In Focus

Sunit Vakharia

Chief Technology Officer
U GRO Capital

The critical goals of implementing technology are innovation, secure operations, and ease of business.

There is an adage that every adversity brings a unique opportunity. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that there is a degree
of truth to it.

There is no doubt that the implication of COVID-19 has put tremendous stress on organizational budgets, focus areas, and operating policies. However, as the scale of this unparalleled event unfolds, many organizations are also developing new business models and strengthening their virtual capabilities to create fresh revenue streams.

In a recent interaction with Better World, Sunit Vakharia, Chief Technology Officer, U GRO Capital, shared insights around the current mindset of technology leaders and the importance of technology-led solutions to navigate the current crisis. (U GRO Capital is a highly specialized, technology-driven lending organization that focuses on providing customized, sustainable solutions to small and medium businesses.)

Excerpts from the interview:

Better World: How has COVID-19 impacted your business? How have you leveraged technology to achieve business resiliency?

Sunit Vakharia: While the unpredicted COVID-19 epidemic has threatened our sense of normalcy, it has also pushed people to innovate and reimagine the conventional business models.

At U GRO Capital, we’ve utilized the current situation as an opportunity to scale our business digitally. U GRO Capital provides loans to small and medium-sized companies. We extensively focus on technology and analytics as enablers to onboard our customers and disburse money as and when required by them.

Technology has played a pivotal role in expanding our operations and customer base during the COVID-19. Even before the spread of the pandemic, we were equipped to deal with a fully remote working situation. We’ve been using remote collaboration tools such as Skype for Business, and Microsoft Teams, among others, since the commencement of our operations in 2018. All U GRO employees can work from anywhere, and there is no location constraint for anyone, helping them stay connected and manage client expectations. Similar engagements have been done with our vendor partners. All our technology developments and meetings with partners happen in an agile way over online platforms, and I am happy to share that significant efficiency has been observed in this new operating world.

We continue to build and deploy digital platforms. All aspects of sourcing new customers, servicing, and collecting documents are being done digitally. This has been the basis of our philosophy. We rolled out the digital KYC verification and digital document collection process during the days of the pandemic-induced national lockdown when our executives could not visit customers. These digital processes are clear differentiators for us.

Through our platform, we ensured that the entire communication and verification process runs through our video solutions. From the photograph of the factories to geo locations, customer coordinates, survey inputs, and the related verification, all procedures can be completed through this platform. This solution has helped us onboard our customers digitally and curtailed our visits to customer premises. We use statistical predictive models to assist, understand, and underwrite our customers better. Through AI-driven models, we assess our customers’ business requirements and offer the best product for their long-term growth. We have incorporated machine learning and analytics capabilities in our assessment solutions to drive exceptional customer experience.

Nevertheless, there are a few requirements that cannot be completed digitally, for instance, submission of post-dated cheques or specific covenant necessities. Still, I am sure, over time, we will devise solutions for that as well.

Better World: How have IT spending priorities changed due to COVID-19?

Sunit Vakharia: U GRO Capital’s management provides tremendous support and encouragement to foster innovation and to build scalable yet secure platforms. COVID-19 has pushed enterprises to leverage tech and to find new ways to empower their stakeholders. They are focusing on more unique capabilities to facilitate remote working.

In the current scenario, technology leaders will continue to evaluate infrastructure, applications, and security for supporting their employees, partners, and customers. Many technology spending priorities are being rationalized from the perspective of the new normal. Focus on digital transformation has been amplified, and enterprises are swiftly turning to automation and analytics to make smarter decisions. At U GRO, our focus will continue to be on innovation, and we are working towards developing new business lines and automating end-to-end supply chain processes. We are also planning to introduce a unique secured loan product very shortly. We’re building platforms in such a way that makes sure our core platforms remain constant while our ecosystem gets evolved incessantly.

Sunit Vakharia

Chief Technology Officer at U GRO Capital

Sunit is a senior strategic executive with over 19 years of rich experience in technology implementation. He has an exceptional understanding of the financial ecosystem, analytics, and data-based insights.

Sunit is a constant learner and has essayed various roles on the strategic IT leadership and execution fronts, notably in solving business problems through technology delivery, program management, business transformation, and client relationship management.

Before U GRO Capital, he had worked for global multinationals such as HSBC, Merill Lynch, SAS, Accenture, and ICICI Bank.

Top skills

  • Strategic Leadership
  • People Management
  • Process Improvement

Honors/Awards

  • Most Valuable Business Partner
  • HSBC Technology Winner
  • HSBC Technology Runner Up

Education

  • Strategic Thinking and Leadership, University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School Leadership Management Training
  • Bachelor of Engineering, Instrumentation, University of Mumbai

We use multiple digital channels to facilitate customer interaction, and this will continue to be a focus area for us.

Better World: Where are you on your cloud journey? In case of multiple clouds, does orchestration pose a challenge?

Sunit Vakharia: We are a cloud-native architected organization. We have zero presence on physical infrastructure, an approach that will remain applicable in future. We do not feel the need to build a private cloud for our business. We operate on a self-service model, and hence do not need any physical infrastructure. The SaaS model works best for us. However, we may explore the possibility of using a hyper cloud approach for some of the use cases. This is largely because, at times, a specific cloud becomes expensive for certain use cases.

At this moment, we do not need to orchestrate multiple clouds, as we are using a single public cloud provider. In the near future, if a need arises, plenty of orchestration tools are available in the market.

Better World: As a technology leader, how critical is it to balance the short-term revenue requirements against long-term technology implementations?

Sunit Vakharia: There is a strong understanding of what needs to be prioritized. The current COVID-19 situation is undoubtedly complicated. It requires leaders of all departments, and not just technology, to make a thorough evaluation of all investment decisions because ultimately, you’ve to run business.

The critical goals of implementing any new technology are innovation, secure operations, and ease of business. Their importance can vary for different organizations, depending on their nature and scale of business. Many young enterprises make the mistake of implementing a technology solution because someone else is doing that, which is wrong and misleading. All technology implementation decisions should be finalized after getting answers to these questions: Is it making sense for my organization? Will it help my customers and the business we operate? Will it help in driving our future aspirations and the business goals we intend to achieve in the next quarter?

For instance, at U GRO Capital, we did not make investments in Blockchain technologies, which is exciting, yet some time away from the overall ecosystem maturity. So, we will not look at such pieces now and can explore them at a later stage when it makes real-life business sense for us. But what we want to do is to enable our customers and the sales team to work efficiently, keeping in mind the social distancing measures; and limit the physical visit and interaction during the collection of documents or at the time of money disbursement.

U GRO Capital’s customers are small enterprises, and we do understand that they need handholding. So we need to implement solutions that are relevant and more comfortable for our customers to understand and use.

Better World: You mention security as a key focus area for enterprises. Can you share some of the initiatives taken by U GRO Capital to enhance your information security architecture?

Sunit Vakharia: We’ve invested in the Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) platform. It is a cloud-based endpoint protection platform, which is designed to overcome the confines of legacy security solutions. The platform protects entire traffic from malware attacks, ransomware attacks, and other potential threats coming through either the web or emails, as those are already predicted. We are also implementing industry-leading Enterprise Threat Protector DNS for controlling what can be accessed on our networks. Besides, a Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solution from Microsoft has been deployed. That means all the emails that typically come to us are getting monitored, thus ensuring that our teams do not get spam emails.  It also helps us detect and block sensitive data transmission.

We are also working to implement a privileged/password access management (PAM) solution, which means anyone who wants to access our infrastructure, our database, or the applications need to request access. The request will come for approval to our information security team, which will review it and open up the entrance to the network border. PAM solutions ensure that there is no illegal access through the internet. Through PAM, all network access, control, monitor, and infrastructure can be audited. This enables us to see the tasks or actions done by a specific individual.

Information security is a continually evolving area, and we will continue to invest in solutions to strengthen our IT security defense on an ongoing basis.

MORE FROM BETTER WORLD

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Time to get ‘responsible’ with AI systems
User study on WhatsApp new privacy policy
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Shibabrata Mondal

Founder and CEO
Wizergos

IN FOCUS

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Time to get ‘responsible’ with AI systems

Time to get ‘responsible’ with AI systems

Humans have built very complex robotic systems, such as convoys and airplanes, and even neural networks to communicate with each other, but we’re only starting to scratch the surface of what artificial intelligence (AI) can do. It’s also about time we started paying more attention to ‘responsible AI.’

A future with artificial intelligence would be very mixed. It would be an actuality that could not only eliminate many of today’s human jobs, but also allow us to solve complex problems much faster than we could if we used a human brain to solve those same complex problems.

As technology gets closer to achieving full intelligence, we will start seeing the artificial intelligence (AI) systems that are fully self-aware and can think, reason, and act like a human would. This may raise some concerns, because some people fear that as artificially intelligent computers become more advanced, they might start to have a good enough IQ to be more intelligent than humans. The concern is not if, but when, it might happen.

In future we will have artificial intelligent robotic ‘teams’ of robots that can do all the menial tasks which we traditionally assign to humans such as vacuuming, picking up items, cooking, shopping and more. All jobs will eventually be done by artificially intelligent robotic machines. Even without this new development, all work will still be based on traditional methods such as task assignment, task resolution, and reward and punishment systems.

Today, we are beginning to see the first AI machine prototypes at work and many exciting projects are in the works. One such project is a robotic dog, which can recognize objects, humans and other dogs. Other projects include self-driving cars, self-piloted planes, artificial intelligent robots, and new weather systems.

The future of artificially intelligent robotic androids is exciting but also scary due to the autonomous capabilities of these machines. These robotic androids may be made up of two different types of artificial intelligence, a human-like non-conscious neural network (NCL) and a fully conscious human mind with all its own memory, thoughts, and feelings. Some NCL robots may have both systems in one system or may only have one. Many experts believe a full AI will be closer to human intelligence than any current technology can ever make.

Such concerns and apprehensions around AI have triggered the need for AI developments and implementations to be humanly, ethically, and legally more responsible.

Microsoft recognizes six principles that it believes should guide AI development and use (see link). These are fairness; reliability and safety; privacy and security; inclusiveness, transparency; and accountability.

PwC Responsible AI frameworkPwC has created a ‘Responsible AI Toolkit,’ which is a suite of customizable frameworks, tools, and processes designed to help organizations “harness the power of AI in an ethical and responsible manner, from strategy through execution.”

The field of ‘Responsible AI’ is generating more and more interest from various stakeholders, including governments, developers, human-resource experts, and user organizations, among others.

Distributed cloud is the new enterprise IT frontier

Distributed cloud is the new enterprise IT frontier

A titanic struggle for control of the cloud has begun in earnest by the emergence of various distributed cloud architectures. The shift is being driven by the need for enterprises to move away from traditional infrastructure-aspect-management to ‘utility cloud’ models, which can be far more sustainable as long-term strategies.

Amazon Web Services, IBM, Google, and Microsoft are the giants whose bet in the development of such virtualization technologies has won them large shares of the cloud market. Several other companies are also active in this arena, and a closer examination of the main players may reveal a number of smaller players too.

distributed cloud

Multiple drivers are fueling growth

The star attractions of distributed clouds include (1) low latency due to proximity to user organizations (e.g., on-premises delivery or edge delivery); (2) better adherence to compliance and data-residency requirements;  and (3) rapidly growing number of IoT devices, utility drones, etc.

With distributed cloud services, the service providers are moving closer to the users. These cloud services are offered not just as public-cloud-hosted solutions but also on the edge or the on-premise data center. This approach of having a SaaS model with an on-premise application has its own advantages like ease of provisioning new services, ease of management, and cost reductions in the form of greater operational efficiency brought about by streamlined infrastructure management.

Cloud service providers have a deep understanding of both the needs of enterprises and their unique business requirements. They use their expertise to develop solutions that meet these objectives. They are also well known for providing easy accessibility to their services from the internet. This enables fast and convenient access for end-users.

Enterprises may think that by switching over to a distributed cloud computing service they will lose control of their data. However, the cloud service providers enable excellent security and monitoring solutions. They also ensure that users are given the highest level of access to their data. By migrating on-premises software to a cloud service provider, enterprises do not stand to lose the expertise that their employees have built up during their time in the organization.

Google Anthos: A first-mover advantage

Google formally introduced Anthos, as an open platform that lets enterprises run an app anywhere—simply, flexibly, and securely. In a blog post, dated 9 April 2019, Google noted that, embracing open standards, Anthos let enterprises run applications, unmodified, on existing on-prem hardware investments or in the public cloud, and was based on the Cloud Services Platform announced earlier.

The announcement said that Anthos’ hybrid functionality was made generally available both on Google Cloud Platform (GCP) with Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), and in the enterprise data center with GKE On-Prem.

Consistency, another post said, was the greatest common denominator, with Anthos making multi-cloud easy owing to its foundation of Kubernetes—specifically the Kubernetes-style API. “Using the latest upstream version as a starting point, Anthos can see, orchestrate and manage any workload that talks to the Kubernetes API—the lingua franca of modern application development, and an interface that supports more and more traditional workloads,” the blog post added.

AWS Outposts: Defending its cloud turf

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has been among the first movers. On 3 December 2019, the cloud services major announced the general availability of AWS Outposts, as fully managed and configurable compute and storage racks built with AWS-designed hardware that allow customers to run compute and storage on-premises, while seamlessly connecting to AWS’s broad array of services in the cloud. A pre-announcement for Outposts had come on 28 November 2018 at the re:Invent 2018.

“When we started thinking about offering a truly consistent hybrid experience, what we heard is that customers really wanted it to be the same—the same APIs, the same control plane, the same tools, the same hardware, and the same functionality. It turns out this is hard to do, and that’s the reason why existing options for on-premises solutions haven’t gotten much traction today,” said Matt Garman, Vice President, Compute Services, at AWS. “With AWS Outposts, customers can enjoy a truly consistent cloud environment using the native AWS services or VMware Cloud on AWS to operate a single enterprise IT environment across their on-premises locations and the cloud.”

IBM Cloud Satellite: Late but not left out

IBM has been a bit late to the distributed cloud party. It was only on 1 March 2021 that IBM announced that hybrid cloud services were now generally available in any environment—on any cloud, on premises or at the edge—via IBM Cloud Satellite. The partnership with Lumen Technologies, coupled with IBM’s long-standing deep presence in on-premise enterprise systems, could turn out to be a key differentiator. An IBM press release noted that Lumen Technologies and IBM have integrated IBM Cloud Satellite with the Lumen edge platform to enable clients to harness hybrid cloud services in near real-time and build innovative solutions at the edge.

“IBM is working with clients to leverage advanced technologies like edge computing and AI, enabling them to digitally transform with hybrid cloud while keeping data security at the forefront,” said Howard Boville, Head of IBM Hybrid Cloud Platform. “With IBM Cloud Satellite, clients can securely gain the benefits of cloud services anywhere, from the core of the data center to the farthest reaches of the network.”

“With the Lumen platform’s broad reach, we are giving our enterprise customers access to IBM Cloud Satellite to help them drive innovation more rapidly at the edge,” said Paul Savill, SVP Enterprise Product Management and Services at Lumen. “Our enterprise customers can now extend IBM Cloud services across Lumen’s robust global network, enabling them to deploy data-heavy edge applications that demand high security and ultra-low latency. By bringing secure and open hybrid cloud capabilities to the edge, our customers can propel their businesses forward and take advantage of the emerging applications of the 4th Industrial Revolution.”

Microsoft Azure Arc: General availability awaited

Julia White Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Azure, in a blog post, dated 4 November 2019, announced Azure Arc, as a set of technologies that unlocks new hybrid scenarios for customers by bringing Azure services and management to any infrastructure. “Azure Arc is available in preview starting today,” she said.

However, the general availability of Azure Arc was not to be announced anytime soon. Six months after the ‘preview’ announcement, Jeremy Winter Partner Director, Azure Management, published a blog post on 20 May 2020, noting that the company was delivering ‘Azure Arc enabled Kubernetes’ in preview to its customers. “With this, anyone can use Azure Arc to connect and configure any Kubernetes cluster across customer datacenters, edge locations, and multi-cloud,” he said.

“In addition, we are also announcing our first set of Azure Arc integration partners, including Red Hat OpenShift, Canonical Kubernetes, and Rancher Labs to ensure Azure Arc works great for all the key platforms our customers are using today,” the post added.

The announcement followed Azure Stack launch two years earlier, to enable a consistent cloud model, deployable on-premises. Meanwhile, Azure was extended to provide DevOps for any environment and any cloud. Microsoft also enabled cloud-powered security threat protection for any infrastructure, and unlocked the ability to run Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services AI models anywhere. Azure Arc was a significant leap forward to enable customers to move from just hybrid cloud to truly deliver innovation anywhere with Azure, the post added.

Looking ahead

A distributed cloud presents an incredible opportunity for businesses that are looking to improve their bottom line while also increasing their agility and versatility.

A distributed cloud is essentially a distributed version of public cloud computing which offers the capability to manage nearly everything from a single computer to thousands of computers. The cloud promises the benefits of a global network without having to worry about hardware, software, management, and monitoring issues. The distributed cloud goes a step further and also brings the assurance on fronts such as latency, compliance, and on-premise application modernization.

Why it’s time to regulate social media platforms now?

Why it’s time to regulate social media platforms now?

In the last two decades, social media platforms have gotten too big  and powerful but have mostly shrugged responsibility. Moreover, the big ones are literally without competition in their respective markets. There is no close direct competitor to a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, et al.

In this sense, social media platforms have become analogous to governments that are either free of any opposition or have a very weak opposition to contend with. Isn’t that what we call nonconductive to democracy?

Indeed. Be it Facebook, WhatsApp, or Google, they keep changing privacy policies. Sometimes these changes are to meet the regulatory requirements of the markets they operate in but often these changes are also at their wills (I chose not to use whims here) and fancies. Mostly, these changes are to suit their commercial interests, period.

Arm-twisting users to accept new privacy rules

Take the most recent and glaring instance of WhatsApp, for example. In early 2021, the Facebook-owned social messaging behemoth decided to issue a new privacy-policy diktat to its more than 500 million users in India to take it (the new privacy policy) or leave it (use of the WhatsApp app). After the government didn’t approve of its new privacy policy, WhatsApp did a climbdown from its earlier stand. It has postponed the exit of those users who have not accepted its policy for now.

WhatsApp argues against the government’s new guidelines (see article) on the pretext of servicing the ‘privacy interest’ of its users. At the same time, it tries forcing a privacy policy on users that they don’t approve of, by making a blatant misuse of its dominant position in the social messaging market segment. (It may be noted that Telegram is a distant second to WhatsApp globally as well as in India).

See also: Ironic that WhatsApp breaches privacy but wants govt to practice it.

Sumant ParimalSumant Parimal, Chief Analyst at 5Jewels Research and a keen IT industry observer agrees, “When they (social media companies) want, they impose any kind of term and conditions on users while even compromising privacy of users, but when Indian government asks for something then they are citing privacy as reason for not complying.”

So, what recourse do users have against such misuse of power by these platforms? There is no social-media appellate who could step in to safeguard the democratic interests of netizens. They are left with no other choice but to approach real-world courts and governments, who sometimes do step in and intervene.

Has regulation become a need of the changed times?

There is a thin line between democracy and anarchy, just as there is a thin line between freedom of speech and indecency of speech.

Social media is a platform that espouses the tenets of democracy and freedom of speech but where these cherished values can easily be sucked by dungeons of anarchy and indecent speech.

Worse, social media–and more so the social messaging platforms—can be misused by criminals and terrorists for perpetuating their respective agendas. Tech media is often replete with news of various cybercrimes ranging from digital frauds and cyber stalking to ransomware attacks.

Is government-led regulation of social media platforms needed?

Let’s be fair—the average internet user faces a perennial dilemma whenever the topic crops up. Netizens tend to see government interventions as a double-edged sword, which can cut both ways. There have been numerous instances in the past when netizens have opposed steps taken by governments to regulate the internet.

There are obvious reasons for users to be distrustful of both the government and the internet companies when it comes to protecting their freedom of speech and expression, particularly on social media platforms.

While the average utopian users will quite likely be fine with an intervention that rids social media platforms of obscenity, violence, and disharmonies of all kinds, they may not like any intrusive policing and patrolling of their social walls and communities.

Alas, internet is no longer the global village it was conceived to be!

Nevertheless, with the right regulatory mechanisms in place, it can be made a lot better than what it is today.

Verified accounts are a good way to autoregulate

Anshuman TiwariAnshuman Tiwari, a well-known process transformation professional, podcaster, and YouTuber has summed it up aptly, “So there is this chaos around the banning of some social media services in India. While we can debate the interest and logic in doing this, there is a huge opportunity to sort this mess. All social media should be ‘verified.’ Verified accounts will behave better. And the trolls will be careful. Essentially, what you can’t say in real life and get away with should also be not said online.”

A lot of people will lose a lot of ‘followers’ though, he quips.

A good thing is that amidst all the recent social-media din and commotion in the wake of the Intermediary Guidelines issued earlier by Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY), there has been some positive development on the front. Most significantly, Twitter has recently said it will enable a system for users to verify their Twitter accounts. It noted on its official website, “Starting May 20, 2021, we’ll begin rolling out verification applications to everyone. If you don’t see it in your Account Settings tab right away, don’t worry! Everyone should be able to apply soon.”

It is a well-known fact that getting an account ‘verified’ on Twitter has historically been one of the most arduous and hard-to-achieve tasks for a common Twitterati.

Multi-stakeholder regulation can infuse trust

When it comes to the wider impact of social media, there are multiple stakeholders at play. These include the general users, the government, the opposition, public figures, businesses, academia, judiciary, and the social media platforms themselves, among others.

So, a panel that comprises representations from several of these stakeholder groups should ideally be allowed to monitor, judge, and moderate the social media platforms. Such a measure would help alleviate the apprehensions that the new rules and regulations may be misused by a government in power.

It would also ensure that social media has not just power, but also shoulders the responsibility that is required of an internet intermediary in today’s context. With up to half of India’s eligible population (less than 13/14 years of age) likely to be on one social media platform or the other, there indeed is a need to ensure that these platforms are not used by elements that are detrimental to the society and the nation.

Indeed, when too much power, direct or indirect, gets concentrated in any institution or platform, it is important to put the right set of checks and balances in place.

By issuing the intermediary guidelines, the government has done well to put the necessary checks in place. What it needs to do now is to balance it all by constituting a multi-stakeholder mechanism (panel) to monitor any potential breach and recommend any corrective measures or punitive actions to the concerned government authorities.

This way, the panel itself works like an intermediary between the government and the social media companies as well as between the users and the government or the social media companies.

Ironic that WhatsApp breaches privacy but wants govt to practice it!

Ironic that WhatsApp breaches privacy but wants govt to practice it!

Deepak KumarThe deadline to comply with the “Intermediary Guidelines” issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) ended on 25 May 2021 for Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and others. For most of the part, the guidelines are not hard to comply with. To its credit, the government has given the intermediaries significant amount of time to take the necessary actions.

However, none of the major social media majors at whom the guidelines were aimed at, have bothered to fully comply. It looks like they were hoping for the deadline to be extended, which didn’t happen in this particular case.

Twitter has not commented. Facebook said it “aims to comply,” and also wants to discuss some “issues which need more engagement.” Google said it has a “long history” of compliance.

WhatsApp has responded by filing a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court against the guidelines using the ‘privacy’ pretext. It is ironic that the social messaging major has used the ‘privacy’ argument to oppose the guidelines, especially when it has been widely accused by users as a usurper of users’ privacy rights.

Its argument is particularly in the context of rule to “enable identification of the first originator of the information” for certain types of messages. It says that enabling this feature would break its “end-to-end encryption” and undermine people’s right to ‘privacy.’

Sometime after the beginning of this year, WhatsApp started notifying its users that it had updated its privacy policy and the users could either accept the new policy or quit using WhatsApp by 8 February 2021. Later, it extended the deadline to accept the new privacy policy by 15 May.

Better World had done a quick survey with 565 users, in which only around 18% user said the change didn’t bother them at all. Of the remaining 82%, 37% users considered the new privacy policy a serious breach of their privacy, while 45% said they it was not good, though they could live with it.

To see the survey details, read: Better World User Survey on WhatsApp Privacy Policy.

Interestingly, the survey also showed a majority of users had no qualms in leaving WhatsApp on privacy issue. Around 18% of respondents said they had already quit WhatsApp as the only app, while another 25% said they planned to do so within a week’s time and yet another 29% said they planned to quit in a month’s time.

The key alternatives to WhatsApp are Telegram and Signal, albeit they have significantly less number of users when compared with WhatsApp. For instance, Telegram is estimated to have around 500 million users as against 2 billion WhatsApp users globally. In India, WhatsApp has around 530 million users, as per industry estimates. (It goes without saying that other social messaging platforms will also need to comply with the new guidelines as much as WhatsApp.)

Rules that intermediaries are required to comply with

The rules were published on 25 February 2021 by Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY)

  • Due diligence to followed by intermediaries: the rules prescribe due diligence that must be followed by intermediaries, including social media intermediaries. in case, due diligence is not followed by the intermediary, safe harbor provisions will not apply to them.
  • There will be two categories of social media intermediaries, namely, social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries, based on the number of users on the social media platform. The rules require the significant social media intermediaries to follow certain additional due diligence.
  • Grievance redressal mechanism: The intermediaries should establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving resolving complaints from the users or victims. intermediaries shall appoint a grievance officer to deal with such complaints and share the name and contact details of such officer. Grievance officer shall acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within 15 days from its receipt.
  • Ensuring online safety and dignity of users, especially women users: Intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints of contents that exposes individuals in full or partial nudity or is in the nature of impersonation, etc. Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf.
  • Additional due diligence to be followed by significant social media intermediary:
    • Appoint a chief compliance officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules. Such a person should be a resident in India.
    • Appoint a nodal contact person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies. Such a person shall be a resident in India.
    • Appoint a resident grievance officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism. Such a person shall be a resident in India.
    • Publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.
    • Enable identification of the first originator of the information that is required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years. Intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator.
    • Have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both.
    • Provided an appropriate mechanism for users to verify their accounts and provided with demonstrable and visible mark of verification.
    • Provide users an opportunity to be heard in cases where intermediaries remove or disable user access to any information on their own accord. A prior intimation shall be communicated to the user who has shared that information with a notice explaining the grounds and reasons for such action. Users must be provided an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary.
  • Removal of unlawful information: An intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court or being notified by the Appropriate Govt. or its agencies through authorized officer should not host or publish any information which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc.
5G is a missing cog in digital transformation wheel

5G is a missing cog in digital transformation wheel

In the last one year, the new remote-working normal has accelerated the adoption of most of the ‘digital-transformation-enabling technologies’ in a big way. There has been a lone notable exception though—5G! Like cloud, analytics, and mobility, 5G has been hailed as a foundational technology block for constructing the superstructure for enabling digital transformation. However, while investments in cloud and big data/analytics have swelled, 5G streams have dried up even before they could be formed.

For example, NASSCOM pegs the cloud computing market in India at $2.2 billion and expects it to clock a growth of 30% year-on-year. All major public-cloud service providers, including Microsoft, IBM, Google, and Amazon Web Services have established strong presence in India.

5G, on the other hand, is yet to be launched, as the commercial licenses are not yet in place. Auctions for 5G spectrum have got delayed and there are little chance that they will be held this calendar year. Early this month, on 4 May 2021, the Department of Telecom (DoT) approved of 5G trials to be conducted over a six-month period. This implies that the trials will not get completed before October–November this year, so auctions will get pushed to 2022.

(See: Tipping point for 5G networks likely in 2023, says Report)

(Also: India needs a coherent industry approach for 5G success)

5G is digital transformation’s missing pillar

Until 5G is licensed and deployed, digital transformation (DX) projects in India, whether at enterprises or in the government, will remain bereft of a key building block. A slew of next-generation digital applications, especially those involving internet of things (IoT),  can realize their true potential only with the advent of 5G.

The DoT press release had rightly noted, “The objectives of conducting 5G trials include testing 5G spectrum propagation characteristics especially in the Indian context; model tuning and evaluation of chosen equipment and vendors; testing of indigenous technology; testing of applications (such as tele-medicine, tele-education, augmented/virtual reality, drone-based agricultural monitoring, etc.); and to test 5G phones and devices.”

“5G technology is expected to deliver improved user experience in terms of data download rates (expected to be 10 times that of 4G), up to three times greater spectrum efficiency, and ultra-low latency to enable Industry 4.0. Applications are across a wide range of sectors such as agriculture, education, health, transport, traffic management, smart cities, smart homes, and multiple applications of internet of things (IoT),” the release had added.

IoT platforms await a 5G push

In April 2021, Airtel had launched its ‘Airtel IoT’ integrated platform that enables enterprises to harness the power of IoT and be ready for the emerging era of connected things. Airtel counts some key customers that have been using Airtel’s IoT solutions. These include MG Motor, Pine Labs, Paytm, Kirloskar, BSES, Genus, and Kent, which are spread across industry sectors such as manufacturing, logistics, automobiles, BFSI, and utilities.

Close on the heels of the launch of Airtel IoT, Vodafone–Idea too launched its IoT solutions for enterprises in April itself.

While these platforms will be functional even in the absence of 5G networks, their true digital transformation (DX) potential will be unlocked only after the advent of 5G.

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