Clipped from: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com
By Manish Dalal
Internet was formally introduced to India 25 years ago, on 15th August 1995. Today, two and half decades later, those ultra-slow, dial up, narrow band connections (speeds < 56 kbit/s) of yore have been replaced by high-speed broadband connections (download speeds of at least 512 kbit/s) where it takes seconds to download large files and we are able to enjoy online streaming of music, movies, television serials and even play games.
Today, India has the second highest number of internet users in the world, after China. Several events in just the recent past have led to the growth of the internet, such as during demonetisation when use of e-wallets peaked, and the adoption of GST. In the last decade,
e-commerce has aided this exponential rise. The industry has flourished on the back of smartphone-led internet penetration combined with affordable broadband solutions and mobile data, advancements in online payments, and changing consumer behaviour. With social media enjoying huge popularity among all sections of society, both urban and rural, videos and music clips are continuously being shared on these platforms at scale. India is said to have the highest data consumption in the world on smartphones – about 11 GB per month, per user.
COVID-19 would serve as yet another inflexion point for the rapid rise of digital adoption especially among MSME (Micro Small & Medium Enterprises), where their digital adoption has been tepid at best. According to Indian MSME Impact Report 2019, of the 63 million MSMEs in India, 62 percent are still offline. MSMEs would find that they need to digitize – have a website to showcase products and services and also facilitate accepting payments online because of social distancing, to survive in the long run. A business that has a digital presence will grow faster as people will avoid meeting each other and online selling will be the new normal.
This need of MSMEs would serve as the opportunity for web professionals. India is largely a market where companies outsource requirements – a DIFM or a Do It For Me market. To reap the full benefits of internet and harness all the ease of operation that it offers, to increase scale and speed, MSMEs in India are going to depend on web professionals.
In a recent study done by Zinnov Consulting, it estimates there are nearly 100,000 web professionals in India. Web professionals collectively include web designers, developers, digital agencies, IT service providers and any business that helps other businesses get an online presence. While web professionals have typically assisted MSMEs in the following areas of their digital journey – Domain name and website hosting; Website creation; and digital and social media optimisation and marketing; post Covid the opportunities are going to present themselves in three new areas.
The first area of opportunity is that of dynamic and transactional websites. Out of an estimated 10 lakh MSME websites today in India, nearly 5 lakh are static, 4 lakh are dynamic but not transaction-ready and 1 lakh are transaction-ready.
Static websites possess rudimentary functionalities – the UI is outdated and the operation is clumsy. They come with a fixed number of pages and when the page runs on a browser, the content doesn’t change in response to user actions.
A dynamic website, on the other hand, pulls relevant content and displays it based on the actions a user performs on the page. The preferences of the users decide what is displayed to them, based on the sophistication of the website’s algorithm. A brand’s website for example, should actually be an online retail store with features such as stock keeping and inventory tracking, sales and payments, billing and receipts, order despatch, order tracking and post-purchase follow up with customers, all done effectively and smoothly, online. Accounts need to be synchronised with orders directly so that all money coming in is accounted for. Also returns, if any, need to be kept tabs on.
The second major new opportunity area is that of add-on products. This covers potential growth areas such as SSL (security certification), chatbots and the use of vernacular.
Typically, SSL is used to secure credit card transactions, data transfer and logins, and more recently is becoming the norm when securing browsing of social media sites. Only 12% of websites today have SSL certificates and this proportion will need to increase – as the number of transaction-ready websites goes up.
Only 22% of websites today are Chatbot enabled. The use of Artificial Intelligence is increasingly reducing the need for human intervention in chats. Responses are becoming faster and more accurate. This will further spur the demand for this product. In fact, chatbots when combined with AI and ML are actually able to function as intent readers and able to act as virtual sales assistants, upselling and cross selling products.
Further, less than 10% of websites use languages other than English. As more users from India’s smaller cities become digital first, brands would not be able to ignore the need to connect and engage with them in their local language.
The third opportunity lies in web and mobile app development. India already ranks number 2 in the world with about 12 billion apps downloaded. There will be a shift from native apps, typically downloaded on mobile phones, to progressive web apps that are generally easier to deploy and maintain.
Web professionals are key stakeholders in helping unlock the digital ambition of MSMEs in India. As conducting business online becomes imperative for the survival and growth of an increasing number of customer-facing MSMEs, opportunities for web professionals are expected to boom. The future is bright for web professionals who keep themselves upskilled and ready for this new wave of digital upgrading and upscaling, invest in marketing to acquire new customers, and help customers appreciate and see the impact of digital on their business.
(The writer, Manish Dalal, is SVP & General Manager, Endurance Group- APAC, parent company of web presence brands like HostGator, Bluehost, ResellerClub, BigRock)
(Note: Views expressed are his own)