IoT is Definitely a Transformative Opportunity

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Tech Mahindra Ltd specialises in digital transformation, consulting and business solutions. It is serving smart cities and smart industry segments through its consulting, product designing, end-to-end implementation services.

Karthikeyan Natarajan, who heads the Engineering, IoT and Enterprise Mobility at Tech Mahindra, speaks to EFY bureau about the IoT market, role of the government in IoT deployment, Tech Mahindra’s achievements, its unique proposition vis-à-vis competitors and a lot more.

Excerpts: 

Q. Many opine that the IoT is just a buzzword in the industry and it was coined to create hype. Do you agree with that line of thought or you feel that IoT is opening up a completely new market?

Karthikeyan Natarajan, Head – Engineering, IoT and Enterprise Mobility, Tech Mahindra

I definitely feel that there is a buzz; but I can also tell you that with the number of things that are happening across the industries, IoT is definitely a transformative opportunity and core part of the digital transformation strategies of Fortune 1000 clients (73 per cent of CXOs acknowledge that this is a part of the top five strategic areas of focus). IoT helps businesses create a new customer experience and makes use of assets more optimally. As sensor costs have come down significantly, connectivity has improved and the ability to transmit data has also improved significantly. These factors enable IoT implementation to be viable, making this opportunity real. IoT will definitely become a way of life over the next decade. It will become all pervasive, rather than being called as a technology by itself. It will be embedded in every product, factory, city and assets.

Q. In your opinion, is Government of India playing a significant role in expanding the IoT market right now. If yes, how?

In some form, the government is playing a role of an enabler, by mandating all the public transport vehicles to comply with standards (AIS 140). Smart Cities Mission is one such initiative. The government has picked up 100 cities to make them safer and smarter. I would also say India is leading on the smart cities, though other countries started this initiative many years ago. The government has done a lot in terms of providing momentum to this technology by driving adoption.

Q. Are you satisfied with the rate of deployment of IoT solutions in India?

I think there is a potential to improve. I am sure this will go through a significant scale-up over the next three to five years.

Q. How do you see the IoT market evolving in the next few years?

As far as India is concerned, approximately USD 10-12 billion is spent on IoT related areas including the smart cities. Overall, IoT market will grow at least 30-35 per cent over the next five years.

Q. Which segments do you believe will be driving a larger chunk of demand and why?

The smart cities is the first one, which took off in India three years ago. In addition, IoT would catch up on the automotive, telematics, healthcare, manufacturing, logistics, transportation, utilities, and oil & gas industries. Whether through RFID or sensors, we can now actually track the path of goods being shipped, stored and sold. Telematics will be the second biggest segment that, I believe, will bring demand. The third is around healthcare. Healthcare could be the significant engine of IoT adoption in India because of the lack of facilities and limited number of doctors. Remote monitoring of patients is definitely going to be a big opportunity.

As many of the factories are not automated/connected/networked, manufacturing is another segment that can drive the larger demand. A first level of digital infrastructure has to be set up that will make the factories to really start getting advantage of the data collected in real-time. So, they need to go through two steps – increasing the adoption and scale of IoT technologies in the plants.

Q. What is your biggest challenge, acquiring customers or acquiring talent? What is your strategy in resolving the same?

There are challenges in both. When we talk about acquiring customers, we have many who are willing to do proof of concept (PoC) but the challenge is in industrialising the PoC to a valid business case, and work with them at adopting in a scalable manner. Secondly, there are concerns around security, integrated connectivity and network technologies, which make execution of large-scale customer projects a challenge. However, you can get many customers to sign up for PoCs, just to know how the technology will work, and what do they need to do to adopt this technology.

As we scale up, talent acquisition (around consulting) and how to establish the digital transformation journey, will be a challenge. As IoT has to go along with enterprise digital transformation, this is where the talent of creating a digital transformation strategy is required and to stitch IoT into that. The second challenge would be around selection of various options the customer may have, in terms of connectivity, cloud vs edge, architecture and platforms, and right kind of sensors selection, the battery life of the sensors and understanding the life cycle impact. I think these are the challenges related to the skillset and this is going to be a concern that we need to address in the next five years.

Q. How do you see your IoT related business growing in the next 2-3 years, both in terms of revenue and the fraction of your overall revenue?

IoT is likely to grow about 35-40 per cent over the next 3 years.

Q. What is your strategy to create a differentiation, vis-à-vis your competitors?

Firstly, our ability to conceptualise the business case is the primary strength. We have consulting frameworks that help customer assess themselves vis-a-vis the industry benchmark. Secondly, we have created a marketplace where our customers can experience our solutions, methodologies and videos. Thirdly, we have our own custom-built platforms and partner platforms as well. The differentiation thus comes with our experience of working with various IoT platform development vendors. We understand the importance of connectivity management, application enablement, device management, security and the best way to do data management and data analytics to generate meaningful insights. So, we understand what it takes to be a system integrator and that’s the key differentiation.

We are able to put together a cross functional team which has skills and the ability to combine connectivity options that we can select (thanks to our telecom expertise), ability to understand and selection of sensors, ability to integrate with cloud or edge, ability to analyse data, ensuring that the entire platform for data collection/storage are secured with the right security framework.

Q. Any innovative strategy being planned or implemented by your team to create demand for your solutions among customers or channel partners?

We have selected a few of the flagship projects. Some of them are: UP Dial 100 (safe city), smart cities project in Gandhinagar, Jaipur and Kanpur. These are the few case examples in the smart cities space. On the enterprise side of the business, we have Aircraft Health Monitoring solution or AHMS, where we collect 1.5 terabytes of data every week and try to process the data and create real-time monitoring system, which is definitely a world-class solution for a complex system like an aircraft. Similarly, the ‘Factory of the Future’ solution for an automotive customer from Japan, where we take the complete implementation across 140 factories covering 30 countries. This is the kind of scale we are able to showcase today that gives us confidence that we can actually help customers to scale up in this area.

Q. Who is the key decision maker for you. Is it the technology decision maker or the business decision maker? With whom do you start the conversation and how do you balance the interest of both the parties?

The decision will have to be from the business side, whether it is the Chief Operating Officer or plant heads or Chief Customer Officer or VP – Customer Services/Products. This is where we start the conversation. The IT and technology come in the second phase, as we start integrating with their existing system, infrastructure, security, standards and protocols. The discussion, however, starts with the business owner first. In a few other cases such as digitisation of factories, this comes at the intersection of IT and the factory heads. Similarly, at products and IT heads, when we try to sensorise the products to collect data for better service and also continue to add new customer experience features. Such ideas require very close interactions with the IT and the product teams.

Q. Have you come across any successful deployment of IoT in India. If yes, can you share some details?

Some of the successful deployment of IoT by us are:

  1. We have launched telematics platform solution in India which is a telematics solution successfully deployed on about 10,000 vehicles today, covering commercial trucks, construction equipment, tractors and genset equipment.
  2. In the smart cities space, UP Dial 100, Jaipur and Gandhinagar are definitely some of the projects that we have executed/executing for government bodies.
  3. We are working with a large telecom operator for the launch of IoT solution and to service their enterprise customers.
  4. Tele-health platform, which gives the company access to close to 200,000 patients today. This has been completely built, tested and deployed by us, and this is being used by another telecom operator, which is a successful engagement that we are a part of.

Q. How do you describe your solution to a non-technical decision maker at the client’s end?

Our solution is about improving asset efficiency by 15 to 20 per cent, throughput of factory by 7 to 8 per cent and quality by 5 per cent. These are a few things that I think a non-technical decision maker would understand. Also, providing a continuous customer experience is not possible without having some of these technologies being applied and adopted. So, if you want to understand more about customers and product usage better, these technologies will help you understand how exactly your customers use the product, experience the product and the challenges that they have faced in the product.

Q. What is unique about your solution for customers to opt vis-à-vis your competitors?

Consulting capabilities to build the business case (to assure the ROI) with digital transformation framework supported by partnership ecosystem (to connect sensors, gateways, data storage/lake & security) are unique proposition offered by TechM.

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