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Ambani And Zuckerberg Chew Over The Future Of Technology In India The success of digital innovations during the ongoing pandemic has brought focus on investments in making India go digital

By Prabhjeet Bhatla

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Youtube/Jio and Facebook

The coronavirus pandemic hit many Indian businesses hard enough to reevaluate their values and the means in how they put out their services. And then there were those that calculated upon a digital transformation going on, both nationwide and globally. Amidst market uncertainties and condensed cash flows, there were some digitally highly developed firms that gave true meaning to the initiative of making India digital, to restore and prepare for an improved 2021.

On day one of Facebook Fuel for India 2020 virtual conference on Tuesday, Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg spoke to multinational conglomerate company Reliance Industries Limited's (RIL) chairman and managing director Mukesh Ambani regarding the overflowing access to mobile data across the country, Jio-Facebook platforms investments, and the prospect of technology in India.

The conference took place a day after WhatsApp contested accusations of the payment system not being secure in the Supreme Court of India on Monday. The claims had led to a dispute last year over violation of privacy and financial data security following claims that Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those globally spied upon by anonymous entities.

Zuckerberg started strong while conversing with Ambani by championing the importance of India by saying that what happens in India is important for the whole world. India's building local capabilities and tech capacity to power innovative new business models and provide the citizens access to digital financial inclusion. So, decisions that are made here shape the global discussion about how technology can drive more economic opportunities and better outcomes for people.

While for many businesses the pandemic has confirmed the last caution to advance or vanish, Indian technology firms are never among the latecomers. Remote working has long been geared up, although occasionally put off, for most of the IT sector among others.

Furthermore, while demonstrating Facebook's commitment to India during the virtual conference, the 36-year-old tech tycoon said, "At Facebook, we are in the business of serving small businesses. And nowhere is this more true than in India. With more than 60 million small businesses and millions of people around the country relying on them for jobs-these small businesses form a big part of what our partnership with Jio can serve here. This is especially important because small businesses in India will be a key part of the global economic recovery going forward. And we are focused on making sure we build the best tools for them."

Soon after, during the virtual conference, Zuckerberg said he expects a large part of the post-COVID upturn to come from India's small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

While Facebook, along with its flagship apps WhatsApp and Instagram, counts India as the largest customer base, the country also accounts for nearly a third of all business users on WhatsApp.

The tech entrepreneur further claims that to further digitize and scale the Indian ecosystem WhatsApp will continue to innovate, bring new features and tools to the WhatsApp Business app, designed especially to help small businesses and kirana stores grow and scale as the app is enabling kirana stores to showcase their products and coordinate sales, on a virtual mirror image of their physical store-counter. This further democratizes access to customers and adds reach and scale while building better efficiencies for their business.

Digitization has proven to be an enabler and a possibility for endurance even for those who were not ready for it. The stipulation for more digital services and consumer support online has become evident and crucial. With the majority of businesses looking to expand and stay afloat, IT spending is sure to return across the board in 2021. The technology has experienced constant growth even in a difficult year such as the current one. Diverse online systems are estimated to follow close as businesses invest in virtual support and security protocols.

"WhatsApp has hundreds of millions of subscribers in India Jio has hundreds of millions of subscribers in India. Jio Mart, which is our retail service, actually has the aspiration of serving tens of millions of small shopkeepers in India, who are the bedrock of employment. This means Jio brings digital connectivity. WhatsApp, now with WhatsApp brings digital interactivity and the ability to move to close transactions and create value. And, Jio Mart brings the unmatched online and offline retail opportunity that gives our small shops, which exist in villages and small towns in India, a chance to digitize and be at par with anybody else in the world," remarked Ambani, in an appreciative tone while speaking on the success of the portal among the citizens of the country.

According to Ambani, earlier this year, Facebook invested $5.7 billion in return for a 9.9 per cent stake in Jio Platforms, which includes a partnership between WhatsApp and JioMart. It is expected to bring online 30 million kirana shops, empowering the digital transformation of small businesses and individual consumers. It might aid the country to accomplish its goal of being a $5 trillion economy and drive income equality.

"We just launched WhatsApp payments in India last month. So you can send money to your friends and family through WhatsApp as easily as sending a message and that was possible because of the UPI system that has been built in via unified payments interface so it makes it easy for anyone to instantly accept payments across different apps," said the billionaire entrepreneur while speaking at the virtual event on Tuesday.

Zuckerberg stressed the fact that the boon of video connectivity in this day and age must be used to maximize one's profit and serve the community. "We are now on the next step with now great 4G and coming 5G networks. Video is really becoming the primary way that people share. Anyone can learn and capture something on their phones and then share it or stream it. Increasingly people are able to consume that," he said at the event that was streamed online and on the social network platform.

In a statement, the company said it is focused on driving economic recovery in 2021 by working with small businesses in India. India is one of the leading markets for Facebook Watch, and it will continue to invest in movies, music, and cricket to driving engagement as part of its video strategy across its platforms, it said.

WhatsApp, through its partnerships with various financial institutions, will enable a broad suite of fintech solutions like micro-pensions, digital insurance products, and others. Facebook expects India's appetite for the video to only increase, with 5G adding a new dimension to the video viewing experience, it said.

Quizzed by Ambani on the technologies of the future, Zuckerberg said that one of the big opportunities I see with the partnership with Jio Platforms is the role that we can play together in supporting the millions of small businesses in India - especially now with the impact that COVID is having. It is accelerating the move for a lot of businesses from physical storefronts to digital.

Prabhjeet Bhatla

Former Staff

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