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Of India’s population of 1.3 billion, only 400 million, roughly 30 percent, are online. While this might not be the most impressive statistic in a country where that figure is closer to 90 percent, for many tech companies this number is important. As web access expands through the developing world, new markets are cropping up overnight in high density countries such as India, Brazil, China and throughout Africa. The proliferation of low cost smart phones and free Wi-Fi is allowing companies to court what has been dubbed “The Next Billion.”
The next billion internet users represent a major opportunity, but businesses across the spectrum will have to revise their strategy in order cater to the unique circumstances and preferences of this new user base. During the first wave of internet adoption over the last two decades, mobility became an extension of the native web experience, with users – especially web-native Millennials and App Geners – relying on text and email communication. However, when it comes to reaching this rising crop of users in developing nations, companies are faced with a new set of challenges. For the next billion users, text-based communication can actually be a barrier to adoption. With low literacy rates prevalent among this new user group, their needs and expectations don’t demand seamless group chat or email functionality, but rather a simple and effective voice and visual-based interface.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal detailed the experience of a 36-year-old porter in a New Delhi train station. Having only been online within the last year, he describes himself as uncomfortable with reading or using a keyboard, but no less able to “[enjoy] the internet to the fullest.”
This demonstrates that getting back to what many in the Western world perceive as “basics,” will ultimately make companies and technology competitive when targeting the Next Billion. In many ways, it is an extension of an issue currently being faced by CIOs: businesses are juggling a number of generational disparities within their organization, each with their own communications preferences. Just as the c-suite partners with IT to find a solution internally that meets the needs of a diverse group of stakeholders, the business as a whole will need to rethink its approach to external prospects if they want to appeal to the Next Billion.
The root of digital transformation success is the ability to embrace flexibility. As the Next Billion is poised to join the global online community, not just as customers but as business partners, it behooves companies seeking to look for ways to engage with them that best cater to their preferences, comforts, and available technology tools. Today, and for the foreseeable future, that means a strong voice and visual-based infrastructure. Tomorrow however, that is likely to change. The organizations that are staged to grow in tandem with the Next Billion will undoubtedly emerge as not only digital transformation leaders, but leaders on a much larger scale.