There is a need to accelerate the pace of digital adoption among micro, small & medium enterprises (MSMEs) so that these small businesses are better equipped to face the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, said Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman, Bharti Enterprises.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos Agenda — the session was “Technology Cooperation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution” — Mittal asserted that MSME firms are the bedrock of distributed supply chains that are driving all types of industries in every part of the world. Digital adoption could greatly aid these companies in becoming future-ready.
No society, industry or country can survive without a very robust distributed supply chain, especially when the world is again rewriting the supply chain flows by moving large parts out of it from China, said Mittal. It is flowing into a very equitable basis in every society. “Look at the electronic industry, where a lot of small industries are coming up by supplying components to the big players. The automobile is a classic example where India has seen the mushrooming of a variety of small-medium enterprises that are fueling their supplies into larger players. The same is true for the food industry, kirana shops — the mom-and-pop shops in India. What we need to do is to make it a business case to accelerate their digital adoption,” said the chairman of Bharti Airtel.
He pitched the need to hasten the pace of digital adoption among small businesses. One encouraging trend, he said, is that there is a growing realisation about the win-win situation that digital adoption brings to all stakeholders in the business ecosystem. Many major firms, including his own, have already started addressing the pain points. This is being done to ensure that the MSMEs “have the right tools, they are on the cloud”, they have the training to participate in the digital new wave of the ecosystem, said Mittal.
Calling technology, a double-edged sword, the chairman of the telecom company said it becomes the duty of all stakeholders to minimise the negatives of digital connectivity and maximise its positive impact.
The session was moderated by Samir Saran, President of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). The other speakers in the panel were Hans Vestberg, Chairman and CEO of Verizon, and Paula Ingabire, Minister of ICT & Innovation, Rwanda.
The panellists deliberated on how technology stakeholders can work together to balance innovation and responsibility to maximise the potential of emerging technologies in addressing emerging global issues.
The technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have already led to transformative advances in all types of domains. However, according to Mittal, billions of people are still not on the internet because of two key reasons — coverage issues and lack of affordability.
Underlining that a strong digital infrastructure is needed for the entire globe, he stressed every stakeholder needs to come together for such a massive task, which would require huge investments. “If a country like India can provide very high-quality data per month at $3, there’s no reason why we can’t carry this through into Africa and marginalised parts of the world where affordability is an issue,” he added.
Verizon’s Vestberg said the pandemic has shown how important it is to be digitally connected. “We have probably leapfrogged five to seven years when it comes to digital transformation,” he said.
Being connected to the internet is now a human right, said the Verizon chief. “Being connected is actually a human right because that will actually create a much better world and a much equal world where everybody has the same chance,” he added.
Vestberg also chairs Edison Alliance that aims to close the global digital divide. The industry body, a group of some 45 multi-disciplined people, aims to change the life of one billion people by having affordable accessible digital inclusion focusing on education, healthcare and financial inclusion.
Ingabire, the minister from Rwanda, spoke about the challenges in tech adoption in emerging economies. “With so many technologies happening, the question is how do you create those agile governance frameworks, and regulations, in a way that you don’t stifle innovation but at the same time you are protecting the unintended consequences of the misuse of these technologies,” she added. Business Journal