At the NASSCOM summit yesterday, Mukesh Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Industries spoke about how data will revolutionise society, the launch of Jio, Donald Trump's impact on Indian IT and what entrepeneurs should do to succeed.
Why data is the 'new oil' and will kickstart the fourth industrial revolution
So, when you have everything converging, I understood very recently only 3 or 4 years ago, the meaning of the word exponential. I think all of you being in the IT industry understand exponential and I think that we are on the verge of exponential change. With this convergence that is happening in the world, we have the opportunity to solve big problems in a short time. That is why I say that in the next 20 years humankind can achieve much more than what we have in the last 300 years. It is a very exciting time.
What data can do for society
At the foundation of the fourth industrial revolution is connectivity and data. The convergence of all the sciences is really brought about by connectivity and data.
To my mind data is the new natural resource. Fundamentally you have to have a lot of people to generate data and use data. So, in that sense India is naturally blessed with its 1.3 billion people.
Data in its raw form is useful but for it to have real value, it has to be processed into intelligence. We are really at the beginning of that era where data is really the new oil. When we bring all these convergent technologies, the benefit that it brings to society is immense. That is why I really believe that data is the new oil and India just with its talent and young population in this natural resource will have a competitive advantage.
How Jio is helping enhance India's digital reach
Jio was conceived at a time where we all knew that the world is fast digitising. If the Indian economy doesn’t have access to next generation digital infrastructure, we will be left behind, we will be outcompeted and we will not stand a chance to prove ourselves in the world.
In 2015 India was 155th out of 230 countries in mobile broadband access. We believe with the investment in Jio and the concurrent action of the industry as a whole spurred by Jio, India can easily be in the top 10 countries in the world in terms of broadband access.
It is the world's first all-IP platform that covers now over 95 percent of Indians. We really think that as the world digitises with the opportunities that we see to solve big problems, the next step is partnership. I was just talking with Saurabh and Harishbhai before in terms of saying that great, this has been a great journey for USD 260 billion and what do we want to achieve in the next 10 years. And I was telling them that actually Trump might be a blessing in disguise.
Why Donald Trump may be a blessing in disguise of Indian IT
It will focus the Indian talent, it will focus the Indian IT industry to focus on solving problems in India. The domestic market is huge and within that, what the Jio platform offers and what we look forward to is really partner with the next generation to really solve problems for India to improve quality of life for our people, to make sure that our industries are more productive and to again, not only as Harish just told me that this is a reimagine and not re-engineer. So fundamentally, our view is that we partner and this is all about building the digital ecosystem, no one company can do it on its own and we really have to adopt the next-gen technology.
India has to be the capital of real implementation of blockchain to build a trust economy in terms of the internet. We have the opportunity really to make sure that we adapt artificial intelligence and natural language processing. We adapt drones in terms of our own logistics. So, the opportunities are immense and we now have the infrastructure to do it in our own market and make India one of the biggest software markets in the world.
How apps will transform how we live
To my mind, mobile computing is the defining technology of this century and when you combine mobile computing with the progress that we have made in connectivity and with machine learning, deep learnings and with artificial intelligence and the whole natural language processing – in fact, we were just talking about this with Saurabh coincidentally in terms of saying what happens to millions of Indians? How will they access information on the internet? It can be your own language, you can speak to your mobile phone and there you are, you do not need to type, you do not need to do anything.
So this whole combination that is coming about is again going to redefine the quality of information in services that will be available to ordinary Indians so that they have access to opportunities and information which was impossible before.
How Ambani gets along with young professionals; and why common sense is important
Having twins who are 25 years old helps because being with them and their friends, it closes the generation gap. But, more importantly, when we are in the engineering, technology world, we have visions of ourselves. I always remind our technology people in terms of saying that remember, at the end of the day, technology has to adjust to human beings and not the other way round.
I always tell our young people, a particular story. It goes like this. There was this great software guru, technology PhD, all the great tech nerds that we have and a really ordinary Gujarati from Gujarat on a plane, both sitting next to each other. And this guy is in awe of this guru. So the guru says I am a technology guy, but let us play a game. I will be generous to you. You can ask me one question I will ask you one question and whoever cannot answer the question you pay us and because I am the great technology guru, for whatever question I do not know, I will pay you Rs 100, you pay me Rs 10. This poor gujju looked at this guy and said okay, we will do that, you are a great technology guy, so he says you start.
So, he said, this is the phone in your hand, tell me in 1969 for NASA, what was the power of the computer and what is the power in your phone and asked him a complicated question. So, the guy said, I do not know. So he says okay, here Rs 10. He gave him Rs 10. He took it. Now, fundamentally, the gujju had to ask the same question so he asked, okay tell me what is that animal that climbs a mountain on four legs and comes down on three legs. So, this software engineer says what is it, what is it? He took his phone, googled everything and said do not know. So, he took Rs 100 and gave it to the guy. This guy took the Rs 100 and went to sleep. Saying no, no, this is not fair, you have to tell me, you just cannot go to sleep, tell me what the right answer is. After all I am the engineer, PhD and all this stuff. So the gujju took another Rs 10 and gave it to him and says I do not know.
So, within this, the big lesson that all of us engineers and tech gurus have to understand that ultimately, there is common sense and the power of the common man and technology has to adjust to human beings. All our young people have to understand at the end of the day, we serve society and we serve that common man and we should always be aware that he is far smarter than each one of us.
Can India become the change leader in the world?
Absolutely, I think that we have all the ingredients of leading back in this new age that the world is going to go through. Let me give you one simple example in terms of change. It really is on the work that my friend, Nandan Nilekani has done in terms of the Aadhar identity system. So, because we have Aadhar where now over 1.3 billion people have individual identity. That helps multiple industries.
When we started Jio and we set a target for ourselves in terms of saying that we will acquire 100 million customers in the shortest time, even we did not imagine that we would do it in months in terms of that. We just set ourselves a goal and if it was not for Aadhar, Aadhar enabled us to acquire a million customers a day which is unheard of in the industry as a whole. You take that one step forward with the digital payment ecosystem that we are fast developing.
The biggest change that can happen and I see that happening in the next 12-18 months is that we can change from, and so far India has been a high value-low volume loan economy. So loans and financial resources were only available to a few people and that also at high value. And we have all witnessed ordinary people in villages who perfectly deserve some financial help, not getting anything even at the scale of Rs 15,000-20,000. And I see that changing primarily on the basis of technology where now, based on data and based on your own behaviour, you can get a loan on your mobile phone in 10-15 seconds and millions of people, from just high value, low volume, we will move to high volume and low value and this then, actually is the biggest change that you bring about.
And I can give you many such examples, but we are again at the door steps of change in terms of adapting technology and adapting it in such a way that it actually changes lives of millions of people.
Challenges that India's digital revolution will face
The most important thing and to my mind, India has a big advantage. In this new world in terms of digitisation, it is very important to be open, it is very important to have partnerships and not be closed. That is really a strength for India and we should really build on this strength, continue to be open and never think like, while whatever the world trends will be in terms of the world might want to build walls around, it is very important for us not to be influenced by that, but to make sure that we are always open, always connected. And clearly, in my view, we will find solutions, there will be issues with security and privacy, but as long as we are clear of our end objective, so if we focus on the goal, we will overcome the obstacles of security and privacy. They will always be important, but the goal of development and the goal of improving lives of hundreds of millions of people is the opportunity that we have.
Tips for an entrepreneur: Don't focus on only being a manager
I will share what I have learnt. Advice to an entrepreneur is not appropriate. So, I can only share. The first piece was really taught to me by my father. I had just come back from Stanford Business School and I said, what is going to be my job? Please describe what do I do now in terms of roles and responsibility? He says if you are in job then you are a manager. If you are an entrepreneur you will figure out what you want to do.
So, I am not going to tell you anything, figure out what you want to do.
The second piece that I think I learnt is that as an entrepreneur it is very important to find a problem that you want to solve, that you are passionate about. This is the same thing that Professor Sharma at UDCT, I was blessed to have him, he would always say that I am not going to give you a list of problems and then you can go and work on anything. You find a problem and then I will grade you on the quality of the problem that you find and then I will grade you on the quality of solution that you actually do.
So, the same rules apply for an entrepreneur, that it is not solving problems, it is first finding problems. Once you find the problem then you solve it.
The third thing that I have learnt is that and we have now institutionalised it at Reliance is that you have to create societal value. You have to solve a problem which actually does good in some way. That has to be the main objective of the business and financial returns are actually a by-product.
If you focus only on financial returns chances are that you would not really become great and solve your own passion.
The other piece that I have learnt is failures are normal. All the success that one sees, even in my own case you don’t see how many times I have failed before I succeed. They are just a step before you succeed. So, never get disheartened by failures, learn from them but never give up.
Two non-negotiable’s for me are, one, treat your investors money, this was early on ingrained into us at Reliance, we had taken money from small investors, treat your investors’ money even more carefully than your own money. Second, you cannot do anything without the right team. It is very important to align the team passionately to your own mission.
Finally, an entrepreneur is always positive, he is an optimist. There are lots of cynics, negative people around but an entrepreneur spreads positive energy, that is really what I have learnt.