AR, Digital Transformation and the Indian Market – An Exclusive Interview with Ravichandran Lakshminarayanan

Deeptha Sreedhar

Deeptha Sreedhar

I’m a Chennai-based Writer and Journalist. I handle the Digital Content for Appearition. My super-cool colleagues design, innovate and create magic in Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality. I use this space to present their magic in text. When I am not editing or scouring for story ideas one bit before hell breaks loose, I enjoy reading crime-fiction books and watching similar television series, do a bit of experimental cooking and some travel to wherever my bank balance supports upon paying all bills.
Deeptha Sreedhar

Ravichandran Lakshminarayanan, Member, Board of Advisors, Appearition India speaks on Augmented Reality, Digital Transformation trends and the Indian market and more:

Your take on the AR/VR market in India.

Though AR/VR arrived, so to speak, may be about three years back, significant impact or adoption (usage) is yet to be seen, be it in the consumer space (though we have VR centres in some malls or VR headgear sold with smart phones) or in the enterprise space.

AR/VR is certainly going to be a game changer for industries like retail, real estate, entertainment, and tourism in India.

Education is another area where we will see significant AR/VR adoption. (I foresee not only schools & colleges taking advantage of the power of AR/VR, but many other formal and non- formal fora including corporate/industrial training will take advantage of these frontier technologies).

 

Mobile market in India – Smartphones undergo constant metamorphosis. What features do you think they need to adapt to stay abreast with the AR/VR tech?

India is a price sensitive market. Today there are more than 300 million mobile phone connections, in India. Mobile phone sales literally skyrocketed, only because device prices came down drastically.

Mobile phones are going to drive AR/VR usage and it is very important that the AR/VR capable phones are priced right for the Indian market.

Next is content in local languages like Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada. For AR/VR to drive mass usage/adoption, local language content will be a key.

Last but not the least, the devices(phones) will have to be more user friendly than they are now.

 Your take on digital transformation for businesses these days.

Today there is no business that can shun or stay away from digital transformation. The degree of transformation or rather what percentage of the business is digital versus non-digital may vary from business to business but there’s not a single business that’s 100% non-digital.

In the Indian context, this is so particularly after the introduction of GST.

Though it has taken time, businesses have understood the benefits of digital transformation.

How has the Indian market reacted to digital transformation so far? What are some factors that seem to aid it/ factors that act as a barrier?

The Indian market was quite reluctant to accept/embrace digital transformation, initially.

The reasons were:

  • market did not understand what digital transformation is.
  • market could not see value in digital transformation immediately
  • digital transformation was taking firms/players out of their comfort zone
  • firms were unsure of the payback period if they opted for digital transformation.

Slowly but surely as a few early adopters took hesitant steps towards digital transformation and started ‘seeing’ the benefits, more and more firms followed. Today, I dare say, there are very few firms, if any, that have not been touched at all by digital transformation.

Today everybody understands that digital transformation is not only inevitable but benefits all. Firms are still evaluating their ROI and hence pace of adoption is not ideal yet.

There are obstacles and challenges, the foremost being connectivity not only in terms of speed and price, but in terms of reach. There are still many areas in the country where connectivity is very poor or non-existent .

Technologies like 5G and other indigenous technologies and solutions, will hopefully, address this issue.

What are some barriers that companies face while venturing to a new geography?

In my opinion the most important barrier is culture. The culture in each geography is unique and the sooner companies understand the local culture the better for them. The next important challenge is to understand the local laws, business environment. There could be challenges in effective communication besides language differences. The pace at which things move, including the pace of business negotiations can vastly vary. Distance and time could be a challenge, too. Finding and hiring people who are trustworthy and competent can be a challenge. Establishing franchises, signing up agents and other business associates may take longer than what companies ‘back home’ are used to

What sort of obstacles did you face while setting up your e-commerce venture and how did you overcome them?

The very first challenge was not being able to register a domain name, from India.

(Internic was the only share registry and for registering any domain one had to pay $100; the only way to pay was online; this was not possible from India. I had to take the help of my sister in US, who paid this $100 and we registered chennaionline.com on Aug 15, 1997.)

One of the foremost challenges for a start up in a sunrise industry, which the online space was, way back in 1997, was getting the right people to come on board. We leaned on friends and other contacts to get the initial few hires.

The next challenge was funding –VC/Angel funding culture, back then, was literally nonexistent. Raising capital as equity was very difficult if not impossible. Debt funding or in Indian parlance, a bank loan was the only option.

Banks lend against tangible assets – land, building, plant & machinery – and also insist on security for the loan. Here was a business that had no tangible assets (except some PCs and servers and switches and modems – assets that depreciated faster than the mercury rising in Chennai summer) and a business model that was at best vague (actually from the bank perspective, it was all Latin and Greek).

The Bank Manager, professed he understood nothing, but said he was impressed with my sincerity of purpose and sanctioned the loan. (“As a breed we are risk averse, but if we do not take some risk to support highly qualified technocrats, when we get an opportunity, then we do not deserve to be sitting here”, he said!)

Though the potential of the web/online was fairly well established globally, India was slow to adopt or embrace this ‘new economy’ and hence every ‘pitch’ had to be from ‘ground zero’. One of our (founding team) important roles was to evangelise Internet& ecommerce; evangelise we did with passion and enthusiasm. This not only got us noticed but became a competitive advantage, too.

There were many more challenges including getting the right office space, etc.

There were so many Foreign Exchange rules & regulations that receiving or sending money out of India was a huge task. We did $ transactions wrestling with a plethora of forms and multiple agencies.

Do you see similar obstacles for firms these days, despite a bridge that filled the knowledge gap?

Certainly not. Thanks to information/knowledge available in one click, for anyone, and the more business friendly environment, many of the earlier day business challenges do not exist. However, each new firm (or old firm) has a unique challenge. It is much like a baby’s growth – from conception to infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood – at every stage in the life of a firm there are unique challenges. A successful firm is one which understands this and also understands every challenge is a possible opportunity.