India and the UK are already engaged at various levels of co-operation and collaboration in multiple fields. Given India’s technological and economic transformation in recent decades, there is an opportunity for the two countries to pursue larger goals, like the enhancement of ties across financial markets and the exploration of modern technologies – particularly new digital technologies that are boosting business growth in both countries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the UK further reinforces the commitment by both countries to deepen their strategic partnership.
While there are several opportunities for collaboration, spanning areas such as digital, trade, investment, finance, climate change, defense, cyber security and education; the underlying driver is the role of technology across all these areas.
Technology – the key driver
First, as the UK is preparing to leave the European Union by March 2019, it is looking to reinvigorate its economy and look for more partners. A shift in gears towards India in technology partnership can be a win-win for both countries.
Second, India’s established leadership in the software services industry, made possible on the back of a skilled talent pool, supportive policies and a culture of innovation, positions it to contribute meaningfully to the partnership. Today, the country has moved beyond outsourced services and is rapidly gaining ground in technology innovation. For example, numerous companies have set up R&D centres in India to leverage the skilled talent pool and the conducive start-up environment. With Bengaluru being recognised among the top 10 tech innovation hubs in the world, India is now in the elite club of tech leaders such as US, UK, China and Japan.
Third, the UK has traditional strengths in science and innovation which can help India build a high-end science and technology ecosystem to propel the country in the right direction. The UK can leverage this partnership to assist India with developing superior technological skills as well as modern manufacturing and business processes, to help increase India’s self-reliance ambitions.
Fourth, the two countries have a long history of collaborative success. The UK is the largest G20 investor in India for decades and India has the fourth largest number of investment projects in the UK, where technology plays a key role. More than 700 British companies such as British Petroleum, JCB, Caparo and Vodafone already operate, assemble and manufacture in India, employing thousands of people. Tata, an Indian conglomerate, is one of UK’s largest manufacturing employers.
The UK has also played a pivotal role in India’s defence modernisation and shares a strong history of cooperation in sectors such technology, skills development and education.
Today, through its Science and Innovation Network (SIN) programme, the UK is accelerating on global collaboration to find solutions for the needs of a growing planet. Topics of interest include Clean Energy, Future Manufacturing, Cyber and Information Communications Technology (ICT), Quantum Technology, Future Cities, Space and Maritime services. These align with India’s vision and provide the foundation for new business collaborations.
With technology as the foundation, both nations can further strengthen their ties through knowledge sharing, collaboration on research and development, partnerships between world-class innovation clusters as well as leading academia to continue to remain at the forefront of a technology revolution.
Working towards common goals
So, what does this mean for both India and the UK?
India requires advanced technology and manufacturing capabilities to bridge the existing gap while the UK needs a huge boost to trade and investments. Given their historical engagement, both the countries can work towards common goals leveraging technology and each other’s complementary strengths.
The time is right to ramp up participation across sectors as there are numerous opportunities for both domestic and foreign players to form joint ventures, open new avenues for technology transfers and joint production, and forge public-private partnerships.
The next steps
India’s population, a growing consumer base and talent pool, stands at 1.2 billion people, and is set to grow even larger. Its purchasing power is also expected to increase, presenting a huge opportunity for homegrown products and services.
With technology increasingly underpinning economic development and competitiveness the world over, the next step in the India-UK relationship would be collaborations in ‘sunrise’ future tech areas such as Artificial Intelligence, health technologies, clean technologies, smart urbanisation and future mobility. The Government’s current priorities of Make in India, Smart Cities, Digital India and Skill India also act as major enablers designed to facilitate the right investment, foster innovation, enhance skill development and build future-ready manufacturing infrastructure using technology as the foundation.
Industry 4.0 is another very important area of opportunity where India could benefit through its partnership with the UK. Through this, India can advance from low-cost manufacturing to high-end manufacturing. There are initiatives such as the UK-India Tech Hub to create state-level clusters which are a good step towards actualising the vision. A lot of work would need to be done in the domain of skills enhancement and capabilities in the areas of science and technology. This will also create high value jobs especially for the world-class innovation clusters in both countries.
So, although India and the UK go back a long way, there are new opportunities emerging to build a stronger partnership using technology as the foundation.
The author is a President - India & South Asia of Rolls-Royce.