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IT for a New World

IT for a New World

How the Information Technology industry is looking to service a world with new rules, habits and behaviour

Illustration by Raj Verma Illustration by Raj Verma

Since April 2020, Cisco's collaboration platform, WebEx, has on an average clocked 25 billion meeting minutes a month. Outside the United States, India has been the second-highest user, recording 40 per cent year-on-year increase in March 2021. Does this mean in-person meetings will become history? Probably not. However, most changes at the workplace triggered by the pandemic are here to stay.

This is not surprising. Adoption of digital technology has seen a decades growth in the past 12-15 months as companies shifted to the distributed remote work model. This meant increased demand for Cloud service providers. Companies also adopted digital tools to make operations more efficient. These included Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which involves automating repetitive tasks. As digital became big, cyber attacks also rose and security became a concern.

As these trends unfold over time, information technology (IT) companies are adopting new ways to help their clients manage these technological changes.

On Cloud Nine

The massive surge in adoption of Cloud services after the pandemic struck is making IT companies adopt an integrated Cloud-first strategy to meet demands of their consumers. A survey by global market intelligence firm IDC for Q4 of 2020 shows that 60 per cent Indian organisations exceeded their 2020 Cloud budgets by 5-15 per cent. The number one reason they cited was Covid-19.

From transforming business models to hiring experts in AI, ML and analytics, IT companies are doing everything possible to tap into the demand for Cloud services. They have, for example, helped healthcare companies run simulations on Cloud for formulations and drug discovery.

RPA, too, has become an important tool for raising employee productivity, streamlining processes and improving process quality and designs in order to improve customer experience. For instance, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance's virtual assistant, LiGo, uses IBM Watson AI to interact with policyholders, address queries, provide personalised account-specific information by applying NLP (natural language processing) and recognise the meaning behind the queries through deep learning techniques.

As governments, enterprises and startups shift to the Cloud, India's spending on public Cloud is expected to be $4 billion-plus in 2021, up 25 per cent year on year. The recent 'Cloud Radar 2021' survey conducted by the Infosys Knowledge Institute among enterprises from six regions showed that effective Cloud adoption can help companies earn nearly $414 billion in net profits. According to the report, the performance of top businesses (annual profit growth) was linked to how they used the Cloud for faster product development, finding solutions, expanding processing capacity, collaboration and unlocking value from data via AI. That is why IT service providers are asking clients to treat Cloud not as an end in itself but a launch pad for innovation. Microsoft's growth in quarter ended March 2021 was driven by its Azure Cloud platform's 50 per cent revenue growth (server products and Cloud services grew 26 per cent).

"We are accelerating innovation to meet customers where they are," says Rajiv Sodhi, Chief Operating Officer, Microsoft India. The Azure Stack HCI (Hyper Converged Infrastructure) provides security, performance and feature updates. It helps companies deploy Windows and Linux virtual machines using their existing tools, processes and skill sets.

Apollo Hospital's new omni-channel healthcare platform, Apollo 24|7, too, uses Azure to connect patients with over 7,000 doctors through an easy-to-use interface on web and mobile. Even Cisco, whose teams worked with several large ITeS, financial services/insurance and public sector companies in India to enable their workforce to work from home due to the pandemic, was backed by its Cloud-enabled security and technology tools such as Cisco AnyConnect VPN. Anand Patil, Director, Systems Engineering, Cisco, India and SAARC, says while the pandemic has impacted industries in different ways, customers are looking for easy-to-use, easy-to-pay technology solutions. The demand for simplified, secure, enterprise-grade, Cloud-delivered technologies is rising, he says.

For IT service providers, mature markets like the US, Europe and Australia are leading spends in digital transformation and Cloud adoption. According to Naveen Mishra, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner, solutions around analytics, business intelligence, AI, ML and IoT are some of the biggest sources of revenue for IT companies (for most, these account for nearly half their revenues). For instance, Damen Shipyards Group has got TCS to develop an IoT platform for its vessels. It plans to use 10,000-15,000 sensors in vessels to enable predictive maintenance, remote servicing and savings in fuel consumption. Bengaluru-based Wipro has also seen a rise in demand for Cloud, AI/ML, IoT services from several industries, including retail, healthcare, ecommerce, manufacturing and telecom. It is offering catalogue-based services such as strategy, planning, design and Cloud implementation.

Process Automation

A recent survey by UiPath, a global software company, among Indian workers showed they waste 4.5 hours a week on tasks they feel can be automated. These include sending emails, scheduling calls/meetings, keying in data and creating datasets. A total of 40 per cent global respondents said their employers have increased investment in automation in 2021. "Much of the migration to Cloud in the past 12-18 months has been spurred by adoption of AI and intelligent automation," says Subram Natarajan, CTO and Director, Technical Sales, IBM Technology Sales, India/South Asia. Though RPA has been around for a while, its integration with AI has gained momentum of late, he adds.

Wipro is combining RPA with AI and smart analytics. Customers, say experts, expect value-added services such as alerts, promotions, intelligence and reviews for faster decision making. Automation provides Wipro instant feedback, helping clients understand customers better and improve services.

"RPA is important to increase employee productivity, streamline processes, improve process quality and designs and, thereby, provide enhanced customer experience," says Rishu Sharma, Principal Analyst, Cloud & Artificial Intelligence, IDC India.

Companies want to use data as a strategic asset, automate processes and innovate with new operating models. Mahesh Zurale, Senior Managing Director, Lead - Accenture's Advanced Technology Centers in India, sees need for more intelligent automation solutions. "According to a recent Accenture survey of 4,300 executives, 60 per cent of leaders have accelerated investments in RPA and AI," he says. Investing in automation is no longer just a cost issue. Gone are the days when companies adopted an intelligent automation platform and waited 18 months for results, says Subram. "Today companies take a process-centric approach, create an immediate business impact and move on the next area of automation rather than establishing a platform and then talking about automation," he says.

As automation and intelligent RPA have had a direct impact on the kind of talent needed, IT service providers are making huge investments to reskill their workforce. TCS has over 3.7 lakh people trained in new technologies and 4.5 lakh in Agile, a TCS proprietary methodology that enables enterprise-wide agile transformations without the constraint of location. Also, over 2.4 lakh Infosys employees use Lex, a learning solution to help organisations accelerate their talent transformation journey. It is a Cloud-first and mobile-first solution. However, till now, service providers have had a reactive approach to re-skilling their workforce, say experts. "They anticipate an uptick of automation technologies and work out the impact and do their reskilling," says Arup Roy, VP Analyst, Gartner. But predicting technology trends way ahead of their implementation is not an easy task.

Data and Security

With digital becoming all pervasive, cyber attacks, too, are getting deadlier and more frequent. Recently, in the United States, Colonial Pipeline had to pay a ransom of $4.4 million to regain control of its systems from hackers. The pandemic has made data and security a top concern for enterprises across the globe. IBM's Security report released earlier this year pointed out that India is the second-most attacked country in the Asia-Pacific, accounting for 7 per cent of all cyber attacks in Asia. Ransomware accounted for nearly 40 per cent of these attacks. Manufacturing and energy were the most attacked industries in 2020, second only to finance and insurance.

That is why large enterprises are now creating board-level cybersecurity committees for risk management. "In 2020, Gartner's Board of Directors Survey detailed cybersecurity-related risk to be the second-highest source of risk for enterprises," says Rajpreet Kaur, Sr Principal Analyst, Gartner. The primary reason is the cost and loss of trust among customers. Research firms and experts have cautioned that the attacks will increase in 2021 in all sectors. According to the annual Cybercrime report by Cybersecurities Venture, cybercrimes are estimated to cost the global economy $6 trillion in 2021, double the 2015 number.

All this makes data security all the more important. "Newer models of data storage on private Cloud are emerging, which can act as a good measure to deal with cyber threats," says Atul Gupta, Partner, IT Advisory and Cyber Security Leader, KPMG in India. The key factors deciding companies approach towards data storage include availability of data at all times, ease of access across channels, adequate controls, protection from cyber threats and regulatory requirements. Anand of Cisco says they are enhancing Cloud-based application security products - Cisco Tetration, Stealthwatch Cloud, Duo Beyond, AppDynamics - to enable visibility, performance agility, monitoring, real-time response and actionable insights.

As the spread of digital technology has increased sharply globally over the last 16 months, the world is witnessing an entirely new set of rules and behaviour. And that will surely impact lives across the board.