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New Biz Models

Businesses are increasingly adopting safer and smarter ways of manufacturing and delivering services

Illustration by Raj Verma Illustration by Raj Verma

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.

Aiding Healthcare

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.

There are more reasons why new business models are here to stay in healthcare, says Ruchir Mehra, CEO & Co-founder of Noida-based Remedo, a chronic condition management platform that helps doctors manage their patients. Mehra, whose platform saw a huge jump in user base during the lockdown, says the sheer number of people with chronic ailments such as diabetes in India makes technology-led patient management a must once stakeholders, that is, doctors, understand its benefits. "The last three months have been a watershed for the health technology industry in terms of the sheer number of people who are becoming receptive to technology in healthcare. The backbone has been telemedicine. But on top of that is chronic condition management," says Mehra. Remedo had 400 doctors in its customer list three months ago. Today, it has 3,000. The platform runs on DISHA (Digital Integrated Smart Health Assistant), which connects doctors with patients via customised plans. Its features include consultation and follow-up reminders; diet, exercise, health & lifestyle tips; medical record-keeping/reminders; and daily educational videos and images. The model is not based on the pandemic but rising number of patients with chronic conditions in India. Nearly 25 crore Indians have at least one chronic condition, he says, adding that Covid gave a big demand push. "Our goal has changed as the market has changed. Earlier, our goal was to reach 3,000 doctors in a year. Now, we are targeting 20,000."

Enhancing Security, Safety, Trust

Enhanced safety and security is very much part of the Covid-19 prevention plan. This has triggered development of newer products. "Almost everything is being re-imagined because of availability of technology," says Ujjwal Munjal, Co-founder, Hero Electronix, Delhi. The company, which focuses on building products and services in the connected technology value chain, has developed an indoor and outdoor camera with real-time mask detection feature. Among products and solutions developed is a Covid-compliant automated building HVAC monitoring and control system for commercial buildings and offices, contactless access control and attendance management system that can also carry out contactless body temperature check and mask wearing compliance check with the help of image analytics. There is also an on-the-go real time temperature monitoring solution for field staff. "We need a roadmap for innovation as what defines a product today is software, data and artificial intelligence," says Munjal, bullish about the technology-led market that is on a steady growth path in India.

The logistics industry, which had the tough task of operating during the lockdown, is another sector where technology has been helping immensely. "On the commercial transport vehicle front, estimates put adoption of telematics at 25-50 per cent. The sector has been growing both at factory level (line-fitted devices) and the retrofit market level. Due to Covid, fleet operators that intend to expand operations are being pushed into the digital realm faster than expected. Without knowing location of a truck easily, it is hard to consider it for loads. Trucks without telematics devices are effectively invisible to new-generation freight exchanges," says Luke Sequeira, Founder of Goa-based logistics monitoring platform, Numadic. He explains that in general, telematics and digital transportation management application - his business focus - allow logistics coordinators to minimise driving miles and time. Telematics can also help transport managers identify if a truck moved through or stopped in an affected zone. "This provides indications of potential risk of coronavirus transmission."

Artificial intelligence-driven platforms that digitally transform enterprises and trucking have gained a lot of acceptance during the lockdown. Prasad Sreeram, CEO and founder of Cogos Technologies, Bengaluru, says their attempts to get truckers and enterprises on to various digital technologies and processes met with heavy resistance from the market in the past. "Large e-commerce clients were also insisting on paper trail. We had to collect trip sheets from drivers, get them stamped and sealed from their side and our side and submit it physically. We had electronic proof of delivery (ePOD) for a long time but they were not willing to accept it. Now, they have understood that the process has to be contactless. So, we generate ePOD once the job is done; customers have also started accepting them. This reduces workload (of both sides) and number of processes," he says. "Discovery (choosing the right truck), proof of delivery and reporting, all three are now online. On-boarding is also becoming digital. Today, if a trucker wants to join our platform, he has to go through physical verification. Someone has to verify the papers, the vehicle. Here, we are now working with e-Mudhra and other companies to come up with a digital on-boarding platform where truckers can submit KYC documents online without physical verification."

Agriculture practices, at farm, supply chain and customer delivery levels, have also undergone transformation that is irreversible. One example is Hyderabad-based UrbanKisaan, which builds farms in city buildings and sells the produce to consumers through a subscription-based app. "Our vertical farms produce 30 times more than conventional farms and use 95 per cent less water and no soil. Consumers have direct access to the farms, where they can harvest their own produce directly, as our farms are in the city. As a result, we do not need any middleman and warehouse. There is no touch point between the farm and the consumer, reducing the risk of Covid spread. We, as a farm, work in a highly protected environment with in-built safety measures," says Vihari Kanukollu, the founder. "Covid has positively impacted the industry as we have become conscious of what we eat, where our food comes from and how many people are involved in the production to consumption process."

Digital World

On May 28, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) announced the launch of a new project to help governments and businesses in developing countries keep transport networks and borders operational and facilitate flow of goods and services while containing coronavirus. The 'three clusters approach' of UNCTAD can be summarised as contactless solutions and good practices, maximising seamless connectivity and collaborative solutions for transport, trade and logistics operations. The first cluster aims at implementing UN conventions and standards for seamless electronic exchange of data in digital transport corridors, border crossings and trade operations, as well as developing smart rail and road connectivity. The second promotes synergies among border agencies through empowering of national trade facilitation committees, improvements in customs automation and identification of non-tariff barriers. The third gives special attention to international transit issues, which are multilateral, and sectoral cooperation for ports as nodes of the global maritime shipping network, rooted in regional and national contexts. All three clusters build on the UN's proven conventions, standards, tools and instruments.

In a study on impact of Covid on Indian economy released in April, global consultancy KPMG said the pandemic has radically disrupted traditional patterns and networks of economic interaction and behaviour, and after this crisis, a new normal has to emerge. "We are staring at more permanent, structural changes in the way we live, work and play. It will lead to a fundamental re-evaluation of assumptions and priorities, which will be a challenge and an opportunity," says the report. The study projects seven ways in which the business landscape can shift, not only in India, but around the world, and hopes that leveraging the following will help in navigating the economically and socially viable path to the next normal - Shift towards localisation, agility, supply chain resilience, financial prudence, variable cost models, and most importantly, use of digital control towers, digital twins and ability to process both structured and unstructured data, apart from the real digital push. A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical object or system.

Essentially, the world is changing, and going digital. Businesses are adopting cutting-edge technologies. In agriculture, farmers are now using apps to find out when to sow and reap. Meanwhile, telecom operators are joining hands with social media companies for a suite of digital offerings. Also, local kiranas are offering products online. As Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said during an earnings call, "We have seen two years' worth of digital transformation in two months."

Over the next few pages, we bring to you how various businesses and industries are changing or have changed their operations. Read on.