What we need is digital disruption

Jaideep Mehta | Updated on January 20, 2018

Hold my hand: Soon, robotics will influence every walk of human life

The IoT will improve efficiencies, but it will also throw up organisational and leadership challenges in business

New waves of technologies are transforming the industrial, business and governance landscape. Sample how the Delhi government is engaging with citizens through its e-governance app. Everything from reporting on dirty streets to water meter readings is getting digitised.

On another vector, YES Bank recently invested significant marketing monies to have a presence at a Nasscom conference, where its key audience was the IT industry and CIOs: they are building a business to enable digital and mobile commerce and seeking to drive more, and deeper, relationships with technology houses to drive growth.

Even as companies embrace digital technologies, commonly referred to as SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud), leveraging them for business gains of various hues, the next generation of technologies is getting ready to roll. IDC has identified six key new technologies. Unlike SMAC, these six technologies, or innovation accelerators, are going to impact businesses’ operating processes and paradigms, driving deeper transformation.

New internet, virtual reality

Internet of Things (IOT) is the label given to a connected world where inanimate objects ‘talk’ to each other, exchanging information without human intervention, and triggering business processes.

For instance, a trucking company in Delhi has used IoT to track its vehicles while monitoring essential indicators such as speed, fuel consumption and the general health of the vehicle, using an integrated system of sensors which feed data into a mobile-network-connected device. This kind of application can save the company anywhere between 10-15 per cent of operating costs through reduced pilferage, prevention of unauthorised stops and preventive maintenance.

By 2020, we expect more than 30 billion devices to be connected on to one single “new” internet.

Augmented and virtual reality, the next accelerator, has already invaded the gaming ecosystem. However, if you are a healthcare provider, you’ll soon be using visors to virtually train key frontline medical staff. Or, if you happen to be the Army, virtual battlefields will enable safe and effective training of soldiers.

We also see applications in R&D, product development and in industries as disparate as interior design, retail and chemical manufacturing. For us consumers, expect it to completely transform the ecommerce experience soon as you buy from a virtual supermarket while wearing your visor and pay at the virtual self-service checkout. Technology vendors such as Samsung, Facebook and many others are racing to develop next generation devices which enrich our experiences.

3D printing, robots

This can feel gimmicky, with hobbyists “printing” out things made of plastic materials in their garages. However, this accelerator is already being used to produce artificial body parts where organ replacements are required. A leading brand is launching a custom-fit, 3D-printed shoe which is ‘manufactured’ in the store. 3D-printed prototypes are replacing clay models whilst enabling far more detail and accuracy in product development labs: and did I mention time savings to the tune of 60-70 per cent?

3D printing can, and will, revolutionise supply chains, inventory management practices, product development and R&D methods and healthcare. Watch out for the rise of hyper-local, micro-factories which democratise manufacturing, changing it forever.

Next generation robots come in two flavours: real and virtual. Physical robots can now execute tasks that are extremely intricate. Swiss firm ABB recently showcased a robot folding a paper aeroplane and launching it into the air, demonstrating the next level of robotic dexterity, programmatic sophistication and versatility.

Robots will replace humans in all kinds of repetitive or dangerous tasks: from factory shopfloors to uranium mines. The day is not far when hotel housekeeping and even engineering functions see robots playing a bigger role.

Security, thought systems

The final two innovation accelerators are not just important in themselves but also have a pervasive impact on the four above, and on a much wider ecosystem.

The tragedy of the digital age is the increasing incidences of cyber-crime — from individuals suffering phishing attacks and stolen passwords to large organisations losing confidential customer data. We are in a perpetual battle with cyber-criminals, rogue countries and malevolent employees seeking to hack, steal and sell.

Next-generation security will blend the physical and digital. CCTV cameras with face recognition technology built in ensure that if a bad actor enters the premises, the cameras can instantly trigger alarms and activate relevant business processes.

On another front, projects are on to make passwords redundant. Using a combination of biometrics and behaviour tracking, new age security systems will identify you with more certainty. The paradigm of security is also being extended to protect new age robots, IoT networks and virtual reality systems. Success is an imperative: failure will halt the onset of the digital age in its tracks.

No doubt, cognitive systems will be the most pervasive accelerator going forward. The fundamental notion is that machines can self-learn, improve and deliver superior outcomes over a period of time. This is possible due to breakthrough technologies manifested in machine learning systems, artificial intelligence platforms and big data systems. The possibilities in smart traffic management in cities are also phenomenal with cognitive systems which learn from historical traffic patterns and can, for example, automatically change the rhythm of traffic lights, or indeed dynamically set parking charges.

As a CEO, it is imperative that you understand implications of these emerging technologies: figuring out how they work could be left to someone else, but understanding what they can do is of critical importance to you.

Given the breakneck speed of evolution, coupled with the worsening skills shortages, it is not an easy or predictable ride. The promise of transformation can only be realised with visible, sustained leadership from the top, a culture that pardons innovation failures, the ability to stretch your business model and a discrete innovation investment fund.

The writer is managing director of IDC India and South Asia

Published on June 08, 2016

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