The information technology (IT)/IT-enabled services (ITeS) and business process management (BPM) sector is of critical importance to the country’s growth. The industry has been facing headwinds in terms of costs, competition, human resources (HR) and cybersecurity challenges. To overcome these and cater to client requirements, enterprises are increasingly leveraging new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), big data and cloud computing. Industry players share their views on the evolution of the IT sector in the country, the key trends and challenges, and the way forward…

How has the Indian IT/ITeS and BPM/BPO sector evolved over the past few years? What are the digital trends dominating the sector at present?

Natarajan Radhakrishnan, President and Global CIO, Hinduja Global Solutions

The Indian BPM ind­us­try has grown significantly in just two decades and holds a 55 per cent global sourcing share. From business process outsourcing (BPO), the ind­ustry has shifted towards knowledge-based transactions that prioritise value creation. Design thinking, digital technology, do­ma­in expertise and a geographically distributed workforce are the industry’s four pillars. Success in the industry now de­pends on multifaceted skill sets that combine digital proficiency, domain expertise and an increased focus on customer satisfaction. Automation, analytics and AI (the 3As) are set to revolutionise customer ex­pe­rience, while increased adoption of cloud technologies is expected to spur industry growth. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift towards cloud-based solutions and is expected to further propel the industry in the coming years.

The digital landscape is rapidly transforming the BPM sector, with several trends emerging that are shaping the industry’s future. The following are some of the top digital trends dominating the BPM sector currently:

  • Automation
  • AI
  • Analytics
  • Cloud computing
  • Cybersecurity
  • Mobile technologies

Collectively, these digital trends in the BPM space aim to enhance operational efficiency, improve customer experience and reduce costs, while ensuring data security and compliance standards.

Abhishek Sinha, Chief Operating Officer and Board Member, L&T Technology Services

An interesting trend over the past decade or so has been the emergence of engineering services, which has widened the scope of the overall IT and technology sector. The work done by engineering and technology companies goes beyond mere product engineering and spa­ns the entire product development life cy­cle ecosystem across engineering, manufacturing, supply chains, aftermarket and ser­vitisation. At the forefront of this is digital engineering, which has flourished with the adoption of new technologies cutting across 5G, internet of things, ML-ba­sed solutions, medtech and electric au­to­no­mous and connected vehicles (EACV). Digital engineering and research and de­ve­lopment (R&D) deliver superior customer experience and improved business models that can achieve operational efficiencies.

While uncertainties such as economic downturn, and chip and talent shortages saw engineering and R&D (ER&D) spen­ding growth taper in 2020 to a relatively modest 3 per cent year-on-year, it reboun­ded to a more robust 9 per cent in 2021, ac­cording to analysts. Ov­erall, we have seen that the digital ER&D budgets have remained resilient. In India, the government is providing various initiatives to enable, promote and position the country as a global ER&D destination. The engineering services firms that are agile en­ou­gh to invest strongly in these new areas and develop more skin-in-the-game en­gage­ment models will win greater wallet share within ori­ginal equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and product companies.

What are some of the new-age technologies deployed by your organisation? What have been the major benefits?

Natarajan Radhakrishnan

Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS) is a digital-led, people-driven organisation that is revolutionising customer experience by extensively employing cutting-edge digital technologies such as the 3As, ML and natural language processing (NLP), both in-house as well as for its clientele.

A prime example of HGS’s innovation is its proprietary, state-of-the-art data analytics platform, that caters to internal and client data requirements providing accurate, real-time updates on HR, finance and operational insights for informed decisi­on-making. Utilising analytics, HGS co­nducts client profiling, which helps in un­-der­standing our most compatible clients, ensuring mutual success. Similarly, predictive analytics is used in our recruitment fu­nction to identify candidates who are ideal matches for open positions, benefiting both the organisation and applicants.

Being a people-centric organisation, re­tention of employees is paramount. HGS employs a solution that leverages pre­dictive analytics and AI to monitor em­ployee sentiment and identify unhappy em­ployees or those who are likely to leave, in advance, based on a range of HR data. This enables us to take preventive action wh­en necessary.

We have a “cognitive contact centre” offering, where we are using chatbots and conversational bots to handle the first level of calls, adapting the number of agents ba­s­ed on the call volume. If the call is too complex for the bot to handle, it gets pas­s­ed on to a human agent. The agent’s pro­b­lem-solving steps are recorded in a re­pository from which the bot can learn, thereby enabling it to handle similar calls in the future.

Abhishek Sinha

The key differentiators for L&T Techn­o­logy Services (LTTS) are our customer-centric industry innovations, engineering domain expertise and multivertical presen­ce spanning major industry segments. This gives our engineers an edge to work across various sectors and “cross-pollinnovate” by leveraging solutions and innovations from one vertical to another. What also works in our favour is that many of our innovations and technologies have been deployed for active customer projects.

For instance, our engineers have developed a stackable inverter for electric vehicles, and an integrated next-generation power train. In the niche area of annotations for automotive and industrial design, LTTS has created an AI-enabled annotation tool known as “Annote AI” providing smart labelling to media assets such as text, image, video and LiDAR, thus empowering global vehicle manufacturers in their drive towards level 5 autonomy (full driving automation, where the dynamic driving task is eliminated).

Coming to the high-tech domain, LTTS has set up a lab in its Bengaluru centre, along with Mavenir, for cutting-edge R&D in 5G automation services, while in the smart spaces domain, our proprietary buil­ding automation framework i-BEMS has been deployed in Intel’s campus in Israel, billed as the world’s smartest office campus.

In the field of healthcare, LTTS’s AI-ba­s­ed Chest X-Ray Radiology acts as a symptom detector, helping in localisation and intelligence reporting. The suite has the potential to detect 34 of the most common lung-related abnormalities. This accounts for over 85 per cent of the clinical diagnoses that are used by the healthcare industry.

With 91 innovation and R&D design centres and 22 global design centres ar­ound the world, LTTS specialises in disruptive technology spaces. LTTS’s expertise in engineering design, product development, sm­art manufacturing and digitalisation tou­ches every area of human life.

“Design thinking, digital technology, domain expertise and a geographically distributed workforce are the industry’s four pillars.” Natarajan Radhakrishnan

What are the challenges faced while implementing these solutions?

Natarajan Radhakrishnan

Implementing new-age technologies in some of the solutions described presents its own set of challenges and complexities.

  • Integration complexity: Seamlessly in­tegrating new technologies into existing systems and processes has been a consistent challenge. The team strived to minimise the potential disruptions by adopting best practices for integrating such solutions.
  • Skilled workforce: In the past year or so, organisations, including HGS, faced a shortage of skilled professionals with ex­­per­tise in cutting-edge technologies su­ch as AI, ML, NLP and advanced analytics. We were able to circumvent it by focused recruitment, and training and up­ski­lling of existing employees.
  • Scalability: Ensuring that these soluti­ons can efficiently scale to accommodate growing needs and fluctuating de­mands, without sacrificing performan­ce, is a significant challenge. Spending significant ti­me and effort for architecture during the concept and design pha­se helped us to make the solution flexible enough to acc­o­mmodate some of the scalability concerns.

Abhishek Sinha

LTTS is a global engineering services pro­vider working in multiple geographies. Consequently, we need to be watchful on regulatory compliances and requirements as per the law of the land. Our solutions, irrespective of domain or industry, need to comply with and meet regulatory requirements of the country.

Moreover, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every solution has to be tailored, designed and implemented by our engineers keeping in mind specific req­ui­rem­ents of the individual customer. Besides, in an industry like ours, the room for error is zero as very high precision is required to make the project successful in the long run.

That apart, the shortage of a skilled task force is another factor, as technology ch­an­ges and evolves every day. There should be more collaboration betw­een academia, industry bodies and corporates to provide opportunities in STEM education, enab­ling more engineering students to pursue careers in those industries.

“The key differentiators for LTTS are our customer-centric industry innovations, engineering domain expertise and multivertical presence spanning major industry segments.” Abhishek Sinha

What will be the key digital trends that will shape the sector in the future?

Natarajan Radhakrishnan

The 3As and cloud are going to continue shining in the years ahead. Conversational AI will take a big leap. It will replace conventional SMS, rule-based chatbots, interactive voice response (IVR) systems, etc. We will start having virtual companions to whom we can talk without prejudice. With the advancement we will have seen over the past couple of years in AI and NLP, it is quite natural that we progress to the next level.

As technology continues to advance, the other digital trends that will shape the BPM sector in the future are likely to include:

  • Process mining to analyse and visualise processes for optimisation.
  • Blockchain, which enhances transparency, traceability and security in BPM processes.
  • No-code/Low-code platforms, which help in the rapid deployment of solutions.
  • Edge computing, which helps in reducing latency and improving real-time decision-making.
  • 5G technology, which enables faster data transfer, improved connectivity and lower latency.
  • AR/VR deployment in training and simulations.

Abhishek Sinha

At LTTS, we foresee six key technology trends dominating the ER&D landscape. We call them the “6 Big Bets”: EACV, next-gen communications, AI and digital products, digital manufacturing, medtech and sustainability. We are investing in bu­il­ding our practice and solutions pipeline across each of these.

Each of these bets is at a different stage of maturity. In EACV, for example, we are seeing increasing demand for EV platforms and solutions and L2 autonomy in vehicles. The software-defined vehicles paradigm will gain greater prominence in India in the coming years as passengers want more customisation and personalisation.

In the manufacturing shop floor we are witnessing a marked shift towards remote asset management and operations and flexible manufacturing, that is, with the same manufacturing chain, they should be able to produce different products.

In product engineering, as customers focus on newer products with lesser budgets, they would increasingly want ER&D service providers to take end-to-end ownership of their products and work streams, with greater use of AI and deep learning to make products intelligent, intuitive and connected.

With the growing worldwide acceleration in next-gen communications en­abled by 5G, companies such as LTTS are well poised to leverage their chip-to-cloud capabilities to drive connectivity transformation across industries and verticals. Our engineers are playing a leading role in driving the adoption of 5G private networks, network testing and validation, chip development and enterprise-wide transformation journeys. AI on 5G has emerged as a major area of focus in next-gen communications, with engineering services provi­de­rs driving the next level of integration in projects ranging from smart cities to underground transit networks.

Last but not the least, servitisation, whi­ch is considered the future of business, will be one of the key trends to watch out for. Subscription-based models have long been the trend in mechanical engineering, wherein the customer only pays for the output, outcome or actual performance that a machine provides. An OEM, which tackles the challenge of asset maintenance, will be able to retrofit legacy equipment through upgrades in servitisation.

Even in the healthcare industry today, the adoption of service-based business mo­d­els within the medical device industry is ha­ppening at a rapid pace, as new medical technologies fundamentally change the way providers and businesses deliver patient care.

It is fair to say that the engineering se­r­vices sector will have a pivotal role to play across each of the identified trends.