Sarbani Bhatia
Senior Vice-President,
IT, Jagran Prakashan

During 2016, enterprises across all industry verticals stepped up their investments in IT and telecom infrastructure in order to enhance operational efficiencies and meet customer demands. Internet of things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies gained significant traction during the year, while enterprises continued leveraging social media, analytics and cloud (SMAC) technologies to get real-time insights into market trends and convert them into actionable strategies. Going forward, the role of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, fog computing, blockchain, machine learning, robotics and 3D printing is expected to increase considerably. Enterprise customers comment on the key technology trends during 2016, the challenges in adopting new applications, and the technology roadmap for 2017…

What were the key technology trends in the enterprise space during 2016? What was the level of adoption of new technologies like IoT, M2M and the cloud?

The digital revolution has created an entirely new landscape and ecosystem for the enterprise technology space. Smarter enterprises have realised the importance of embracing the change by training employees, consumers and other stakeholders to become capable of handling new cutting-edge technology. Most organisations have begun their cloud journey with private and hybrid cloud solutions. While the public cloud has the lowest level of adoption as of now, its usage is on the rise as it addresses security concerns. According to the International Data Corporation, by end-2018, half of the IT expenditure will be on cloud-based solutions.

M2M technology offers great solutions for saving costs, improving operational efficiencies, and growth, but the lack of standardisation and infrastructure challenges pose a problem. Most M2M projects are initiated by business teams or research and development teams, not so often by the IT teams. IT members get involved in integration and data handling at a later stage. The verticals implementing M2M on a large scale are transport and logistics, automotives, the e-health and utilities. The IoT journey has begun. The possibilities offered by it are endless, but most enterprises are yet to come up with a clear-cut policy or strategy to implement it to create a significant impact on their functionality. Big data has been growing and evolved the analytics with it to convert it into actionable insights. But very few enterprises can leverage the information strategically to im­prove their bottom lines.

Virtual reality and augmented reality have certainly made inroads in creating immersive user experiences, but their use and applications are still largely limited to gaming and entertainment. Most organisations have made laudable efforts in social networking and achieving better collaboration amongst employees, consumers and partners. But there is still a lot of head room for expansion.

Another promising field, 3D printing is at a nascent stage. The technology holds the key to customise and conveniently mass produce virtually all the objects we need to operate our businesses, and solve our consumer needs and healthcare issues. However, the complexities and lack of maturity of the 3D printing industry often obscure its true promise.

What are the key challenges faced by Indian enterprises in adopting new technologies? How can these be resolved?

Technology advances at a very fast pace, with new technologies emerging almost every day. The challenge lies in deciding which of these will align best with the orga­nisation’s priorities and long-term goals. A good understanding of the organisational working and its vision is necessary.

Lack of good leadership often acts as an impediment to the implementation of new technologies. Another challenge is the lack of time due to routine ongoing tasks and responsibilities. The chief information officer (CIO) or IT head can turn to innovation and new technology only after meeting the current IT needs and maintaining the existing IT environment.

User acceptance is also a major issue. There is always resistance to adopting new technologies as users prefer to be in their comfort zone with age-old methods of working. Moreover, users are faced with a mind-boggling array of applications, without enough collaboration or integration between them. Very few solution provi­ders are able to tie them together to offer a seamless user experience. Software intelligence should be approached and handled as an across-the-board journey rather than a one-off project.

Budgetary issues also act as an obstacle in embracing new technology. To this end, using tools to monitor energy use as well as adopting industry best practices can go a long way in saving the power expenses associated with the adoption of a new technology.

The biggest challenge in adopting the cloud is the overdependence on legacy or proprietary systems. If applications are built on an open architecture and framework, they would run on any platform, whether it is the in-house data centre or a private or a public cloud. Moving to the cloud would not involve any major change or rewriting of code.

Many organisations are yet to make strategic use of big data analytics. The tool requires a new approach in handling, storing and retrieving data as the traditional methods are not always able to cope with the variable nature of big data.

The major challenges faced in implementing IoT is the complex nature of the different components of the IoT ecosystem and the lack of standards. Other challenges are data privacy concerns, security issues, high cost of implementation, handling of the huge amount of data generated, inadequate domain knowledge and interoperability concerns. To resolve this, a focused approach is needed. Consumers should have the choice to opt out of data collection. Access control and device authentication methods could be introduced. Despite all precautions, security breaches may occur and one must be prepared for such breaches by having an exit strategy in place and saving whatever data can be secured.

Which technology trends are likely to dominate the enterprise space in 2017?  

The already blurred lines between the real, physical world and the digital world will continue to obliterate as smart objects, devices and machine learning help us increase our control over the physical world. In the near term, machine learning and AI will become much more pervasive. Intelligent applications such as virtual personal assistants will make the handling of routine tasks simpler and the workforce more efficient. We are already used to voice-activated assistants like Siri, Google and Cortana, and these will become much smarter due to advances in AI and machine learning. AI will eventually find its way into all classes of smart routine software such as enterprise resource planning, CRM modules and security tools. The real world will converge more and more with the digital world, with more and more smart “things” getting interconnected. These intelligent things will move beyond drones, robots and self-driven vehicles, and enter every office, factory floor and home. The time is ripe for seamless integration across IoT devices, wearables and mobile handsets, which will go beyond individual interactions and extend to a more collaborative model. The dynamic connection of people, processes, things and services that coexist and communicate in an intelligent, smart, digital landscape is often referred to as “the mesh”. A need for a comprehensive and adaptive set of security measures will arise with the evolution of the mesh. Security experts will work closely with application developers at the design stage to consider security implications. This will be a big challenge as complete risk mitigation measures continue to remain elusive.

Virtual reality and augmented reality will move beyond the realm of entertainment and gaming, and find utility in the enterprise space in a big way, in terms of design work, engineering, construction, training, marketing and communications. It is predicted that the immersive visual experience will extend beyond visual sen­ses to include other human senses as well.

3D printing will gain momentum and people will prefer to “print” rather than purchase items. Other trends that will begin to show up are “blockchain” and “hy­­per­­convergence”. Blockchain is a secure transaction tracking service that will have an impact beyond the financial services industry to cover all transactions. While there is a lot of hype and interest, most of these initiatives are at a preliminary stage and some major challenges exist. Hyperconvergence is a revolutionary concept in the field of infrastructure, which combines computation, storage, networking and virtualisation units into an integrated box supported by a single vendor. In sum, the building blocks for every digitally enabled enterprise will comprise information systems, analytics, intelligence, customer interaction, IoT and busi­ness ecosystems. New platforms for IoT and AI will be a major thrust area.