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India takes on e-commerce giants with plan for a national platform

Hopes to integrate closed platforms into giant national marketplace and make the lot open-source

India has taken aim at, e-commerce platforms like Shopify and even its homegrown e-tail success story Flipkart, by commencing an effort to create an “Open Network for Digital Commerce” that would offer an independent e-commerce platform spanning multiple providers.

The effort to create the Open Network (ONDC) is being led by Quality Council of India, a standards body that works with industry groups to define and implement best practice across India’s public and private sectors.

In its expression of interest form for parties that wish to participate in the Network’s development, the Council stated:

“Today, eCommerce markets work in silos, with each eCommerce platform connecting only its own merchants and customers to each other. ONDC will integrate these closed ecommerce ecosystems and allow each player to be discoverable to a wider market.”

The desired outcome is to “increase value for all participants by collectively expanding the ecommerce market while retaining its competitive synergies.”

The announcement of a nine-member advisory council appointed to drive development of the ONDC states that the effort “aims at promoting open networks developed on open-sourced methodology, using open specifications and open network protocols independent of any specific platform.

“ONDC is expected to digitize the entire value chain, standardize operations, promote inclusion of suppliers, derive efficiencies in logistics and enhance value for consumers.”

The advisory board includes heavyweights like Infosys non-executive chair Nandan M. Nilekani, Digital India co-founder and head Shri Arvind Gupta, and representatives from venture capitalists

Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO of the Indian Retailers Association, has likened the ONDC to India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI), a platform operated by India’s Reserve Bank which enables real-time payments among banks and payment schemes like Google Pay.

The UPI was advanced as a way of improving access to banking services. The ONDC has been pitched as easing access to e-commerce services for India’s myriad small businesses.

No timeframe has been suggested for the ONDC’s delivery, and its exact mission remains nebulous as the advisory board sets to work.

But the intention of the plan is hard to miss: India’s government does not want e-commerce dominated by a handful of giants, even if one of the biggest local players — Flipkart — is an Indian success story. The ONDC is therefore also an expression of India’s “Atmanirbhar Bharat” self-sufficiency philosophy, and how it can sometimes best be met by making the government a service provider. ®

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