Companies need to focus more on putting data to meaningful use rather than just blindly gathering the data. This was the consensus at the CEO Panel during the Mint Digital Innovation Summit. The panel comprised Sanjeev Sharma, managing director (MD), ABB India Ltd & ABB R&D India; Rajesh Janey, president and MD of India enterprise, Dell EMC; Sashi Sreedharan, MD, Microsoft India; Rahul Agarwal, CEO and MD, Lenovo India; Karan Virwani, CWeO, WeWork India; and Piyush Shah, co-founder and president, marketing cloud and data cloud, InMobi. It was moderated by Rajrishi Singhal, consulting editor, Mint. Edited excerpts:
Do you see artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), advanced data analytics as maturing technologies that can deliver return on investment (RoI)? Or is there an unwarranted hype around these technologies?
Sanjeev Sharma: I think the fundamental change that happened from one page of industry to the other is that the participants are looking for more productivity. Today we live in a data driven society and data is something which is giving the insights and when those insights are applied in a particular business case or particular problem solving method, it definitely gives an RoI.
Piyush Shah: I think we should stop asking ourselves questions if AI, automation, blockchain will affect jobs. It might have negative effects on job market in more advanced economies, but a country like India, these technologies will recreate business models and create millions of new jobs.
Have government-led initiatives for Digital India changed lives?
Sashi Sreedharan: I think it is very real as it has contributed to societal well being and goodness in the area of education, health, financial transparency and overall security. I also see the marketplace and service provider getting connected remotely, value chains getting extended in a unique way. There is still the challenge of linguistic divide and related challenges form tech standpoint, but those would also collapse pretty soon.
Do you think reskilling is making an impact to the extent that it’s made out be?
Rajesh Janey: If you look at the things that have been done, you see a lot of reskilling happening. In case of Uber, so many drivers have come to the cities with no prior knowledge of the roads and routes. They have skilled their mind to look at map and can drive anywhere in the city. When e-commerce decided to get into hinterlands, one innovation that happened was cash on delivery and the other was the creation of the supply chain. Similarity, food delivery has given rise to new brick-and-mortar employment opportunities. Do I see a lot of people getting around new technology? I think there is no running away from it.
Data and AI are supposed to be used to make cities smarter. Is it changing how we live and work?
Piyush Shah: It is very important to not to be unduly harsh on our smart city effort. They can’t be compared to the US and China as they have certain leeway. One thing that needs to be addressed in India is transportation situation. For that there is enough data and that will make us tremendously smart and is good enough for the next five years.
Sanjeev Sharma: Smart cities is a very good aspiration. I think in the country. I think we’re starting with livable cities first, and then adding smart elements. So I think from our perspective, we have to see if you add a metro in a city, one small element got it. If you have a very good airport, you can say another smart element has been added. But when it comes to data, I think the data itself cannot do anything. It should be very clear what exactly you want, what problem you want to solve. I think the most important thing is to have very clean problem statements, which has a very high impact for the society.
Rajesh Janey: Today, the cost of embedding intelligence and connectivity into a device is almost approaching zero. The cost of processing this data and converting into information knowledge and therefore deliver actionable insights is also reducing. So the key is to translate it and deliver a delightful customer experience.
How can all this data be used to make products and services smarter?
Rahul Agarwal: We are getting a lot of data and like most organizations and most functions, we do not know what to do with it. There are very few examples globally, where data is being used to learn and gain insights. We are at a stage in our evolution, where there is a frenzy of collecting data. Everyone wants to collect data. But very few people have really found a meaningful use. When I look around, I feel that there is more hype than reality. I think the next 5-10 years will be spent in getting overexcited over this stuff and very few will be able to convert the data to deliver life changing experiences.
There will be some disruption due to AI and machine learning. There will be people who will not need offices. Will office spaces be relevant?
Karan Virwani: AI and automation will eliminate the roles that don’t need you to spend time on and actually, you can focus on solving much bigger problems. Ten years ago, you probably wouldn’t even believe a business like Uber or Swiggy would exist. Technology has given rise to a lot of new businesses, and there’s probably going to be far more exciting businesses in the next few years.
Rajesh Janey: The teamwork and collaboration will require all of us to come to office. But some of the tasks will be driven all through AI and algorithms.