitization is practical due to the massively outsized technological breakthrough
called ‘India Stack’ spearheaded by iSpirt. India Stack is a set of Application Programming
Interfaces (APIs) that allows governments, businesses, startups and developers utilize the
unique digital infrastructure to solve India’s difficult problems through omni-present,
paperless, and cashless service delivery. It is open, free and comes with a user-friendly
interface. India Stack allows development of technology for Assisted Digitization to be
simple, implement rapidly, at less cost and low risk.
So far as the non-metro consumers are concerned, they expect assistance from a local and
familiar entity that enjoys their trust. The assistance has to be face to face and in the local
language with a local context. Such consumers expect assistance in product selection,
placement of orders, receipt of products, collection of money, post-sale support etc.
The Success of a Start-up: StoreKing
StoreKing deserves a special mention here. Sridhar Gundaiah, Founder & CEO of Store King
understood the expectations of rural consumers. Coming from a rural background, he knew
the real pain points of technology and built a company to address them. The consumers also
expect to be insulated from using online devices and applications, payment through
credit/debit cards, an address to receive the product ordered and initial support to use the
product etc.
Sridhar identified neighborhood rural retailers or kirana shops to be the assistance providers
as they form part of the rural environment. In effect, Sridhar made these retailers into an
online super market offering a host products and services to rural consumers hitherto shut out
due to physical barriers.
The key to the success of StoreKing is a process to identify local kirana shops, train them to
be assistance providers, support them with right set of products and make them local interface
to StoreKing. Today StoreKing has over 30,000 outlets and has plans for scaling
aggressively.

The Data Treasure


Another interesting aspect of Assisted Digitization is business model innovation. The
companies that offer Assisted Digitization have access to troves of data emerging from
millions of transactions conducted. For example, data can be gathered on products sold,
pricing variations, buying behavior, demographics, brand loyalties, etc. The data patterns
offer tremendous insights that can be leveraged by brand owners and distribution
intermediaries to predict demand, identify aspirations, plan production and come up with
attractive marketing propositions. There are ample opportunities to monetize data from rural
markets which remained impregnable to marketers until now.

Digital India Initiative of Government of India


The single prime factor that is driving the digital transformation, besides technology, is
Government of India’s initiatives for Digital India comprising Aadhaar, JanDhan and Mobile.
By promoting innovative programs like BHIM and Aadhaar, Government is creating an
environment that is inclusive and efficient.
In Conclusion
The rapid and overwhelming advances in digital technologies will soon reach hitherto
underserved market segments like rural or non-metro consumers through Assisted
Digitization. This trend will open up huge business opportunities for start-ups and enterprises
alike.
In the next article, I shall dwell on how Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are
leveraging Assisted Digitization.