TheNFAPost Podcast

The world is going through a digital-first transformation and it is the fourth technology transition humanity is facing. In an interaction at InFinity Forum, Reliance Industries Limited Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani says that in this period digital becomes the way of life for all 7 billion people.

Now we are witnessing the fourth transition — from the Digital Revolution, where billions of people across the world use digital technology, to the DIGITAL FIRST REVOLUTION – where digital becomes the first way of life for all 7 billion people today. This will bring transformation that will connect all physical things. He also observes that the period brought transformation primarily because of the advent of real exponential growth in connectivity technologies, computing technologies and next-generation silicon chips.

1. The world has come a long way from the age of computerisation and basic connectivity through the Internet. Covid has accelerated digitisation of all aspects of business and life. Enterprises have learnt to work remotely and increased their use of tech, and people have learnt to consume everything digitally, even sectors like education, healthcare, and of course financial and work transactions. How do you view the world’s transition towards digitalisation? How is that set to impact the holistic development of India on the economic and social fronts?

Mukesh Ambani: Thank you Anjali, and it is good to see you virtually. My greetings to all in the InFinity Forum. Let me at the very outset thank the Government of India, International Financial Services Centre Authority, GIFT City and Bloomberg, for organising the “InFinity Forum” and giving Anjali and me this opportunity to chat.

I must specially thank and commend our visionary Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi for his inspiring leadership, which has made not only GIFT City, but the “InFinity Forum” possible. This forum is taking place virtually from the GIFT City, and the GIFT City will be a great place where Digital Technologies, Finance and enabling policy framework merge together to create unique opportunities for technological innovations and new-age start-ups.

These are breakthrough opportunities not only for India, but, I believe, for the entire world. Our Prime Minister thinks far ahead of his time. Long before FinTech became the buzzword around the globe, he not only conceptualised the Gujarat International Finance Tech-City or GIFT City, but also started work on its implementation. It has now become a reality.

So, congratulations to everybody in the GIFT City organisation, who has converted this vision into reality at the right time. Let me now answer your question. In my own lifetime, and I am now 63 years old, I have seen four technology transitions, each one more transformative than the previous one in the technology era.

The first was the transition from the mainframe computer to where computers were used only by a few people to where computers were being used by thousands of people. And this happened when I was a chemical engineering student, in college, in the 70s.

The second was the transition from this basic Computer Revolution – where there were client servers, mainframes that industry started using – to the ICT Revolution. This is when mobile phones and the Internet came into being as two separate developments. And all of us in recent times – some of us who are old understand the dotcom in the 90s, and we have witnessed that.

The third was a transition from mobile and computer, both converging into the Digital Revolution, when internet came into force. This is when mobile and the Internet got merged. As a result, the number of users grew exponentially, and everything became data-driven.

This has happened primarily because of the advent of real exponential growth in connectivity technologies, computing technologies; and we have next-generation silicon chips. So, five or six technologies are converging at the same time, which I think will transform the world, and what we will see in next 20 years is what we have not seen in last 100 years. This transformation is taking place as we speak, and I believe like any transformation, this transformation will take place across geographies and across social classes.

But since the speed of transition is so breath-taking, I have no doubt that we are on the verge of building a DIGITAL SOCIETY. And I believe like China led manufacturing, India will lead the digital society and become a global leader in its own right.

Let me explain what I mean by DIGITAL SOCIETY. Everything in the PHYSICAL WORLD, almost every activity in the HUMAN WORLD, can now be digitised, digitally enabled, digitally enriched, and digitally transformed. Anything and everything that can go digital is going digital at an exponential pace.

This dramatic transformation is enabling people to perform tasks digitally, which traditionally were only meant to be performed using physical infrastructure.

For example, holding meetings or shopping or watching a movie or making a vendor payment – all these activities ten years ago would have meant using physical infrastructure in different places. But today, we all do them from the convenience of our homes.

Even common people are now making financial transactions at the click of a button on their smartphones. But this is just the beginning of what is going to be even more incredible, even more exciting, and even more beneficial. This is because the world is going to be transformed by the ‘Digital First’ Revolution. The PHYSICAL WORLD will become subordinate to the DIGITAL WORLD.

Whatever product or service we desire is being first imagined and designed in the DIGITAL SPACE, and then created in the PHYSICAL SPACE. Whether you are building an airport or a township, whether you are manufacturing a car or something in consumer electronics, it is today possible to design it end-to-end first in the DIGITAL SPACE, test it as per all possible parameters, and then translate it into reality.

What it achieves in terms of project execution is unprecedented VELOCITY, QUALITY, RELIABILITY, EFFICIENCY, CUSTOMISATION, and CUSTOMER SATISFACTION. There will also be DRASTIC COST REDUCTION and DRASTIC REDUCTION IN WASTE RESOURCE OPPORTUINITY in the coming years.

Reduction in resource wastage is especially important because it will mean CARE FOR THE PLANET. CARE FOR THE PLANET is happening because of another related development. ENERGY SYSTEMS are also being digitised, data-driven and AI-enabled.

The transition to Energy Saving, Decarbonisation and CLEAN AND GREEN ENERGY is happening at an astonishing pace. We will therefore be seeing something unbelievable in the near future.

There will be tremendous VALUE CREATION IN THE VIRTUAL WORLD, JUST AS THERE IS VALUE CREATION IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD. For example, people will begin to buy, sell and use VIRTUAL REAL ESTATE. Ideas and innovations will become more valuable than how much physical and financial capital an entrepreneur has.

Therefore, the coming DIGITAL FIRST REVOLUTION is going to make our world — and make India — more INCLUSIVELY PROSPEROUS than we can now imagine.

I can say with absolute confidence that the DIGITAL FIRST WORLD will be a MORE EQUAL WORLD, without the traditional and unacceptable disparities and deprivations we see in our societies at present.

The DIGITAL FIRST WORLD will be a PEOPLE-FIRST WORLD. NO ONE WILL BE LAST, and NO HUMAN BEING WILL BE LEFT BEHIND.
The DIGITAL FIRST WORLD will also be a PLANET-FIRST WORLD. Care for the Planet and Care for the People — these two mantras will guide the technological transformation of the world in the 21st century.

2. You have often said that data is the new oil. If data is the new oil, then digital infrastructure is the new pipeline. And for us to put a people-first, planet-first world, a lot of growth will depend on nations building and leveraging that infrastructure so that they are able to provide better, faster, and more cost-effective services to citizens in a way that minimises the physical and planetary environmental footprint. India has led the way. I think India has actually been an immense innovator in creating public digital goods – such as Aadhar, UPI and now ONDC, NDHM and so on. As a passionate business leader in this process of transition, where you and your company have played such a seminal role, could you share your views and vision for this next generation of digital infrastructure, where we are minimising the planetary footprint while maximising the gain to people?

Mr Ambani: Yes, data is indeed the New Oil. But this New Oil is fundamentally different from the traditional oil. Traditional oil was extracted at select places – thus, it created wealth only for a few countries. In contrast, the NEW OIL — that is Data — can be generated and consumed everywhere and by everybody. It has the potential to create value equitably, across sectors, across geographies and across economic classes.

Every person can be a user, creator and owner of data. Therefore, the New Oil has been completely democratised and decentralised. Here, India has a unique advantage — Demography. We are a nation of 1.35 billion people, and will soon become the world’s most populous nation, overtaking China, and will also be the world’s youngest nation.

Our second major strength is that India has built the Digital Pipeline — a world-class digital infrastructure — that has reached all our cities, towns, and almost all our 600,000 villages. Thanks to Prime Minister Modi’s Digital India Vision, a person in the remotest village can today learn from the latest developments around the world, consult and collaborate with people across continents and share her views on global platforms. Jio, I am proud to say, has taken the lead in this. Jio has ensured affordable high-speed data connectivity, which is a prerequisite for the digital revolution. Today, our entire country is fully transitioning from the 2G era to the 4G era.

We are in the process of creating an equally affordable ecosystem of devices to enable greater adoption, supported by faster rollout of optic fibre, cloud, and data centre infrastructure. The next step will be connectivity of machines, devices and vehicles, which is the Internet of Things or IoT. This will involve many components like different kinds of sensors, smart devices, edge computing, cloud computing and AI.

With 5G rollout next year in India, we are well on our way to have one of the most advanced infrastructures in the world. As these underlying technologies mature, we will be able to reinvent all sectors of our economy digitally – whether it is financial services, commerce, manufacturing, agriculture, education or healthcare.

Most importantly, in addition to FinTech, the grassroots sectors such as agriculture, education and healthcare will transform to become more efficient, more affordable and more accessible to all Indians, thanks to the digital technologies. So, in this India will make great strides in FinTECH, HealthTECH and Industry 4.0.

Digital technology is a great leveller, a great democratiser. It is the greatest GIFT to humanity. As the name of this Forum suggests, its future possibilities are truly INFINITE.

3. The ubiquitous digitisation, the creation of high-quality public and private infrastructures, the boundary-less world we are going into – which digital in nature – creates a sense of balance requirement. Both data and digital have strategic national importance which each country would want to protect, and for the right reasons. How do we balance the protection of national interest and take advantage of the global transfer of ideas and solutions?

Mr Ambani: Both data and digital infrastructure are strategically important not only for India but for every other nation and the entire world. All seven billion of us are in it together, as we have seen all the multiple phases of Covid that we have gone through last two years. Coming to data, every country has the right to build and protect its own strategic digital infrastructure.

However, this revolution is inherently global. It has made the entire world more inter-connected and inter-dependent than ever before. I believe, collectively, as a human race, we can progress much more by being interconnected and inter-dependent. Therefore, I believe we need uniform global standards, so that cross-border transactions, collaborations and partnerships are not hampered.

India can lead the way to a uniform UPI or a uniform payment interface. India’s Aadhaar can lead the way to a uniform Aadhaar for all the seven billion people, so that every person on this earth is uniquely identified and India leads the way, and that’s the opportunity. Third, every citizen’s right to privacy has to be safeguarded.

Therefore, we have to work to have the right policies and the right regulatory framework to balance the imperatives of creating next generation infrastructure, harmonising and integrating it with the rest of the world and regulating in a way that we don’t stifle innovation but protect the end user and all the citizens of the country and the world. And again, I have to say India is putting the most forward-looking policies and regulation in place.

As you said, India has Aadhaar, Jan Dhan Accounts, and our UPI interface. We are on the verge of introducing a data privacy bill, which I look forward to, and also the crypto currency bill. So I think we are on the right track, and what impresses me the most is that as a society we are most proactive, open and vibrant. As a democracy, we can really be at par with the most developed economies in terms of our thinking and benefits to all our citizens. And India is well on its way to transform itself into a leading digital society, having put the infrastructure in place, having put the regulatory framework in place.

Armed with these two enablers, India’s young and super-talented entrepreneurs are now ready to fly. I believe, we can achieve much faster economic growth, progress and prosperity for all our people and contribute to the rest of the world.

4. We have seen that despite the difficult times through COVID, the acceleration of digitisation and the convergence of finance, retail and logistics and e-commerce. We talked about crypto, we talked about Web 3.0, the metaverse and the boundary-less global world. What will be the next convergence which will propel the growth of FinTech?

Mr Ambani: In my view, finance really is at the heart of everything. And we have not digitised finance to its full potential. I believe we are in very early stages of sporadic digitisation. And the opportunity as I see all these technologies emerging is the opportunity to make sure that we actually adopt a decentralised model of finance. We have evolved over the last 100 years in organised finance through a very centralised model. and I still believe that there will be centralised government and central bank policy, but there will be a path to a very decentralised technological solutions where finance will be enabled and available to everybody.

Today it still is a world where large companies get easier finance and small companies don’t get easier finance, and same thing with people, and I think that will change. As I see, real-time technologies are there. It is great that we have moved from T+7 to T+2 and T+1, but I am big believer in real time. So everything will settle in real time. Smart contracts will become real, blockchain is a technology I believe in and it’s different from crypto. I think smart token is making sure that you are creating transactions that can never be changed.

It is a very important framework for just and trustbased transaction and trust-based society, which is a prerequisite for all of us. I think that the convergence of real time, the convergence of the distributed ledger and blockchain technologies, smart tokens, the convergence of physical and digital through IoT will enable and redefine the decentralised financial sector in a way we have never imagined. I think it is happening in the coming 10 years, and again this will be a prerequisite to a great economic growth. Today there is more money chasing people and we are short of ideas, and I am sure all our young people will come with up with more and more ideas as there are still many problems to be solved in the world.

The GIFT city, the infrastructure and the vision with which GIFT city was created, was not only to enable technology and innovation in India, but also to be a gateway to the rest of the world in terms of trying to take innovation in India and export it to the rest of the world. I’m sure that our young people will do that. I’m always inspired by what I learned when I interact with our 30-year-olds at Reliance, and Reliance is just a proxy of what is happening in India, and I really see a bright future ahead. So through the medium of Bloomberg, the Infinity Forum, I would like to convey my very best wishes to every aspiring young Indian entrepreneur, innovator, digital change agent to really bring India to its full potential. And wish you and all the viewers very happy, safe and prosperous 2022. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

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