The year 2020 saw enterprises take rapid strides in technology adoption. The uptake of technologies such as cloud, blockchain, internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) increased manyfold across industry verticals. The banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI), healthcare, retail and manufacturing verticals were at the forefront of ICT adoption this year, while government enterprises steadily expanded their technology competencies, driven by initiatives such as Digital India. A major global event that accelerated the country’s digital journey was the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020. The pandemic has been a gamechanger as far as enterprise technology adoption is concerned. Different from the dot-com boom, the Covid-19 pandemic forced businesses to adapt, not by choice, but by necessity. A quantum leap in technology adoption and investments in ICT have helped businesses sustain themselves during this crisis.
tele.net takes stock of the key technology trends that dominated the enterprise space during 2020…
The proliferation of digital services during 2020 gave a significant thrust to the adoption of AI technologies. While this technology solution was already making its mark in most sectors, the Covid-19 pandemic gave a further impetus to this trend.
The healthcare industry remained at the forefront in terms of AI adoption. In fact, the technology also played a key role in controlling the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. In the healthcare domain, AI was also used to improve medical certainty in the reporting of lab results. For instance, Apollo Hospitals is using AI in workflow transactions, as well as prescriptive and predictive analytics, to achieve operational efficiencies. Its mobility platform, “Ask Apollo”, provides remote services such as tele-ECG reading, tele-radiology and virtual consultation, irrespective of the patient’s geographical location. According to Prashant Singh, director and chief information officer (CIO), Max Healthcare, “AI is certainly the next big thing in radiology, pathology and other areas of healthcare.”
With education becoming completely digital this year, AI offered a number of benefits to enterprises in the edtech space. In 2020, several new companies emerged, with their main offerings resting on the fundamental pillar of AI. Companies in the logistics sector too deployed AI to automate repetitive tasks and streamline warehouse and supply chain management. This has helped carriers in significantly bringing down labour costs and enhancing transparency in operations.
Meanwhile, enterprises in the manufacturing sector leveraged AI to add a layer of predictability in the processes, which can help in identifying possible quality failures. For instance, with the use of AI, the BMW Group evaluates component images from its production line. The technology allows the company to spot deviations from quality standards in real time. Moreover, Hyundai Motors uses augmented assembly cobots to complement human tasks and enhance productivity.
Media and entertainment companies deployed the technology to offer personalised content recommendations to their viewers. For instance, Forbes’ AI-based chatbot Bertie recommends article topics to contributors on the basis of their previous output. “The process of creating content, both pre- and post-production, becomes much more efficient by using AI,” says Sarbani Bhatia, senior vice-president (SVP), IT, Jagran Prakashan Limited.
In the transportation sector, AI technologies enabled stakeholders to efficiently utilise modern computing and communication technologies. For instance, with the help of AI/Machine Learning (ML), Uber ensures efficiency in several areas of operation, including transportation and mobility, driver-partner navigation, and customer support. Uber’s Map Services team uses AI models to predict errors in its existing estimated time of arrival system.
One of the key use cases of AI in the hospitality industry is chatbots. Enterprises in the sector are increasingly relying on these bots to provide assistance to customers online. For instance, Hilton Hotel has deployed a robot named Connie, which uses AI and speech recognition to provide tourist information to users.
The BFSI sector leveraged AI to balance the need for privacy and security with personalisation and engagement. For instance, Visa Inc. developed an advanced AI system that can approve or decline credit and debit transactions on behalf of banks when their networks are down. Amidst the lockdown, the State Bank of India (SBI) was driving downloads for its digital banking platforms YONO, YONO Lite, SBI Quick, BHIM SBI Pay, and other online apps by leveraging conversational AI and conversational marketing via Facebook Messenger.
IoT is another key technology trend that witnessed significant traction during 2020. Enterprises in the healthcare, logistics, retail, travel, and hospitality and manufacturing sectors leveraged IoT to enhance operational efficiency.
The manufacturing sector, which has its own version of IoT, called industrial IoT (IIoT), was the front runner in IoT adoption. According to Zurvan Marolia, SVP, Godrej & Boyce, “IoT is being used extensively to eliminate human intervention in manufacturing; from sequencing of operations to despatch, the entire cycle can be controlled by machines communicating with each other and passing on the information needed to conduct the next operation according to a predefined order.”
The healthcare industry too started leveraging IoT for its day-to-day operations. It is using IoT to track the progression and treatment of diseases, monitor patient health and alter medication accordingly, track dosage to ensure adherence to treatment plans, and provide real-time information on disease symptoms. Lakshman Sharma, group CIO, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, says, “With the growing use of IoT, various devices and mobile apps have come to play a major role in tracking and preventing chronic illnesses for many patients and their doctors.”
Further, enterprises across the logistics and transportation sector increasingly deployed IoT-based tracking solutions such as RFID tags, GPS and specialised sensors to carry out real-time tracking of shipments and consignments. IoT-enabled predictive asset management helped them avoid issues such as frequent breakdown of vehicles and failures in transport networks.
Besides, IoT completely altered the dynamics of the retail industry. It helped retailers modernise supply chain management and enhance customer experience. Mobile-based checkouts, assisted checkouts, Q-busters and express counters make checkouts faster and easier by enabling online payments through wallets and payment gateways.
Furthermore, government enterprises across sectors leveraged IoT to enhance business and improve service delivery. One of the key sectors that witnessed widespread uptake of IoT is defence. The defence forces are leveraging IIoT across strategic, tactical, operational and logistics applications. In the BFSI sector, IoT infrastructure, called “bank of things”, facilitated the transmission of data across consumers, financial institutions and commercial businesses.
Although still at a nascent stage, blockchain-based solutions garnered increased interest among enterprises across sectors during the year.
One of its early adopters, the BFSI sector now has matured blockchain users. According to R. Venkattesh, president and head of operations, technology and human resources, DCB Bank, “These days, customers prefer contactless or interface-less immersive experiences, and this is where blockchain and AI will have better adoption. Blockchain will also help reduce costs and operational inefficiencies.”
Further, logistics players in India are deploying blockchain for fast identification of counterfeit products and their point of origin. With blockchain, firms are providing better transparency and visibility about shipment, while avoiding data counterfeits, leaks and breaches.
Another sector that is leveraging blockchain is healthcare. With the help of blockchain, stakeholders share and keep track of their data and other activities taking place in the system without having to look for additional solutions for ensuring integrity and security. Indian hospitals have adopted the electronic health record system, a blockchain-driven technology that enables the storage of patient data in a secure manner. Further, media and entertainment enterprises are using blockchain to monitor and control data and content piracy issues. Blockchain-based smart contracts can also be used to enforce licence terms and make payments.
Cloud emerged as one of the core technologies that enterprises across industry verticals turned to for transforming their business operations.
The manufacturing industry has become the biggest adopter of hybrid cloud solutions and considers it a long-term infrastructure investment. Cloud computing enables sophisticated manufacturing techniques, leveraging high performance computing, 3D printing and industrial robots. For instance, Electrotherm (India) Limited has built a state-of-the-art data centre as part of the hybrid cloud approach to sustain massive data traffic and compute with the latest technologies.
In the healthcare domain, cloud-based solutions have helped in recording the medical history of patients, providing proper healthcare access, facilitating remote monitoring and driving the optimal use of limited resources. For example, Max Healthcare uses cloud technology to securely connect the archives of medical information with the devices of clinicians. Further, enterprises in the transportation sector have been leveraging cloud computing to store data related to ridership, traffic status and toll collection on a secure dashboard to provide real-time insights into fare collection, passenger count, etc. With the help of these technologies, airline and railway enterprises inform travellers of delays and available seats using real-time data.
Cloud solutions have also made inroads into the government utilities sector, enabling them to better manage costs, improve collaboration and maintain a reliable grid. Moreover, the adoption of emerging technologies such as blockchain and IoT, and the growing digitalisation of PSUs are providing a further impetus to cloud uptake among these utilities. Initiatives such as e-Aadhaar, the National Population Register, the National Rural Health Mission and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act have propelled government utilities to use cloud as a medium to store citizen-centric data.
Meanwhile, in the travel and hospitality industry, cloud is being used to encapsulate a wide range of traveller preferences and offer an ideal vacation. According to Sajid Sayed, CIO, AirAsia, “Cloud adoption has grown significantly in the airlines industry during the past few years, as it brings in benefits of lower capex, and greater scalability and security.”
Silver lining to the Covid crisis
The role of advanced technologies becomes even more critical in the backdrop of a crisis such as Covid-19, as is evident from the increased use of digital solutions by enterprises to weather the storm. The biggest impact of technology is visible in the healthcare sector, where digital solutions have penetrated to every layer. The other sectors that have witnessed a high technology focus are BFSI, wherein there has been large-scale uptake of digital payment solutions, and the media and entertainment sector, where OTT viewership has exploded.
In the BFSI sector, most banks are now at various stages of their digital transformation journey. Prior to the pandemic, their ICT adoption was limited to a customer-facing digital layer. According to Anjani Rathor, chief digital officer, HDFC Bank, “The unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown have hastened the need to evaluate and execute digital user journeys, which were previously viewed as ‘good to have’ processes.” Further, the outbreak of Covid-19 has compelled organisations in the healthcare sector to reassess their IT infrastructure. For instance, the Cloudnine Group of Hospitals has launched a tele-consultation service in response to the growing public health concerns due to the spread of Covid-19.
In the retail sector, the pandemic has accelerated some key underlying trends such as online sales, adoption of an omnichannel approach and deep analysis of customer data. According to Jeyandran Venugopal, chief product and technology officer, Flipkart, “Instead of trying to get back to ‘normal’ or attempting ‘business as usual’, the industry must focus on building resilience in every aspect of the business.” In the media and entertainment sector, cinema halls, advertising and production houses have taken a heavy beating, whereas digital media and television have gained substantially.
While the adoption of new-age technologies has picked up pace in some sectors, industries such as manufacturing, travel and hospitality have received a big blow due to the pandemic. For the manufacturing sector, the economic slowdown due to the crisis has delayed some Industry 4.0 initiatives as most Indian manufacturing firms still lack hardware and software capabilities. According to industry reports, only 29 per cent of firms have appropriate hardware and software infrastructure with data capture and monitoring capabilities.
Further, the travel and hospitality industry has faced setbacks as cities and states went into lockdown, and social gatherings and activities were banned. In order to overcome the uncertainties, travel companies are now moving forward with innovative ideas, which entail large-scale technology adoption.
Outlook for 2021
Owing to the Covid-19 crisis, digitalisation across sectors is set to increase as enterprises become more technologically empowered. However, cybersecurity remains a key hurdle in stepping up ICT adoption in enterprises. To address this, enterprises have started using prescriptive approaches to strengthen cybersecurity. In this regard, intelligence-driven measures, including the use of AI and blockchain to augment authentication, can prove to be industry game changers.
Going forward, a significant rise in investments in automated solutions such as AI, ML and robotic process automation (RPA) is expected in 2021 as businesses will become platform-driven digital business. These technologies include computer vision-based AI that is delivered through scanners; vision-based sensors and robots; and augmented reality that guides workers to complete their tasks more effectively through wearable devices and robots. With businesses focused on moving from task-based automation to process-based automation, they will be able to automate routine, repetitive and predictable tasks, and unlock tactical benefits.
Another upcoming trend in 2021 is internet of behaviours (IoB) as enterprises are taking advantage of technology to access customer behaviour. IoB makes use of technological tools such as location tracking, big data and facial recognition. According to Gartner, more than half of the global population will be under an IoB tool by 2025. Clearly, exciting times can be expected ahead.
By Shikha Swaroop