Bangalore is fast becoming the data science hub of India!

Interview with Prof. Pulak Ghosh, member of the UN’s Big Data Group and Professor at IIM Bangalore by Maitree Dasgupta, swissnex India

The Federal Council of Switzerland recently launched a National Research Programme devoted to the development of Big Data solutions, with a budget of CHF 25 million. We looked at a similar trend arising in India – where Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India is witnessing the rise of Big Data analytics as a sector in itself. Here’s what Prof. Pulak Ghosh – member of the UN’s Big Data Group and Professor at IIM Bangalore – had to say about the new developments and the future of Big Data in India.


Dr. Pulak Ghosh is a Professor at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) and formerly a Professor at the Georgia State University and Emory University, Atlanta, USA. He also serves in the Advisory group of Big data at the United Nations (UN) Global Pulse, a big data initiative by UN.
Prof. Pulak Ghosh
Professor at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) / IIM Bangalore

  • How would you describe the growth pattern of India’s Big Data analytics ventures?

Well, the entire Big Data world is moving from a www. to vvv world! Big Data is supposed to be a $25 billion industry and India has the great opportunity to take a large share from it. However, Big Data is in a nascent stage in general and more so in India, and many believe that this technology is about large volume of data. While this is true and has always been there, what compounds its intricacy is the nature of data which is mostly ‘unstructured’. The real value of Big Data is combining off-line (structured) and on-line (unstructured) and making the inference real-time. Firms in India are yet to combine the two in this real-time fashion. I see two big avenues of Big Data growth in India. Commercial and government. While the Commercial part of Big Data is mainly concentrating on the volume, the government part is mainly concentrating on mining the unstructured data for filling what we call the “data gap”. Particularly for a country like India, where good and timely data in a panel structure is not available in abundance, Big Data can be very helpful. For example, Big Data can be used for regular employment generation, infrastructure development, etc. It can also be used in the tracking of public service projects in a real-time fashion.

  • Which sectors are the front-runners of Big Data and analytics in India? Please elaborate some of the data driven initiatives of these sectors in India.

Before commenting on the commercial use of analytics, let me shed some light on the silent revolution happening in the use of Big Data and analytics in the Govt of India. One of the major issues of the government is timely tracking of projects for public good, monitoring and tracking the direct benefit transfer for poor people. There is a silent revolution happening in this side in the government’s approach to deal with these burning issues. Using Big Data one can analyze the satellite picture to find the truth about the progress of projects. By mapping the mobile phone usage across the districts one can figure out the effect of direct benefit transfer. Mobile phone usage is an unstructured data which has tremendous use in the government projects.

Coming back to the commercial part, main front runners are banks and internet e-commerce companies. Post 2008, banks started realizing the potential of the humongous customer data they already had stored. This eventually led them doing more business with the existing customers by betting on customer preferences and addressing their pain points. The new data-driven business model gave them a fillip to their new initiatives of doing more business with the on-board customers, given that banking data is more reliable than the data from other business verticals such as retail. Indian banking giants like State Bank of India, HDFC, and ICICI are front runners in using analytics for better service and better business.

The next big players for use of Big Data analytics are e-commerce companies, Flipkart, Amazon. etc. They are mostly using unstructured and structured data in a combined way also. For example, e-commerce companies also need to develop algorithm for cross-sell/ up-sale. However, with nearly 1.5 lakh product on display how does one develop the algorithm in real-time. Added with that, the problem of sparseness in the data as not every product get sold frequently and there is an inherent minimum time before a customer buys the same product again.

  • What role Indian start-ups are playing in the Big Data ventures? Do you observe any particular trends?

Yes, I see Bangalore becoming the data science hub of India both from new startup clusters as well as established analytics firm opening their shop in Bangalore. I think because of the IT boom the entrepreneurial environment was already existent in Bangalore and the ease of finding correct talent also helped in these new startup clusters on analytics. Also presence of institutes like Indian Institute of management Bangalore, Indian Institute of Science, Indian statistical Institute and many more helps the clusters.

  • Are the Indian strartups equipped to deliver/ manage the demands of the industry?

Since the analytics in India is very nascent stage, startups are doing ok. Also, most startups are service based and thus doing fine. However, companies that are a bit more advanced are definitely short of right talent. We neither have plenty computer engineers with solid and deep learning understanding, nor we have enough statistician. So the startups are struggling a bit.

  • Considering the rising demand from the business sectors, what are the implications of Big Data on research and education in India?

I see more and more business schools in India are opening programmes on analytics which will help in meeting the demand. However, we need more structure and depth in the research and education on analytics in India. The tide is yet to come!

  • How do we leverage this potential for growth?

I see a similar era as we saw back in early 1990s for IT boom. Potential for growth is definitely there. However, need push from government to facilitate the analytics industry and academic institutions need to come up with more courses.

  • How are the Indian Businesses positioning themselves in the Big Data boom for both domestic and international markets?

There are clearly two aspect to it. Big companies are opening their own analytics vertical. Like Banks and internet companies (to whom data is the most intelligent advantage over others) are in this league. Then there are lots of companies which are service-oriented and a few startups that are product-oriented. Innovation is must for analytics industry to survive and that way the product-oriented startup is our
best bet.