Does Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai’s trip to India accentuate that the country is a promise land for the company to do more than just be present as a search giant? Mr Pichai’s first trip to his homeland after he took over as CEO earlier this year along with other top executives from Google, have thrown light on how the tech giant is planning to work with the government as well as private players to spread its wings in different sectors. India that is progressing towards becoming the second largest internet market and is encouraging its rural population for technology adoption, is constantly being eyed by players like Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Amazon among others, for business development and growth.
Internet of things
Google is planning to connect 400 railway stations in the country with high-speed WiFi. About a 100 stations will be up and operational by 2016, as RailTel Corporation of India has laid down a national optical fibre network in collaboration with Google engineers to achieve the goal of free WiFi to railway commuters. Probably taking the same thought forward, at Sri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University, on December 19, Mr Pichai addressed students, in a light hearted session, telling them that internet would connect humanity and would have a profound influence on the lives of many.
The tech-giant’s rural Internet pilot project called ‘Loon’ is also going to move to ahead to cover three lakh Indian villages. Project Loon, which is a network of internet-beaming high-altitude balloons, will connect areas with no fiber-optic infrastructure and mobile internet connectivity issues. Along with ‘Loon’, Mr Pichai hinted that connectivity should also ensure no language barrier, as India is one of the largest Android markets. The company will be rolling out products and services in Indian languages that will be used by the next few hundred million users. With Google’s Tap to Translate service, set to launch next year, users can detect and convert real-time text that the phone camera is pointed to as well as include multiple Indian languages as a part of its voice recognition software.
Going beyond Google’s impact on marketing or advertising, Ashish Bhasin, Chairman and CEO, South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network, says, “The benefits of internet, more specifically internet through mobile, are widely discussed. But if there is no connectivity, and a large mass of audience in India is still to experience the internet, much of this is meaningless. Google understands this, and is keen to make an impact at a level that matters. It opens up floodgates for newer audiences. And from the looks of it, Google is already planning its steps for that as well.”
“For me, these steps are indicators of the determination Google has in increasing connectivity to India. As that happens, newer realities will come to fore. All the points made in Sundar Pichai’s address are game-changers. The impact that this will have on digital marketing is obvious. But it is also clear that these steps will impact the country as a whole. The more tech-enabled we are, the more information and knowledge we will share, the more conscious we will be as a society. Google’s initiatives, if successful, will make impact us not as any industry but as a nation,” adds Mr Bhasin.
Mr Pichai also said that Google aims to give people in India and other developing countries better access to the full Internet through better connectivity and high-quality software. The company is focussing on creating tailor-made solutions and services for India. Apart from building connectivity, the search giant is focusing on content in areas such as Bollywood, Cricket, Heritage and Culture, which it claims is of great interest to the Indian diaspora. The company is planning to work on Google maps, identifying and integrating landmarks, heritage and tourism sites in its maps. To tackle the internet speed issue on mobile, Google is launching in AMP pages in India as it wants all its products to work across Indian languages and that search works across 2G networks which will give access to all those who have never experienced Internet before.
While addressing students at SRCC, Mr Pichai said that it is important for women to adopt technology. He said that it is global problem, particularly pronounced in India. Less than one third in usage in rural areas as most women in rural areas don’t think the internet applies to them. The most important thing the company can, and will try to do is to bring them online. The company has already started the mission to reach out to each and every village in India. As a first step, 1000 women in different villages are being trained to use the internet.
Vikram Sakhuja, Group CEO, Madison Media Group, says, “Sundar Pichai showed a very inspiring vision in the areas of providing universal internet access to India and developing products for a country with limited connectivity capability.”
Joseph George, Regional President South and Southeast Asia, Group CEO, India Mullen Lowe Lintas, says “Google’s scale, ambition and intent for India was very evident. And all expressed and demonstrated in typical Google style excited, convinced and with all humility. I believe that they want to and will play a disproportionate role in causing more Indians to want to get online.”
Google wants to make it easier for Indians to build on top of Google’s global platforms like Android and Chrome to build solutions to local problems. Though the company is seeing a steady growth of developers in India, it is poised to provide access and tools to train two million new Android developers over the next three years by working closely with more than 30 universities across the country in partnership with the National Skill Development Corporation.
Mr Pichai announced that Google is planning to open a huge campus in Hyderabad to build capabilities as well as hire more people from Hyderabad and Bangalore. Following which at SRCC, Mr Pichai stated that, “India has a strong educational system and to move forward, creativity is an important attribute. In the US, education is experiential, very hands on. People learn to do things, project-based experiential learning. Teach students to take risks and system shouldn’t penalise students for taking risks.”
Anupriya Acharya, Group CEO, ZenithOptimedia India, says, “It was not one or two big things that they spoke of, but of multiple, multi dimensional initiatives that attempted to address each of the key challenges being faced in India by both the internet users as well as the next round of internet joiners. Initiatives that tap into the market for creation of relevant products like the Hyderabad campus, training of developers in conjunction with 30 universities, YouTube tie up with Whistling Woods for content, Google Capital investing 20 million Dollars in Indian startups. It surely is a well thought out strategy and the efforts look genuine.”
She adds, “This digital acceleration cannot happen only on the back of war cries and manifestos. It needs companies that believe in it and are ready to invest in it. And if for nothing else, I give full marks to Google for India – they have a vision, a strategy linked to the market, they have demonstrated abilities of delivering, and of course a very genuine face and voice in Sundar. What remains to be seen is the speed and excellence in execution. That is where the real mettle gets tested. In the meantime, more power to India!”
Around the corner
With Mr Pichai’s visit, Google’s image of India in the next few quarters and a few years, will be looking at a sea of change when it comes to digital India. Be it the 400 free WiFi Indian Railway stations, Hyderabad campus, Project Loon, enhanced localised maps, customised products and services, offline YouTube, Google searches loading faster through Google AMP pages, rural women taking to internet adoption, Tap-to-translate, Internet Saathi, training of two million android developers, among many others. Google’s overall focus is to bring internet access to everyone, making sure that the products and services are delivered in a meaningful manner and ensuring that Google allows the internet-enabled to add their voice on the platform.
CVL Srinivas, CEO, GroupM, South Asia, says, “It was fascinating to listen to Sundar Pichai talk about Google for India. While there are a lot of interesting initiatives being developed for India on the one hand there are many product ideas born in India and being taken to the world. It shows how the scale, complexity, diversity of India coupled with our talent base can make us a hub for product innovation. I came away inspired by his speech. He has a razor sharp focus and a clearly articulated vision. But for me what makes him really special is his simplicity.”