Google makes a $10 billion digital bet on India

Google plans to train 10 lakh teachers across India in the effective use of digital tools by the end of the calendar year 2020. This will be done in partnership with CBSE.

Jul 16, 2020 08:07 IST India Infoline News Service

Google will invest Rs75,000cr ($10 billion) in India over the next five years. The reasons are not far to seek. Despite having an entrepreneurial culture at Google, it has not really made in-roads into the Indian digital scene. Google owns 3 of the most impactful products in the Indian market viz. Google Search, Google Maps and Android Platform. Despite having tremendous recall value, Google has limited exposure to the fast growing Indian digital marketplace. While this investment will be phased over 5-7 years, the idea is to leave a stamp on the world’s fastest growing digital ecosystem.

Data Source: Bloomberg

Clearly, Google does not want to miss the bus this time around

Among the most valuable companies, Google is one company that does not have too much of a stake in the Indian digital ecosystem. Amazon has been in existence in India for a number of years and is sinking billions of dollars to compete with Wal-Mart owned Flipkart. Microsoft has had a stamp for a very long time in India, including its cloud platforms. Facebook has already bet on the digital ecosystem with its Rs43,500cr investment in Jio Platforms for a 9.99% stake. Apple may have bet heavily on China in its early days but now Apple’s largest contract manufacturer, Foxconn, is looking to invest billions of dollars into India. But what Google must really be ruing is that it allowed the Chinese technology companies to have the first mover advantage in the Indian digital ecosystem. The table below captures the deep rooted Chinese stamp on Indian digital ecosystem.

Chinese Company Investments in India
Alibaba Paytm, Paytm Mall, Zomato, Big Basket, Snapdeal, Expressbees,
Tencent Byju’s, Doubtnut, Policybazaar, Udaan, Gaana, PocketFM, Practo, Swiggy, Khatabook

While Alibaba’s Ant Financial and Tencent have capitalized the most in the Indian digital ecosystem since 2011, things are changing. Post the COVID-19 pandemic and the stand-off at the LAC, India has imposed restrictions on Chinese investments. This opens up a huge opportunity for the US technology companies to fill up. That is what Google is targeting through the Google India Digitization Fund.

What exactly is this $10 billion investment all about?

It is not that Google is not present in India. It does have investments in start-ups like Dunzo, Aye Finance, Cardekho, Freshworks and Practo. But it is nowhere close to the deep impact that China left on the Indian digital ecosystem in its early days. The $10 billion investment by Google over the next 5-7 years is intended to compensate for that.

The idea is to substantially scale up its operations in India and become a significant player in the digital ecosystem. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, has affirmed that Google’s engagement in India will be a mix of equity investments, partnerships, operations, infrastructure and ecosystem investments. Consider some of these initiatives that Google is planning.

• Google plans to train 10 lakh teachers across India in the effective use of digital tools by the end of the calendar year 2020. This will be          done in partnership with CBSE.

• Google will also work closely with Prasar Bharati to empower small businesses to use digital tools using edutainment shows.

• Job Spot on Google Pay allows for remote interviews and work listings to allow people get jobs and income faster during the pandemic.

• Launch of virtual for students and farmers allows digital enablement. Pichai also underlined the launch of AI Research Lab in Bengaluru.

• Special search empowerment for small and medium enterprises (SME) so that they are more easily discoverable in search engines, a            boon  for small businesses.

The real thrust of the Google India Digitization Fund will be to ensure reach across a wide spectrum, seamless use of audio-visual mediums for greater penetration, empowering small and medium businesses etc. In short, the effort is to focus on the next billion in India. For that Google will have to really focus on High Impact areas in the next 5 years.

Google does plan to focus on high impact areas

Google has identified 3 high impact areas where it proposes to channel its $10 billion investment over the next five years. As Pichai has himself admitted, these are indicative areas and not necessarily exhaustive.

• Firstly, the focus of Google’s investments in India will be towards enabling affordable access and information to every Indian. The focus will    be on providing actionable content to Indians in their own vernacular language and in their preferred format (audio / text / visual). Google        will build new products and services customized to the unique needs of users.

• Secondly, Google will look to empower businesses, especially the small and medium sized ones, as they embark on their digital                     transformation journey.

• Lastly, Google will also focus on high-end technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for social impact segments like          health, education, and agriculture.

The plan is grand but looks actionable. For Google, it will now be about working the plan!

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