Big Data has exploded across the world over the last decade, with leading economies seeing huge rewards from its adoption by government agencies and industry. One country that has, until recently, been left behind, however, is India. The last two years have seen this all change though, as rapidly growing demand for cloud-based solutions and predictive analytics capabilities have put the country firmly on course to catch up with other large nations.
The big data analytics sector in India is currently valued at $1.2 billion, according to a joint report by NASSCOM and market intelligence firm Blueocean. This puts it among the top 10 big data analytics markets in the world. They further predict that the size of the market will grow eight-fold by 2025, reaching $16 billion by 2025.
There are, however, a number of challenges that must be overcome before it reaches this level of maturity. These were evident in the first real example of the country truly adopting widespread data techniques - the 2014 government elections. Data techniques have been widely credited with helping put current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into power. Indeed, J Ramachandra, CEO of analytics startup Gramener, declared at the time that, ‘The era of big data in Indian politics has arrived.’
The BJP, as well as the Aam Aadmi party that now controls Delhi, developed customized digital tools based on commissioned and open source data that enabled them to understand and engage directly with voters. They employed thousands in their attempts to collect, analyze, and leverage all the data they possibly could. This also formed part of a real social effort, with Modi building a presence of 3.67 million followers on Twitter, 12 million likes on Facebook, and 68 million page views on Google Plus.
These efforts continue even today - and they have to. While such data-driven techniques have drawn comparisons with those
employed in US and UK elections, the reality of carrying them out in India is far more complex. For a start, far less digital information is available in India. In the US and UK, digitalization is now deeply ingrained in society. Facebook is not so deeply rooted in India, so where firms such as Cambridge Analytica, who were employed by Trump in the 2016 election, could rely on Facebook quizzes to create detailed ‘psychographic’ profiles of voters, data gathering in the rural regions and more poverty stricken areas of India must be done by people. This is further complicated by fewer people having phones, which means a lot of walking around and going door to door.
Another challenge is in the language. Analyzing text in social media feeds has long been a challenge in every language because of its many nuances and the changing definition of certain words. You have to really drill down into the context that surrounds a word if you are going to be able to rely on such data for sentiment analysis. Language has evolved even more in India, though, and created its own phonics. The word ‘Srinivas’, for example, has 430 different variations.
The situation is improving though, and the sheer size of the Indian population means that data will always be big. It is also a young, population, which is adopting technology at pace. India had about 350 million smartphone users in 2015 and this is expected to double to 702 million by 2020. Industry has also embraced data solutions. According to EY, the average commitment of top management in Indian companies towards analytics is far higher than the global average. Beatriz Sanz Saiz, Global Advisory Analytics Leader at EY, noted that ‘Indian executives are upbeat about using analytics in leveraging it for decision making.’ EY’s report, which was conducted in collaboration with Forbes and surveyed nearly 200 Indian companies in 2016, found nearly half of Indian firms already have an enterprise-wide advanced analytics strategy. This demand should, in turn, help the many Indian startups operating in the field. Hidden Brains, for example, forms strategic alliances with internationally acclaimed businesses to help boost their big data projects, delivering secure, scalable and robust solutions to clients across diverse industry verticals. They have won a variety of awards, including Best ICT Company of The Year 2016, and Deloitte Technology Fast 50 India 2013 for The Fastest-growing Company.
The speed of this growth does present a number of problems around data privacy. According to Apar Gupta, a technology lawyer,
generally, India is ‘quite perilously placed in terms of privacy protection. There’s an absence of protections in law, the constitutional right to privacy is under doubt, and even an expectation of privacy from state instrumentalities is absent.’ This is dangerous, particularly if it is going to be used so heavily by political parties to influence the public. As we have seen in the West, the morality, and legality, of using data in elections is sketchy at best, and if Indians do not take privacy as a right seriously then they will have less of a choice about who influences them. While these privacy laws may help create a conducive environment for personality-profiling and ad targeting, they also real issues, and the country must walk a fine line to ensure regulation keeps pace with the technology without stifling it.