In the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown, Siemens India, which makes turbines and turbo compressors, motors and generators, transformers and advanced medical imaging equipment, had to commission some machines in far-off locations. On normal days, its engineers would have flown to each site and got the machines up and running. With air, rail and road travel not possible due to the lockdown, it had to work remotely, using a technology that wasn't the first choice of many of its clients until that moment. The Siemens engineers, sitting in their homes, looked at the digital imprint of the machine which was captured real time through a 3D-glass worn by a person at the site. Directions were given remotely, for example which wire needs to be connected where, just as the engineer would have done sitting inside the machine at the site.
Installation of these machines meant savings in travel costs and increase in efficiency. "You begin to realise through the experience of Covid that a lot can be done in a different way. There are new business models, there are new ways of working that are emerging because people could not physically go out," says Sunil Mathur, CEO, Siemens India. The Mumbai-based company provides technology solutions for sustainable cities, smart grids, building technologies, mobility and power distribution.
"Digitalisation was always being talked about, but now, it has become a reality, and I'm not talking about getting your pizza online, that's one part of it. I'm talking about industrial processes, I'm talking about running power plants, I'm talking about making energy more efficient," he adds. This can mean huge cost savings for clients. "For example, in cement plants, 40 per cent of the cost is electricity. If you are able to save 10 per cent energy costs and energy is 40 per cent of your total cost, you have saved 4 per cent," says Mathur.
Siemens is not an exception. Umpteen technologies and their possibilities have proven their mettle since March after the Indian economy went into the lockdown mode. As V.K. Saraswat, member of the government's apex think-tank, Niti Aayog, says, "Post-Covid days will be that of smart surveillance, indoor farming, autonomous stores, telematics fleet management, digital factories, tele-healthcare, robots, 3D printers...." And many more. Over the past three months, as the world has been locked down, companies have been constantly reimagining the way business is done, deploying an array of tech tools to do things differently. In India, the pandemic has advanced the introduction of digital solutions across industries. Today, no one bats an eyelid if one talks of tele-consultation, adopting artificial intelligence solutions in agriculture or use of machine learning in manufacturing.
Global consultancy McKinsey said in its "Future of Asia" report in May that digital capabilities proved to be even more critical in context of the pandemic as there was acceleration in digital adoption across sectors. It said Asia could unlock $440-620 billion of economic profit by improving performance of companies and investing in value-creating sectors in post-Covid years. "The corporate ecosystems operating in Asia will be tested by the extent of the Covid-19 shock, which could raise competitive intensity but also offer new opportunities for outperformers to pull further ahead," it said, adding that "whether it's the emergence of digital health solutions such as tele-health or productivity gains of energy companies through robotics and automation, digitisation is a key lever in all sectors." The report covers healthcare, pharmaceutical, energy, real estate, financial services and consumer goods sectors, pretty much echoing Niti Aayog's Saraswat.
Technology is not only helping companies do business, it is also changing the way they function. "Remote and virtual care solutions such as tele-ICU, e-ICU and AI-based auto-positioning tools will see an explosion in adoption due to Covid-19 given their ability to deliver care remotely," says Nalinikanth Gollagunta, President and CEO, GE Healthcare, South Asia. In fact, on June 22, the day he was expressing his views, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Jhajjar was seeing deployment of Bengaluru-based GE Healthcare's Centricity High Acuity Critical Care, an e-ICU solution to digitise and manage internal workflow of its ICU department, comprising over 80 beds. The hospital was thus becoming capable of tapping into clinical expertise of other AIIMS centres, including the prestigious one in Delhi, to deliver high-quality care. The use of virtual care solutions is unlikely to come down even after Covid-19 is tamed as governments realise the need to strengthen the health system. Virtual care solutions are the only way forward given the geographical challenges and huge variations in quality of health infrastructure across states.