DIGITAL: Showing Might v/s Showing Customer Empathy

By Sairam Bollapragada

Digital components are technically complex and they are going to drive the solutions to be more complicated. Technically speaking, the next gen of every field is getting re-defined, be it usage of drones for crop surveillance by Agriculture insurance companies, usage of analytics for precision Agriculture, be it concepts of hovertrain (the word dictionary does even recognize it and marks it in redJ), Neuro-informatics, Brain-computer interface, regenerative medicine, Cognitive radio, augmented reality, WiTricity(WET), Zero-energy building and many many more – it’s all about customer experience!!

So far, in the Web wave, the IT service providers have only been harping on their capabilities. It has been a pattern almost always that the IT service providers are very keen to showcase what they have in a bid to allow the customer to cherry pick on the capabilities. Many customers have gone back saying we wanted to see capabilities in area A but the company is very strong in area B which is not our priority right now. This act will start costing dearly going forward. The customer will upfront drive more aggressively on what is needed by him. If we fail to recognize this, and start showcasing sundries, we will soon be out of pockets on the opportunities.

However, there are many traditional customers who do not want to change their stance while adopting the technological transformation journey; while there are also some who are allowing technology companies/vendors to drive their strategic glide-path for what is best for them – in a win-win partnership mode! There are others who are very obsessed with getting the cheapest solution versus providing their end customers with a worthy experience. All put together, the experience through Digital should be intriguing.

Let me put across an interesting experience with the former category with one of the hospitality customers request. The customer wanted their hotel suite entrances to get digitized. One opportunity was to provide a key-less digital entry and another was towards power consumption. The need was to get this done without touching the door or door-frame. The point was how do you do that without a need to implant some device somewhere – on either of the two places.

The second need was to optimize the power consumption when guests leave the suites with electrical gadgets still on (like geysers, fans, etc.). The point was to have an innovative solution where a device could sense absence of the guests in rooms and auto switch-off electrical gadgets and hence help power savings. The draft concept was drawn up and a proposal with technical components was submitted.  At the sight of the cost of the solution (which was not so huge as per my knowledge), the customer retracted a few steps, going back to his traditional thinking which was this – “… you know manpower is cheap in this part of the globe and don’t you think we can hire somebody who can cycle around this 20 acre project, door –to-door and check if the power is switched off or not? and if not do the needful….”

For all such business folks, I have the following to convey – you may save some money tactically, and if you are looking forward to long term gains, you would need to understand clearly (and nothing new about this) that Technology and customer experience do not come at zero cost!  It is not the solution which is costly – it will be ultimately the late adoption which will become expensive – while you may not adopt the new technology for whatever it costs, others would. The technology is more used now for providing convenience and comfort to the customers.  When the customers start getting it, irrespective of the cost and technology, the experience itself is intoxicating. The human psychology is always to get more for their investment as a customer and whoever they think can provide them, will naturally attract more clientele.

The services industry keeps making and breaking the new concepts over and over again to fit the latest and greatest into the current frame of market demands. Customer Experience (Cx) centers are channels to exhibit the capability. The Cx is becoming increasingly a driving quotient in the decision making. As mentioned in my earlier article https://itservicesdelivery.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/the-digital-era-learner-re-wiring-your-skills/ , 86% of the customers are prepared to pay a premium for great customer experience. Soon the comparisons will be drawn and higher bang for buck will rule the market.

So all the business units, especially in the customer care/service would need to be on their feet to pick one or more technology partner(s) who can help them adopt faster and continue in the race, if not lead.

The technology product and service providers, in turn, will need to move faster and shed the baggage of past glory to surge ahead. This is a big critical success factor to grab as many business opportunities. The following are some of the areas where you need to put your acts together:

  1. Getting your Digital offerings together in place by choosing your target segments (not sure if one can play expert in all areas)
  2. Training and orienting your sales force and senior management in the offerings, capabilities and potentials. (Digital Manpower Transformation)
  3. Technically building an amalgamated teams of engineers from various fields for the targeted solution areas where you want to play.
  4. Prepare your commercials and contract crafting teams to understand the new Ts and Cs that can come in.

Another compulsion would be to drive these technological transformations from low cost locations to be aggressively competitive. This further means that you need to not only shift the work-packages to lower cost locations but also very quickly build labs, capabilities and capacities in these places. One of the proven strategies is to refresh academia-industry relationship.

Many customers would more brazenly adopt the “show & tell” strategy. If one cannot show the working technology aligned to their needs, you have already lost the opportunity.  It is coming up now that all those who chose to ride this wave 3-4 years ago, are already growing at a phenomenal pace of 2x and some at 3x.  They have done most of the right things to be at the right hand top of the quadrants. Those do have not done so yet or are still in board-room discussions on when and how to get ready, will have none but themselves to blame as  the “Me too” opportunities will also slip away soon.

Customer retention will be a bigger challenge and whoever can do it faster, quicker, cheaper, in a differentiating way for each client, will be the winner.  Hence it has to be “…let me know what you need” rather than “let me tell you what we think you need..”!

For delivery managers who are sitting pretty and assuming getting them up to speed is the employer’s headache, will soon get to reality the hard way. The push to shove will happen soon. When they get eased out of traditional accounts, unable to sell the same stuff, the customers may simply quip – “…please take your junk away”….

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The Digital Era Learner: re-wiring your skills

by Sairam Bollapragada & Riyaz Mulla

Continuing the streak from the earlier notes on skill demand , the Digital Era is characterized by imagination, speed of change and integration – of technologies, experiences and disciplines.

The one quality or competency needed to survive in such an era would be “Learnability” – the ability to learn, adopt (and not just adapt) and re-learn. One may argue that this has always been the case with the human race but the speed, intensity and novelty is at a scale never before demanded in human life.

That sounds a little dramatic (isn’t it?) -so let us look at it in some detail and also see how learning and learning systems need to adapt. Just like the IT professionals and others are assuming that the HR and L&D departments would take care of their learning, the story will be actually entirely different. In the span of the IT careers, this wave is going to challenge every engineer to re-craft and adapt oneself to fit into the fast developing future market demands (– very much like the video below).

(please see : https://www.facebook.com/InspirationLifeSkills/videos/1146290182056242/_)

Let us begin with imagination – today success, rather survival, of business depends upon their ability to imagine a user experience. Implementation is the easier part. So you have aggregators who hardly own any physical infrastructure having tens and hundreds time more customers than traditional, brick and mortar organizations who had perfected their business models over the ages simply because they have been to imagine and tap into a customer experience.

And you have IT and Telecom companies applying for Payment bank licenses and professional networking organizations buying out eLearning companies simply because they could imagine a user experience which was till recently not considered as part of their domain.  This is not a first instant and everyone will have at least a few such examples in their businesses.

What this means to learning is that we have to become essentially multi-disciplinary to survive. A Project Manager can no longer rest on strong process skills of managing scope, time, cost, quality and risk. There was a culture earlier where a pure project manager was in demand to plan and execute deliveries without getting into the nuts and bolts of the technology. To do the job, a PM only needed to understand multiple domains, new estimation techniques, different business models and their contractual and commercial implications, new tools and governance models and so many things more.

On the changed scenario of SMAC/IoT, there is too much being said about speed of transformation so we will not delve into that. What it means for the leaner in the digital era is not just that one has to learn new things continuously, but that the utility of is learnt is also short-lived, comes with an expiry date. Which means that one has to not only learn a particular tool or technology but also has to keep oneself abreast of industry developments, market trends, futuristic research etc. It is like the stock trader who has to trade in a continuously volatile market – you can’t pick your ten long term bets and go to sleep assured.

And finally it is about integration – of bringing multiple technologies, products, platforms, devices, people, domains, organizations, business processes, country and trade regulations etc. together to bring that one seamless user experience to that runner whose wearable fitness device detects an abnormal heartbeat and sends a message to an ambulance to reach the location of the runner, keeps the local hospital informed to prepare an ICU bed, sends the complete medical history to the doctor on duty, contacts the insurance agency to arrange for cashless admission and sends an alert to an immediate family member to rush to the hospital. Extending the scenario further to a smart city, further adding to the speed here would be instant availability of PHR (Patient Health Records) for quicker diagnosis initiating on-need medical insurance processes.

Is it possible for one person to architect and implement such an application or platform without learning on the aspects of Medical, pharma, insurance, emergency action aid, etc? Thus a learner of the Digital Era must gear up to learn about complementary skills which he needs to procure or collaborate, the technological, business, cultural and regulatory sensitivities of collaboration and the ability to integrate, dismantle and integrate at continuous pace. Most importantly one has to learn the art of networking and building relationships beyond a sphere of influence.

Continuous Learning thus isn’t just about classroom lessons – whether brick and mortar or virtual, whether self-paced or in groups. It is also about learning by the minute – watching videos, reading informative blogs while commuting, subscribing to e-newsletters and research papers, attending seminars and symposiums – mostly on own cost and time, crowd-thinking: joining relevant forums and having conversations with new people across age groups, professions, cultural background – basically as diverse as possible. Availability of sandboxes and lab environments is highly critical now, rolling up sleeves and dirtying hands with new technology – till something works – for sure. Undoubtedly, it is an iterative process with infinite loops and variations.

The future workforce is going to be a world of nervous, eager, excited, confused people. Many of them would also be passive and would prefer to lie back and watch.

In the ever changing, fast paced technological scenario where hiring multi-skilled and talented workforce will become inevitable, it is difficult to predict too much in advance. However, one thing which will not change now will be the need to learn continuously. The skill gaps will be too much of a risk glaring at the employability and hence the Learnability of all will be challenged!

A ¾ th of the companies feel that the gap in the skills is holding them back from the digital transformation. Very few of the companies are yet on the bandwagon which are making conscious efforts to train their workforce to adopt to the digital needs. HR is often left out of the participation to develop those skills. Learning modes will shift to Gaming, Competitions, Technology incubation, hackathons, and many alternative methods. Four of the 10 pain points faced today are related to skill gaps. A third of the IT team members fail to keep their skills current.

Every business unit should do an intense skill-gap analysis to understand where, how and when their existing workforce need to take up Digital skills and what upskilling efforts and/or investments would be needed to meet upcoming demands.

Hence the strategy for moving from Industrial era to Digital era will be like:

  • Moving FROM managing the teams TO leading the teams from the front
  • Moving FROM hiring the best players for your team TO rapidly assembling and disassembling the teams
  • Moving FROM Specialized domain expertise (SME) TO Digital skills embedded into every role
  • FROM following a need based skill upgrade for your teams TO pro-actively upgrading the team skills
  • For professionals, personally up-skilling rather than waiting for the companies to sponsor their trainings and learning will be the key to survival
  • Certifications would assume significance right from the school curriculum.

Companies like Microsoft, Adobe, and others have started running certification programs for school children from class 6th onwards. Hence the next gen is getting to know the basics quite early and that too under the direct umbrella of top brands. They would know at an early age what many of us even don’t know now and hence be ready to be taught a lesson or two by the next gen!

Conversations with clients lift the brand and relevance in the market- AT EVERY LEVEL. This calls for a cultural change in the corporates.

The increase in customer demands for the same budget is also fuelling the change in the corporate culture as ever. Dell has completely adopted Social Media to succeed. They see that as the future way of doing business. Dell is also created their twitter profiles of their customer service and support – DellCares. The intent is to help clients real-time with personal touch.

Referring to NASSCOM’s data points at ILF2016, we can expect 50% increase in the digital technology based jobs; of the 4.4 million jobs created in Big Data in 2015, 66% were unfulfilled; and 500% increase in key digital business jobs by 2018 is expected. All this indicates that we need to embrace Digital skills in an exponential way.

Digital/IoT is all much more about Customer experience. Forrester conducted CX index suvery of 299 brands in mid-2015 and found that 2.3% have improved, 69.2% remain same and 28.5% have gotten worse – all this while it is known that 86% of the clients say they are ready to pay a premium for great customer experience.

The Digital wave is just not impacting the IT folks and engineering folks. It is impacting anybody and everybody whose occupations are touched by it. One of the many examples is Marketing and Sales folks. The amount of campaign that has gone digital through social media has been enormous in the recent past. All marketing and branding techniques used earlier have in many ways got dated. The Digital Marketing dovetailing into the Digital Strategy of organizations is compelling the marketing and sales teams to pick up their game and play to win at different level. Those harping on their past glory are getting left out.

The irony is that more than 85% of companies feel that by digital transformation of its employees, they would create USP. NO!! They need to fast realize that It is their survival at stake. Around 54% of them are not yet convinced they need to take to this roller coaster which will shake their inertia. Even today, more than 80% of the training budgets are spent on developing and honing traditional skills and not the emerging ones. In the midst of all this confusion, more than 60% organizations refuse to realize that the traditional training methods need to be replaced.

The three most demanded skills in order of priority as per the market is Mobile, Analytics and Social media. Knowledge of Cloud is a given ICT skill that people should know.

Some areas where large scale ITC focus are being predicted are – 4G/5G, Ambient Intelligence, Artificial Brain, Atomtronics, Augmented reality, cryptocurrency, IoT, 3D optical data storage, Machine Learning, mobile collaboration, Optical computing, Speech recognition, 3D ICs, Ubiquitous  computing, Quantum cryptography, wearable computers, Cyber sciences, Android/gynoid, swarm robotics, UAV, etc.

Unfortunately, it is found that IT fraternity, especially folks in app development/support, tend to get married to the product suite from a vendor  and don’t show inclinations to move across the boundaries set by the product vendor (hence the dearth of Enterprise Architects). Going by the predictions, EA will be inevitable and people would need to skim across vertical solutions and be adaptable to understand, appreciate and learn the other skills as well.

Looking at the gaps, we can say that ”The speed of the change will matter”. Hence Learnability –  by all means, whether personal or through sponsored channels, will hold the biggest key!

About Authors:

Sairam Bollapragada:

Sairam started his career as a scientist in the Indian Defence R&D and has been in the industry for the last two-and-a half decades. He is passionate about incubating new technological advances in the IT sector and brings to table his technology management and IT delivery experience to table. He has taken to writing to blogs in the recent past and expressing his thoughts and opinions at https://itservicesdelivery.wordpress.com/…….for his profile, pls refer : https://in.linkedin.com/in/bsairam.

Riaz Mulla:

Riaz is a Trainer, Facilitator and aspiring Writer. He heads Functional and Virtual Training for Tech Mahindra and is passionate about building new age learning ecosystem. The inherent dichotomy of human drama fascinates him and he is grateful life has given him the opportunity to make a profession out of his passion. He has one published story and is about to finish his first novel.

The Digital Era Skill Demands

By Sairam Bollapragada

Many companies – product manufacturers, product vendors, sales, marketing, technical design entities, information technology service providers were so far marred by the lull(recession) before the storm (the Digital wave). The advent of the new areas in the connected world, has swept all by the feet and the ride on this tiger demands new skills across the value chains of technology and conventional manufacturing outfits, as well as new working styles and cultural norms. There is accepted acute shortage of skills.

IT fraternity has so far got habituated to the “…been there, done all, know all” feeling and the new wave is compelling the folks to change that mind set with a new learning curve. The sooner the folks get out of the traditional mindset, the sooner they can insure their careers.

The brighter side of the story is that the skills needed to design, make, sell, and service smart, connected products are in high demand but short supply.  There is a sudden urgency for finding the right talents and in the wake of market flooded with startups, the pay packs for these technology geeks and mavericks have skyrocketed.  The learning is found to be fast shifting from Mechanical Engineering to Software Engineering, from pure software coding to stepping into real-time product testing, from product repairs to getting used to SLAs for availability, and working with varied partners.

Along with crazy talent demand, the learning curve has gone berserk too.

Folks in the shop floor may soon have to hire experts in applications engineering, user interface development, and systems integration. The list does not end there – the need for data scientist across all the verticals who can blend technical and business data to lend the capability to create, build, and run analytics for predictive analysis and upfront fitment to market demands as well as creating those action plan blueprints, will be inevitable.

However, the demands stated are fine, but the bigger challenge is how informed and ready are the manufactures for these changes – especially in growing economies. This is more so in the case of traditional and conventional manufacturing entities where technologies and product manufacturing are treated totally disparately.

Some are taking rapid steps to move closer to technology abundant cities. By 2020, the manufacturers will need to establish collaborative learning between academics, product innovation and technology.  New hiring models like internship programs (international at that), infusing technological staff at their factories for product advancement and innovation with technology, and incubating labs to continuously bake their next products will be order of the day.

Build-your-future-staff and Internships: The internships should create a scope for these companies to bring together a blend of talent from technology, engineering and business to build collaborative platforms to build newer models, conceptualize disruptively innovative ideas, and drive the “build-your-future” culture. Imagine a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, an information sciences engineer(data analyst) and( lead by) a production engineer – all brainstorming to create a new concept in companies like a Schneider or a GE or GM. The brilliant lot of the ideas will flow into the IoT/Smart lab for PoCs and incubation and to production after successful trails. The crux will be matching the speed of thought and working between these team members.

Compensation and incentives: Manufacturers will also need new approaches to attracting, motivating and retaining talent. With the acute shortage of skills, the talented folks will call the shots. It is said that against the 45000 jobs being created out of 1b$, the industry will now see around 15000 jobs per billion. People with high skills and continuous learning capabilities will take better jobs. Going forward, as per NASSCOM, the selection process during intake will now be based on ability to learn rather than just knowledge. The $130 billion industry, which employs 3.2 million people, will add another 1.2 to 2 million. Investments in training will actually go up, even as training extends to almost a year from three to six months at present on projects in engineering. Companies and universities will collaborate like never before to improve quality of talent.

Perks like job flexibility, concierge services, sabbaticals, and free time to work on side projects of personal interest are the norm in high-tech firms employing the type of talent manufacturing companies will increasingly require.

Where do we go from here?

The existing IT companies living out of annuity business face a larger survival threat. The folks who are looking at AD/AMS kind of activities and sticking on to it are also in the red zone from capability standpoint. Migration to newer skills and capabilities is inevitable. For non-IT folks who have for some strange reasons created “I don’t need IT” mindset would be challenged to deliberate and discuss next ideas with IT engineers. If you cannot engage in such discussions, strong indicator is that your survival itself is at risk.

These synergies between two camps is what is going to drive the digital wave – higher the team-knowledge, higher the tide!! In next part we will discuss on the new learning eco systems where we will focus on how organizations need to embrace the change through steeper learning curves.

For all those, who are sitting back thinking what next to do, the prompt is get on to the learning curve fast. Get onto it now!!

IoT Security is everybody’s business!! – Part 2

  • By Sairam Bollapragada

We identified the risks and potential threats to our living in the part 1 of this blog. Let us discuss some of the preventive ways to secure our living in this part – some remedial steps which will help repose faith in the technology driven lives.

A study by Hewlett Packard shows that around 70% of the connected devices are prone to serious threats.  Many of the consumers of technology, roughly more than 76% do not understand or appreciate these risks. The attitude is – “.. it has not impacted me so far…”.

To deal with, let us identify the top 10 security issues with IoT to increase our awareness. These could be potential sources:

  1. Insufficient authentication or authorization
  2. Insecure Web interface
  3. Insecure network services
  4. Insufficient security configuration
  5. Privacy concerns
  6. Insecure mobile interface
  7. Lack of transport encryption
  8. Insecure software or firmware
  9. Insecure cloud interface
  10. Poor physical security

The above list, though not exhaustive, is definitely worth pondering.

All organizations rallying to be the top IoT product and solution providers must compel themselves to create the hard security platforms which will make the solutions bullet-proof for any vulnerability resulting thereof.

While everybody would love to believe prevention is better than cure, we cannot ignore detection and detention of rogue application creators/hackers/disruptors and the havoc-makers. The cyber laws of all lands embracing such technological progress (leaves none untouched though), need to be made more stringent, detectable, with outcomes for prevention. A new brand of Cyber-cops will need to be constituted – who have in-depth knowledge and technical capabilities (rather extensively trained) to

  • Comprehend the types of crimes that can be committed
  • Analytical skills to trace the equipment(s) used for the crime
  • Understand the device characteristics with potential vulnerable points
  • Analyze the data getting generated through millions of devices
  • Profile the device types used in the crime
  • Understand data privacy laws and detect the extent of damage
  • Complete understanding of compliance laws of several vertical industries (like BFSI)
  • Most of the categorized IoT devices used in solutions
  • And many more

What I am indicating is that Cyber police can no longer be a selective location based optimized teams in a police station, but proper networked teams who have extensive tech knowledge of the field. They must be equipped with applications and mechanisms to establish crime patterns and behavioral trends of typical class of the crime being committed (periodically?). These can also be virtual teams which can work on distributed patterns but build a virtual cyber security data center – with enough potentials and credibility to nip the crime in the bud bringing speed and effectiveness into the crime scene.

While preparing for this so-called 3rd Industrial Revolution, the policy makers must get into following actions as part of readiness:

  • Defining and designing cyber threat intelligence (CTI)
  • Defining Cyber security ecosystem including suppliers, partners, vendors, business networks
  • Cyber cells must be formed at each department of the citizen service to create preventive mechanisms for tracking cyber-crimes, and intervention at greater speeds
  • Creating a level of understanding among the organizations for strong governance, controls and accountability
  • Enlisting high valued assets(buildings, transports, Physical data centers among many) and provisioning for their safety against such attacks
  • Using forensic analytics continuously to understand the cyber threat sources and their patterns through threat intelligence data
  • Policies to monitor all financial transactions through the mobile devices for understanding modus operandi

Cyber Security can no longer be tagged only to IT engineers in this digital era, especially where engineering organizations are embracing it in a big way. With th amalgamation of engineers from various branches to form the IoT teams, it has to be a collaborative effort to create ward-offs by both the core engineers as well as the IT engineers. Every solution must be scrutinized for a security threat and provisioning of the same- as part of each IoT solution. Penetration testing techniques would need more sophistication to weed out holes and at a much better pace.

There must be security norms laid out and each customer at all times must think and demand security wrappers around the solutions being doled out. …hate to say this but CYBER SECURITY CAN BECOME A NIGHTMARE if not taken care of!!

IoT Security is everybody’s business!! – Part 1

By Sairam Bollapragada

With the Digital wave, the structure of the IT organizations, especially those racing to embrace new technologies and IoT is poised for a paradigm shift. Every brilliant side of technological revolution comes with a darker patch as well. With so much of data slated to being generated via connected devices, the Cyber Security can no longer be the forte of IT folks ONLY.

While technology brings in convenience, it also comes at a cost (read flip side).

In the recent past in India, we have started seeing mobile wallets increasingly being used for payments and other financial transactions to another device or account. The connected wallets also create opportunities for hackers to break in and creatively lay their hands on the information pertaining to transactions, account details, the payee details, their numbers, the payment patterns, sources of funds, and many such confidential data which one would not like to divulge.

Cyber security, will don a new hat with the advent of new technology and devices working in tandem. Trying to stop break-ins will need a lot more intelligence and smart techniques to be devised. The provisioning of security to these mushrooming applications and connected devises will need to be really understood well so that people know they are secure while transacting with gates to personal data. The approach itself requires comprehensive techniques.

The mobile channels will provision more incentives with increase in volumes of both devices and transactions. The global reach of the mobiles have opened standard techniques for the hackers across the global hacking communities. Ubiquity and connectivity are vulnerable and enables folks to get to mobile devices. The incentives are more for mobiles which use financial transactions, undoubtedly. It may not be hard for hackers to know which user uses which number to carry out financial transactions.

The richer the features of the mobile, the more it becomes a target for the hackers.  The concern about the privacy invasion by advertisers is rising steeply with these smarter devices. In 2010-11 Wall Street conducted a test for 101 Android/iOS applications and found that more than half sent device information, 47 shared location data, and 5% users –  personal information to advertisers without the consent of the users.

More than 1000 malware target mobile devices globally. An instance of worm attack can infect mobiles rapidly to the tune of millions of handsets.  As mobiles are getting more advanced so are the worms accomplishing more sophistication – raising their quality of attack as well.  As technology carriers are improving the device capability, the blue-tooth and Wi-Fi is also becoming airborne contaminators. Some viruses dial international numbers while the subscriber is sleeping.

The mobile computing increases the data loss as well. With the connected devices expected to transmit data across applications and other devices, the hackers would try means and ways to create opportunities in the chaos. Mobile banking has also brought in rogue applications which are smartly working their way to gather financial information from devices through even legitimate applications topped with these malware at app stores.

Over all this, it is said that more than 37% of the service providers do not have any threat intelligence programs.

Impacting Scenarios

As hackers take control of the connected devices, the very capability for which the IoT was brought in (efficiency, productivity, ease, etc) will be compromised.  It is scary to even think what if the folks are unable to stop machines, controlled by connected devices for convenience- large ones at that. IT security itself will not stand ground here.  The extended knowledge across applied industrial controls and production processes would become mandatory to put the checks and balances in place. (What if one is not able to stop a blast furnace in steel plants?…)

Water Management:  Anything which is scarce and essential comes under the cloud of threat and catches attention for disruptive opportunities. Water management through connected devices is becoming a lucrative offering from many vendors ensuring appropriate water quality, controlled water supply, water treatment, metering and other features. Water consumption, like electricity is also vulnerable where automatic vaults and control mechanisms for pressure and flow are devised to be controlled through technology. A loss of control would create wastage of water across and lead to a water crisis.

Patients Health Records (PHR)

The PHRs of patients are too personal a data to be privy to. These personal health records reveal several confidential parameters of personal health profile of an individual with historic ailments, health issues in the recent past, blood group info, and many more data which can lead to people either playing with or destroying the data for obvious reasons or holding the same for ransom. Very dangerous but true, not because we need to be scared, but the awareness of such a threat is missing till the first casualty occurs.

The Nuclear plants, used for positive reasons, like generating power can be a huge source of risk – if they were to lose hold over the control process of nuclear reactors.  If IoT based controllers were deployed in these plants for the purpose of analytics and other accompanying research advantages, there should be exhaustive sets of checks and audits built in – plus multiple approvals at multiple governance decision points to ensure disasters would be at least minimized.

Likewise, hacking connected or smart cars can lead to road disasters.  This includes the hacking of smart traffic management – feature of smart cities. Insurance transactions can be blocked and claims disabled or diverted, where insurance segments are moving from statistics to individual fact-based policies.

Cloud is another source of vulnerability. The plethora of data being stored on cloud will require tighter secured solutions, and hence the cloud data security will only become more crucial.

It is said that M2M communications will themselves generate about $900 billion in revenues by 2020.

Dependency on the connected devices for various aspects of the futuristic work-style like improved real-time decision making, better design of solutions, reliability on the so-generated data analytics (what about data quality?), driving future product conceptualization, fleet management,  and many others could be a challenge if the systems malfunction due to malware or cyber-attacks.

The above are potential scenarios where the flip side of technology, if misused, can create disasters and can cause unimaginable disruption. However, it is not too late to create a strategic security blueprint and get the awareness levels in the public embracing these newer emerging solutions in future.

We will discuss the potential next steps on what we should do, what the state agencies should do and what the general users should know in the sequel to this blog shortly. Till then happy reading….

SMAC/IoT and Manufacturing – a perspective

By Sairam Bollapragada & Narayan Katti

With stress levels on automation and robotics going northwards, every manufacturing unit is investing hard on ways to pull down the cost of production and RPUs, increase the customer retention for sustenance, increasing business process efficiencies, creating differentiators, being able to most competitively price, continuously innovate, optimize operations, manage supply chain and others – but the largest investment being human interaction.

Manufacturing also has seen a significant shift from pure play product philosophy to product and services philosophy. Customer is at the center of all initiatives that the manufacturing industry is embarking on.  Customer-centricity is now the new mantra of Manufacturing Industry.  Be it, Automotive, Consumer Electronics or Industrial manufacturing, manufacturers are looking at delighting customers with various innovations across the value chain of manufacturing.  SMAC/IOT is a channel which will create scope for these innovations.

As per IDC, “…55% of discrete manufacturers are researching, piloting or in production with IoT initiatives…”. The oil and gas industry, hit with the downwards spiraling oil prices, is still investing in technology space driven by optimism and compulsion to reduce the cost of production.

Globalization is pushing everybody to compete in the market place without compromising on universal standards.  The ever demanding customers are pushing for decreased business cycles, hence re-inventing business processes, with more demands around personalization and better service levels. (ref: The caging of SMAC/IoT). The other issue is complexity and erratic value chain in the industry. The real time process integration for manufacturing and supply chain has always been a persistent problem to solve with newer radical innovations around  business processes further challenged by emerging market growth and behaviors.  Globalization of demand-supply chain is also playing a pivotal role in how the markets behave.

There is a discussion about a $ 19+ Tn economy in the next decade with manufacturing garnering at least 27% of the share. The manufacturing Industry is betting big on   IoT and emerging technologies to help shape up their future. Manufacturers would need to redesign their thought processes, with a significant focus on analytics connected devices, and related areas.  One could visualize a shop floor where each device is connected with its own IP identity and communicating with the centralized automated monitoring mechanism.  The data from such connected devices and also the analytics could get into the supply chain processes. This would provide all necessary information in real time for better decision making and also better time to market!! Managing the inventory dashboards across warehouses and manufacturing units in real time will be a challenge, interesting to handle and change your supply chain plans on the fly.

IDC says that by 2018 more than 40% of manufacturers will depend heavily on connected devices.  The innovations would be around product innovation, product services and productized services. Each connected device will generate critical data to further their own efficiencies and hence the generation of data will be beyond petabytes across similar industries and each company would need to demonstrate aggression to mull, mine and read into this data to stay ahead of the curve. A transition journey will commence to these new technologically driven services for higher profits and far superior CSAT. The manufacturers will indeed hire or create their own data scientist teams for this.

Connected devices will also increase the complexity of communication between themselves re-defining the product design to manufacturing to marketing to after-sales services. The smart connected products being manufactured will necessitate building new technology infrastructure made up of hardware, software, engineering components, running on remote cloud based servers, using security mechanisms to protect the information leakage and integration of business processes through completeness of information which will enable extraordinary new product capabilities; products which can monitor and report their own condition periodically, bringing in near-zero manual preventive maintenance processes.

This product and product-generated data will become the new value-add in the business processes. The seamless dovetailing into other product generated data will make it very valuable for analytical reasons. The connected devices with addresses – both, virtual and physical, data on spare parts, data emitting parts, laced with sensors for capturing material characteristics of various products or parts will take us to the meticulous levels,  unheard and unforeseen thus far.

Security: However, since the adoption is in nascent stages, the Industry standards and best practices are still being explored and reviewed in the IoT Labs. Security would play a key role in IoT areas as the expanse of touch points is enormous. While it is a big boon for the customer for all connected devices, it is a big challenge for IoT implementers with respect to security. There would be lot of opportunities for IT security players, as the scope for a COTS security product in this area in near future is bleak.

People aspect:  Hence the first casualty will be the manpower optimization and this will move jobs to automation. The severe lack of manpower will be the result of the historical paradigm where IT and production engineers have been working in silos for so long. Getting them aligned to each other and also to a common goal will take time. The learning curve is on both ends but whoever does it first will stand to gain unquestionably. The core competency of the production engineers will need to be blended with cloud, mobile, analytics, social media  and both the sides will need to collaborate heavily to innovate. These innovations would deal with how best to leverage on creative business processes across ERP, CRM, PLM, SCM platforms.  The need to have high end partners and third-party advisors would become essential in many cases that will be expected to not only keep them honest but also bring speed into the collaborative innovative processes.

Here is where the current avatars of Service industry will need heavy transformation. All the experience of helping manufacturing industry – whether BPO, ITO, KPO and other services will need to be brought to the table and devise a mechanism to understand transformation parameters like costs, differentiators, growth targets, and partner-eco systems apart from others to create the strategic  transformational  roadmap for them….

Digital Transformations: Leaders or Managers!

By Sairam Bollapragada

It is known that the technology industry is never tired of being driven by innovations and learning to keep oneself up in demand has been a perennial chase – up-skilling matters.

Since 4 years from the problem Y2k, the learning curve for most of the senior experienced professionals have become flat with very few of them really trying to do a dip-stick into their capabilities and keeping their machines oiled as far as knowledge on technology is concerned. Many experiences like transformation of managers into leaders has been seen, but with severe limitations in numbers.

Managers got into comfort zones. The learning clock stopped as they felt they already knew enough.

All such behaviors have inserted an inertia which they are now feeling hard to weed out. The upcoming Digital Era is demanding that one be in a position to command and lead your teams through the transformations. Your complacency can be your criticality casualty as well as those who don’t align will get outdone. The aggressive and competent next gen in their 30’s is ready to dislodge the tried and testing hands.

Leadership, as perceived, in digital era, would need fresh lease of life through characteristic features arising out of the amalgamation of new attitude, competency, skills, and many unique experiences which is so essential in the knowledge led socio-economic platforms.

Communication, computing and connect would form the foundation of leaders we will need in the Digital Era. Industry certainly will not need Managers-Only capabilities any more.  Technology innovation will drive these constantly changing parameters in the Digital leadership.

A mind-shift change is a pre-requisite to comprehend how we engage and understand things in the digital space. Companies will need leaders who are more accommodative, believe less in controls, do not mind giving away the controls, willing to keep getting out of the usual run-of-the mill processes to prepare and deliver the digital solutions, get ready to roll up sleeves and engage into technical discussions themselves, help people learn and handle client requirements and situations meticulously.

The days of general project management and program management are actually going to be things of past and retire soon – very soon that is. Each solution will need leadership skills to deliver unique one each time.

The biggest challenge is awaiting them as they move from the academics and lab environs to launch into real big client engagements which will need a transformed and challenged workforce. The right leadership would then try to create shared primary and secondary lines of skills. The challenges of average resource cost and hence the cost of solution will be staring at these leaders. The balance between better skills and best solutions will be a trying one to handle. However, dedicated yet shared pool will be the answer to each TYPE of the solutions unless large in magnitude from maintenance standpoint.

Resourcing challenges and Virtual workforce:  Up-skilling the current workforce and preparing digitally skilled resources will be a humungous challenge for all the training departments as organizations struggle to retain the workforce to protect organization credibility. Most of the organizations dealing with digital work will move virtual. Retention and attrition will be a bigger challenge as organizations will soon, see no sooner they prepare the workforce, the competitors will woo the workforce with better compensations. The competition will always tend to be better and bitter. More free-lance workers will be on demand and globally. However, the real proof is to keep them delivering.  Many more platforms which will promote creation of virtual teams will come up and each will need to create mechanisms to blend and keep the best skilled manpower empanelled to mediate contracts with companies through virtual teams from across the borders. Keeping this virtual team focused will be another item to handle. Professionals pursuing the technical line of being architects will need to move beyond product tags in a true enterprise solution expert mode.

Staffing/HR will be bound by challenges of keeping the contract virtual work force bound and deliver by the contracts. Short aggressive timelines to deliver will push companies to pick the best to build strong teams. I can also visualize a scenario apt for bidding for best talents – unless organizations traditionally still reeling under the AMS-AD kind of frame of work have already not started preparing their workforce on digital solutions and all its technicalities.

Hence the leaders will need to be on their toes and take very quick decisions to assemble teams, create solutions and deliver the same to the clients – cheap, pretty, sustainable, differentiator- all rolled into one, solutions .  Juggling between priorities and comprehending what is coming up, will require aggressive leadership skills and just not skills to manage it. It will be like conventional SDLC vs Agile where shorter cycles to delivery are an emphasis. Thought leadership will be key as conceptualization of new holistic solutions will be what leaders will need to breath, walk, talk, sleep with. A hands off approach like in the last wave will not work.

I have seen an opportunistic approach to building workforce to deliver these more technological solutions (a JIT?). We also seem to deliberate a lot on “create once and deliver multiple times” concept,  under the garb of reusability – which will not hold water when it comes to differentiating solutions.

Repeatability of solutions will come down and we will need to consistently innovate (https://itservicesdelivery.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/the-caging-of-smaciot/).  Innovation does not come naturally to everyone and hence the need to understand and tide with technology which is changing by the minute, will become quintessential.

In short, we need more leaders to deal with the Digital Wave phenomena. We may need to create the innovative pack of leaders who can clone their thought processes into their teams! Weaving collaboratively through the solutions is going to become inevitable! …and “All the best” to those who are waiting to manage these delivered solutions….it is never too late to take up the re-skilling journey.

The caging of SMAC/IoT

By Sairam Bollapragada

It was an interesting conversation with one of the industry experienced business colleagues the other day before when this topic of standard service offerings in Digital/SMAC/IoT space was brought up.

It was more to do with the perspective as a business leader where an equal responsibility for this LoB in the organization was emphasized on. The need to create a slew of service offerings to potential clients was getting discussed and the compulsion of pushing hard to get that done on a priority so that business could kick-off quickly.

He also went on to tell me that they looking at hiring an experienced practice/delivery manager (sorry what was that?) who would have delivered a few projects in these areas. On  how he expected this role to be technology + sales + delivery + Architect + Solutioning – all rolled into one.  This was a tipping point when I put forth my views and would like to share the same with all.

SMAC/IoT today is still at a partially nascent stage as just because we have seen a few implementations does not vouch for the maturity of the area. The area will be considered mature or standardized  from software engineering standpoint when we have standardized ‘templated’ ways to :

  1. conduct due-diligence on the ask,
  2. estimation techniques to arrive at the engineering efforts – (which can be quite fragmented due to various components constituting the solution),
  3. arrive at delivery components,
  4. team constitution needed in permutations/combinations to deliver the solution,
  5. testing techniques to be adapted and many more

Assuming one size fits all cannot be more disastrous than in this case.

If we were to take smart city as an example, the entire concept is made up of so many disparate components that still need integration at some point in time to either complete a business process or from governance standpoint. Let us take two components of the smart city – say Smart Care and Retail services. They are from the Healthcare and Retail vertical lines. While Healthcare in itself comes with a huge array of offerings from various healthcare vendors, Retail would also vary in the offerings to the clients (both onsite and online) with various economies of scales and profitability driving their best deals.

In both the above cases, the SMAC/Digital space can help with data analytics, fraud analytics, mobile shopping experience, shoppers behavior analytics, faster or rather real-time claims settlement mechanisms, policy products preferred patterns, targeted customer shopping experience, and the list goes on.

The common areas could be around citizen demographics, the database, the preferences in a particular area, the subscription patterns, customer attrition analytics, etc.

What can be standardized is the interfaces between devices, the data storage mechanisms, PaaS offerings for a service, etc. The other satellite components would need to be glued to create a complete offering. Each offering would then need to be stitched in a specific manner as per the business needs of the customer.  While some of the technology stack can be baselined, what cannot be totally baselined, is the offering types and flavours as each client wants to be different.

The notion clients carry is how can I embrace the next wave of technology and still be ‘Different’. Nobody wants to be a copy-cat unless playing a large catch up game. In the era where we will see more hyper-personalization of products and  offerings, the need to be different is in itself a need which will demand that your plain vanilla offering (if you were to build one) must come stacked with top-up variations which will create several extrapolated offerings in it.

In the world where the competition is growing ferocious by the moment, everybody is in the mood to create the best and fastest and be the first-to-customer, else be ready to get wiped out.

Hence the realization that the rules of the game have changed drastically!!  Digital technologies must drive us to create the experiences driven by what people want – not what we want them to have anymore. They want to create different experiences with the technology and they want to create the best experience which will create a psychological branding!!

Every offering has to be customer-centric and different. While this is so, the critical part of how much and how long also assumes lot of significance..

Engineering efforts for creating these solutions cannot be straight forward affair and we would need to create a conscious mechanism of capturing the requirements meticulously while also suggesting innovative ideas reflecting our thought leadership. The emerging technologies will challenge us with each new tool to develop or enhance a solution. This is like an ever changing foundation which will challenge us to be on our toes and baselining estimates does not seem to be any easier in the near vicinity till we standardize some of the solution components.

Added to all this will be huge demand on security around all these billions of connected devices, openly connected APIs, etc.

In addition, the methodologies for developing these solutions will add additional efforts, leave alone governance. Today it may be limited to a great extend to the IoT Labs and academics, but for a client who is insights-driven, it will need to move beyond that in a matching pace.

At the same time, proactively exploiting these trends can open new horizons in terms of business models, careers, products, services and lifestyle preferences – that are difficult to visualize leave conceptualize by even the most digitally-savvy industry experts.

Hence the efforts to cage the SMAC/IoT engagements into standard offerings, cost, estimation models, at present looks to be an area which needs lot of work if an organization were to offer solutions – else they will only be offering a product each time they try to sell a solution.

So how does one create unique solutions and how does one build collaterals enough to engage new clients? How does one build the basis to capture further requirements? How do clients understand what to buy from whom? How do we size the efforts? How do we compartmentalize various components and create a break down structure to make solutions more a mix and stitch phenomenon? How can we categorize components to make usability in lieu? Many questions that need constant thinking and perseverance to create and build new solutions….