The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) has ushered in the next wave of automation. By modernising business processes and generating cognitive insights, AI has enabled enterprises to minimise human intervention and fuel growth. World over, companies are betting big on the technology. India too has witnessed significant traction in the number of AI-based start-ups with companies all set to deep dive into the world of AI. Going forward, the commercialisation of internet of things (IoT) and roll-out of 5G are expected to create a multiplier effect on network complexity, one that will go beyond human control, monitoring and management. In this scenario, AI is expected to emerge as a game changer that will power the evolution of future business services.

Market overview and opportunities

The AI market in India is currently at a nascent stage with only about one-third of the organisations currently leveraging the technology. This number is set to increase in the coming years with organisations slowly becoming aware of the immense potential that the technology holds.

AI uptake will be driven by the proliferation of start-ups that offer innovative AI solutions and can help organisations build a competitive edge. According to NASSCOM, the AI start-up ecosystem in India has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 50 per cent between 2013 and 2018. The key drivers of this growth are increasing data volumes being generated at the enterprise level, focus on digital transformation and investments being made by enterprises in AI-powered analytical tools. As per industry estimates, funding in AI-based start-ups witnessed a major jump from $225.64 million in 2017 to $478.38 million in 2018.

In terms of adoption, the early use cases of AI in India are process-driven jobs. As the Indian market is characterised by a shortage of both resources and skills, automating individual processes becomes imperative to drive business efficiency. Automation also frees human resources from repetitive work and facilitates industrial innovation by allowing enterprises to offer personalised solutions. According to a study by Microsoft, AI adoption is expected to double the rate of industrial innovation in India, which may lead to an over two times rise in employee productivity by 2021.

Adaptive networks

The surge in data traffic and the adoption of technologies such as 4G, 5G and IoT have led to an increase in network congestion. In this scenario, service providers are exploring technologies like AI and machine learning to manage network complexity and optimise system performance. The deployment of these technologies will help in the creation of faster, more responsive and adaptive networks that are capable of handling high speed applications. The use of cognitive and predictive AI algorithms will enable operators to effectively manage network traffic and ensure minimal to zero impact due to additional devices.

AI-enabled networks can also be combined with advanced data analytics solutions to make systems smart, adaptive, proactive, self-aware and prescriptive. Thus, the increased use of AI in managing networks will enable telcos to reduce their operating costs and improve their network capabilities.

In India, Ericsson will collaborate with Airtel to provide support in deploying AI to address the operator’s network complexity issue and enhance the customer experience. Ericsson predicts that 91 per cent service providers in Southeast Asia, India and Oceania are looking to scale up the adoption of AI in their networks.

AI and network optimisation

AI technology can also be used to establish networks that have the capability to self-diagnose, self-heal and self-orchestrate resources on demand. In self-healing networks, AI systems are programmed to look for patterns, detect and predict anomalies or other network issues, and take proactive steps to fix the service before customers are impacted. Operators globally are exploring AI systems to monitor the state of equipment, identify patterns that predict failure and perform maintenance on a pre-emptive basis. AT&T and Verizon are leading the research into AI initiatives for self-healing networks. Going forward, AI-driven network operations will receive a large proportion of overall network investments, as telcos shift from capex investments in hardware-centric networks to opex in software-based, open source networks.

AI and analytics

AI can also play an instrumental role in analytics and intelligent automation. Companies have access to huge amounts of customer data generated through a variety of applications and devices. The data generated through customer interactions, requests, complaints, service logs and cross-channel portals can be analysed using machine learning, natural language processing and deep learning to detect trends and performance issues. Customer data also provides companies an opportunity to enter into profitable partnerships. They have significant information about their customers regarding their age, income level and behaviour. This can be used for collaborating with third-party vendors. Accordingly, vendors can decide the advertisements based on the location of the customer, the time of day, the weather and the user’s behaviour.

Data privacy and security

In the face of rising cyberattacks, AI has emerged as a key tool to secure the system. France-based consulting firm Capgemini Research Institute recently conducted a study that surveyed 850 senior executives from information security, cybersecurity and IT operations across 10 countries and seven business verticals. The study reveals that more than two-thirds of the respondents from India think that they will not be able to respond to cyberattacks without AI. Further, the study identifies the key AI-enabled cybersecurity use cases for organisations in India. As per the study, 71 per cent organisations use AI for network security, 71 per cent for endpoint security, 60 per cent for identity and access security, 59 per cent for application security, 55 per cent for data security, 48 per cent for cloud security and 44 per cent for IoT security.

Challenges and the way ahead

While AI holds immense potential for the Indian market, some factors continue to hamper its adoption across the country. For one, the country lacks an enabling data ecosystem. Further, the level of AI research in India remains flat. As per industry estimates, of the 22,000 PhD scholars in AI globally, only 386 are in India. Serious research work in the field is limited to less than 50 researchers concentrated mostly in institutes such as the IITs, IIITs and IISc. The country lacks core research in the field of AI, thereby hampering the transformation of core research into market applications. A key factor responsible for this is the unattractive intellectual property regime that fails to incentivise AI research and adoption. The inadequate availability of expertise, manpower and skilling opportunities is another challenge. In addition, the high cost of accessing AI resources and low awareness regarding AI applications hamper the adoption of AI.

The government will have to adopt a collaborative approach for building the AI ecosystem in India. When fully developed, this ecosystem can significantly contribute to the economic growth of the country. According to Accenture, AI has the potential to add $957 billion (15 per cent of current gross value added) to India’s economy by 2035. Given the promise that the technology holds, the country needs to scale up its efforts and step up adoption to monetise these opportunities and emerge as a global leader in the AI domain.