Pole-vault in the age of disruption – Nandan Nilekani at AIMA

Nandan Nilekani, Co-Founder, Infosys & the catalyst of digitisation in India, addressing AIMA’s 63rd Foundation Day 2019. Read Excerpts –

Nandan Nilekani addressing AIMA's 63rd Foundation Day.

Nandan Nilekani addressing AIMA’s 63rd Foundation Day.

I think the topic – Innovation in the age of disruption – is very important. We tend to think that innovation is about 23-year olds wearing hoodies doing things, but in some sense, the innovation in India is happening by everybody at all levels. Innovation can happen in the private sector, the public sector, whether you are young, whether you are old, it really doesn’t matter. It is really the mindset of bringing new ideas into play. Ideas are really what makes a difference, and if you are able to get your ideas and get them embedded in the system, then anything can happen.

Innovation can come from anyone whether they are incumbents, challengers, young or old, in the private sector or in government; and I think that’s the spirit in which we need to think of innovation in this age of disruption because clearly disruption is a given, the velocity of change is unprecedented. Technology and many things are causing velocity, that we have never seen before, the knowledge accumulation is happening at a phenomenal pace, more knowledge was created in the last six months then the previous thousands of years, we are seeing the rise of data in unprecedented ways, we’re seeing companies accumulate huge amounts of data, thanks to smartphones they are using more data and tomorrow as we sensorize the world as every device every car everything has a sensor, then the data is going to be even further bigger than what it is today.

We are seeing the rise of machine learning, AI, deep learning, which are enabling companies to use data to make all kinds of predictions and judgements, and this is pervasive, it is affecting all the industries, the famous venture capitalist and the inventor of the browser Marc Andreessen wrote a very prescient article in the Wall Street Journal a few years back saying Software Eats the World and his point was that as you have more sensorization and more data, everything becomes software, every industry ultimately becomes software. We saw that with the media industry, advertisement industry and e-commerce and initially we thought this is only limited to theory but today we are seeing every industry getting softwarized, a good example is the automotive industry, where simultaneously three transitions are happening: transition from internal combustion engines to electrical vehicles, transition from people driving cars to self-driving vehicles, and transition from owned cars to shared cars through the OLA and Uber. So suddenly, every industry is seeing a change , every industry is going through a massive disruption, but the good news is that anyone in the eco-system– be it an incumbent or challenger – with the right mindset, right abilities, right openness and the right curiosity to understand the power of these new technologies, can apply them to their own business and do great things.

I don’t think we need to feel that Disruption is only the province of a few people, but what is true, is that this whole thing is going to be a function of talent, its not a function of technology; the technology for doing these things, is widely available, for example in the space of AI, most of the algorithms are open source, all the major things are available off-shelves, they are free, you can just pick it up and apply it. So actually, the technology as a barrier has come down, it’s more about talent, take technology and apply it to a particular situation where you have a lot of data. So finally its going to boil down to the mindset of all of us, that we are willing to re-invent our business or personalities, we are going to re-invent, we are willing to cannibalize our own business, because often some of these transitions will require us to give up our existing revenue streams for future revenue streams, for our ability to go from low-volume-high-cost to high-volume-low-cost because we now need to start reaching a market of billion, and going from a capital model, where you sell things to a service model, where you sell transaction or services, that’s a mindset change. It also requires boldness to be willing to break your business and take it forward.

Combination of the mindset of leaders, willingness to take risks and try new things, and the talent available to make that happen is the key and the good news is that in India we do have the talent. Every day I come across great young people, who are willing to work very hard and know what’s happening, and if we can somehow marry the mindset of leaders in our industry with the talent and the technology we have; all that will become very easy to do, so I think we are really in a position to do enormous innovation and I believe that the future is very bright because we have the ability in India to deliver solutions at population scale for a billion people. To harness this technology, we have huge amount of capabilities in data, and in fact the government will probably be the first user of some of these things because today when you look at some of the big systems in India like GST system, it has 11 million businesses and every business, B2B business is filing returns at an invoice level, that means there are billions of invoices and therefore government can use that database to detect fraud or figure-out how to give credit and all that is going to be dramatically enhanced.

So, I think India is in a unique spot where actually we have many of the instruments to apply innovation. I am very confident that rather than treating this disruption as a threat we have to think of it as an opportunity, the time has come for us to innovate and pole-vault in this age of disruption.

Watch the full video on AIMA youtube channel –

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