Pivot or Perish – Digital Transformation post COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world out of its slumber. This pandemic will lead to increased digitisation (i.e. converting information from a physical format into a digital one) and lead to increasing number of businesses moving online. For starters, video conferencing, and virtual meetings for work and educational activities; E-commerce, and distributed ledgers for trusted online transactions will be implemented at rocket speed. There will also be a greater use of robots. From companions, service agents, warehouse workhorses, to drones for surveillance, and delivery agents, a new era beckons; virtual reality in retail, augmented reality in education, and tourism,  and finally, the implementation of AI and ML in almost every aspect of our lives, these are a few (of many) advancements that are around the corner.

The organisations will be hard-pressed to sweat their resources more and cut down costs all around. This will entail leveraging advanced Analytics and Automation technologies to predict demand patterns, optimise resources to meet the same etc. Increased digitisation will also lead to availability of humongous data. Planning for the data management, storage, analysis and deriving the insights etc., will be made possible in an accelerated manner.

There is a paradigm shift in the application of technology, with an accelerated digital transformation impact in every sphere of life. The world will now be a lab for experimentation and adoption of all emerging technologies, with the support of regulators. Every advancement also brings its share of challenges, and here, we foresee an increased stress on cybersecurity, with new threats like chemical and biological warfare, and related accidents.

Opportunity for AI in India

According to a recent Accenture study, AI can add US$957 billion (15% of current gross value added) to India’s economy by 2035. It’s no surprise then, that the government has introduced bold, multi-pronged initiatives to augment labor productivity and innovation with an eye to driving growth. But despite ranking high in terms of the number of AI start-ups, India lags behind other G20 nations, in particular the United States and China, in innovation and tech development in the field. Nevertheless, an allocation of $480 million in Budget 2018 for research, training and skills development in robotics, digital manufacturing, big data intelligence and AI underlines the Indian government’s commitment to new technologies that are seen as key to boosting economic and social development. Policy makers have also put together a road-map for emerging technologies and established a task force, which outlines how AI in India will shape up in the coming future.

Role of Government for attaining leadership role in AI

With increasing competition from leaders in AI like China, it is important for India to have a re-look at the current plans and have an even more aggressive approach in the rapidly changing scenario of COVID-19 engineered rapid digitisation. India must look to leverage its capabilities and successfully plot a strategic course.

The following must be the vision for India in the field of AI for the next 10 years. India will be the highest populated country in the world with advantages such as:

  1. Large domestic consumption for cutting edge technology services
  2. Highest number of English-speaking engineers graduating from universities - these engineers could be oriented in the AI industry.
  3. Highest number of connected devices, mobile & cellular connections
  4. Largest number of smart cities & integrated command and control centers generating valuable data and consuming the insights provided by AI-ML Systems.
  5. Largest numbers of Centers of Excellence across the country’s universities collaborating with the global leaders, operating in the cutting edge of technologies including Quantum computing.
  6. Highest volume of Data generated by the billions of connected devices, offering a huge value that could be unlocked with the help of disruptive technologies like AI-ML & Blockchain.
  7. Backyard to the world for manufacturing hardware for AI industry
  8. Trainers to the world for AI adoption across the world
  9. Offering cost-effective development ecosystem for AI solutions across the world.
  10. And finally a young population which is tech savvy

The role of academic institutions in achieving the targets for AI:

India has a very good academic structure when it comes to AI but the outcome in terms of innovation and Intellectual Property (IP) is on a lower side. India is not focusing on creating IPs or AI products at the academic level. A center for excellence in this sector will be very helpful but it should be thoroughly monitored by government.

IISc, IIT Mumbai, IIT Kanpur, IIT Patna, IIT Delhi, IIT Madras, some IIITs and a few central universities are leading the efforts of the academia in India. However, the number of research papers and patentable solutions developed in the Indian academic ecosystem is considered miniscule compared to the leading countries in the world like US, China and the D5 nations. The research conducted by the Indian academic institutions is hampered by the siloed approach and the lack of coordination between the Industry, academia, and Start-up ecosystem & is disjointed from the real-life situations where the difference can be perceptible. The number of solutions developed through the research in India; that has been commercialized on large scale to generate value; is dismal. This also leads to the reluctance of the industry and government to engage with substantial investments that can produce cognizable results. There should be a clear value proposition for the enterprises to partner with the Academia for co-investing in developing AI solutions.

Role of Blockchain in digital transformation:

Distributed Ledger technologies like Blockchain enable risk management by offering controlled   access, fool proof authentication and trusted authorization for those involved and transactions conducted between them by acting as a trusted third party. Digital transformation at scale can thus be expedited in a secured manner. The following are some of the crucial activities to be done by Government of India to support path breaking applications of Distributed Ledger Technologies:

  • Unique Blockchain based self-sovereign digital identities for all citizens
  • Central bank digital currency on a national permissioned Blockchain
  • Regulatory recognition of data and transaction records stored on Blockchain.

This will help is eliminating corruption & inefficiency linked leakages, thus unlocking huge government resources that may be otherwise wasted or are spent unproductively. Blockchain enables availability of high-quality data for AI and ML applications. Trust and transparency offered by Blockchain, as well as secured private digital identities (of devices and people) offers high quality record keeping, an integral component for several applications in Financial, Supply chain and in Health care applications like clinical record management, and electronic health record administration.

Reinventing careers through re-skilling:

Realising that change is the only constant in today’s fast evolving world, knowledge professionals should upskill themselves to stay relevant in a world. Some of the activities that are suggested are outlined below:

  1. Keep abreast of the latest use cases by studying the way the global leaders like Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Google, JP Morgan, HSBC etc., are leveraging emerging technologies.
  2. Keep abreast of the tools and platforms offered by leading companies in the field like IBM, Google, Microsoft, Intel etc.
  3. Undertake courses on Online platforms to upskill on the trending topics in the emerging technologies.
  4. Study how AI/ML & Blockchain applications are being implemented in leading countries like China, USA, Singapore & Middle East.
  5. Always look proactively for opportunities to implement AI/ML solutions in practical scenarios while being sensitive to the way, various businesses are leveraging the same.
  6. Learn to be computer literate and try to pick up a language like Node JS, Golang or Python.
  7. Try to write articles, white papers or books that will force one to conduct intense research around related topics.

Role of Government in encouraging Re skilling:

There is a large need to take care of the existing workforce that is likely to be displaced from their jobs due to the emerging technology led automation. There is no dearth of talented and English educated manpower that would be enterprising while being in dire need to re-skill & stay relevant. Hence it is imperative for the Government to put in place a concerted strategy to deliver appropriate competence & impart the industry relevant skill while encouraging the learners to master the same.

It is imperative to partner Global leading educational/training providers and offer the highest quality programs that combine theoretical, practical, and cutting-edge solutioning capabilities to the executives across the various stages of the corporate lifecycle.

  1. Reskilling should be encouraged through proper incentives and opportunity for career growth
  2. Formal and informal education with highest standards should be made available with proper standardization and recognized certification that is valued by industry.
  3. Online education through MOOCs should be blended with real life opportunities to explore and implement solutions on job.

In conclusion, while it is true that COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a dramatic paradigm shift in the form of increased digitalisation & automation, times have also become very challenging due to the availability of multiple resources across the software development lifecycle with the proliferation of open source technologies and highly secure and scalable cloud enabled SAAS environment.

The advanced automation technologies can blunt the edge of well settled companies and throw up new paradigms and disruptive environments anywhere. Hence, we will see a lot of shifts in the future where large companies that are unable to adapt to change will vanish and new leaders rise in every field. The exponents of Technology can then disrupt any business incumbents who are not vigilant & adaptive to these changes. They will become victims of the ‘Frog in the Warm water syndrome’.

Srinivas Mahankali, Principal Consultant (Blockchain), National Institute for Smart Government

B.Tech. (IIT Chennai 1984-88), MBA (IIM Bangalore 1988-90)

An alumnus of IIT Madras and IIM Bangalore, Srinivas Mahankali is presently a Principal Consultant at NISG’s Blockchain Centre of Excellence in a Government & NASSCOM owned organisation, NISG (National Institute for Smart Government), where he plays a key role in promotion, and implementation of Blockchain projects across the Public Sector and Government. He is certified in Lean Six Sigma, NCFM Level 2, Capital Markets and R3 Corda.

Prior to this, he was leading the Blockchain Center of Excellence at ULTS (ULCCS Group, Calicut, Kerala), creating  the world’s largest pool of Blockchain experts to execute solutions for Enterprise & Educational applications.

He also led Strategy & IT  for 3 years at Apollo LogiSolutions (ALS), India’s leading integrated logistics services company. Here, he formulated & implemented the ABEX (Apollo Business Excellence) program, and executed a comprehensive overhaul of  IT hardware, networking and ERP management at ALS. During his tenure as CIO, ALS won the awards, ‘The Best Integrated Logistics Services Company’ & Best Logistics CEO in India’ in 2017

While he has authored and co-authored two prominent books ‘Blockchain–The Untold Story’ and ‘AI & ML Powered Agents of Automation and Successful Organisations in Action’, respectively, his book ‘Blockchain–The Untold Story’ is the first ever book to be translated from English into Chinese by Artificial Engineering Bots.

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