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View from India: Economy to plug into data-driven future

Data-led information and 5G networks may open up a new horizon in the digital world. Here are some trends to look out for.

The pandemic has heralded a new digital era. Companies that were not so digitally savvy and preferred manual operations, have been shaken out of their comfort zone; with little or no choice they have undergone a makeover and 'online' has become the catchword for many of their processes. Then, those companies that are already digitally on-track, have taken their digital outlook to a new level. In the midst of all this, there’s more and more of these digital applications in almost every segment of the organisation, thereby making them data rich. A data-rich environment may lead to new beginnings; in-house teams could develop a data strategy and make sense of the data. This is an exercise in itself, and chat-bots, voice assistants and robots are likely to spring up from it. The data could probably help the company gauge their customers and scale-up production accordingly; from warehousing to distribution, data can help improve operations through real-time monitoring, which can scale-up revenue streams.  

In times to come (and not so far off), it could be commonplace to have machine-fitted sensors plugged into data-driven information to achieve the desired outcome. Coming to e-commerce transactions, customer data moves from Point A to Point B. In that sense, data could become fuel for e-commerce. Data coming from online public services or government portals can be marshalled to bridge connections. To illustrate, data can throw light on the unmapped, unbanked and weaker sections of the society; such people can be brought into the fold and avail voter rights or banking facilities, among other official services. This could become an exercise to bring more people into the digital economy.  

'Return to Office' is something that professionals looked forward to. After all, there’s nothing better than face-to-face communication with colleagues, boardrooms discussions and chance encounters that trigger off an idea or two. Even the very thought of working in glass facade offices, whose cabins overlook manicured lawns, is so refreshing. Add some doses of banter around the coffee kiosk... how nice. Alas, Omicron has played spoilsport and stalled such plans. So it remains the way it was, work from home (WFH) and remote working. This has spurred the rise of a suite of remote-working software comprising video chat applications, cloud storage, project management systems and remote desktop features and team management apps, among others.

Employees could be much more wired than before as applications are expected to get wider or more complex. Hence, home Wi-Fi networks are protected with virtual private network, data-handling protocols are adhered to, and, as far as possible, separate desktops on the same system are created to differentiate personal and professional use while computers are locked when not in use. This brings us to data security and data breach, and an increased risk of hacking: the thrust on cyber security and privacy issues has increased. Continuing in the same vein, the demand for cyber-security professionals will increase; this could be an area worth tapping.

Hiring is no longer done the traditional way. Aspirants were once interviewed in person but, with the acceptance of WFH, remotely located professionals have now caught the attention of companies. Moreover, social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn have helped professionals voice themselves and they may be a ray of hope for fresh graduates.

The job horizon has widened to include openings for data scientists, business analysts and story tellers. The data garnered from colleges throws light on the students’ performance. Along with that, AI algorithms are being deployed to whet talent.

When we look at the 5G network, certain aspects come to mind. Firstly, global research firms have ranked India as the world’s fourth largest market for smartphones in terms of shipments. Secondly, Covid-19 has unleashed a new work revolution whereby professionals can operate from anywhere. To put things in perspective, Covid has spurred the mainstream usage of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and augmented/virtual reality in healthcare, education, retail and consulting; all of which requires higher bandwidth, speed and a full-fledged digital ecosystem. 5G, with its low latency and exponential speed, can fulfil the requirement.

Whether it is Covid or its variants, what remains unchanged is the need for a cellular communication network that enables individuals and businesses to operate from anywhere and in real time. Servicing clients with cutting-edge digital tools, better rural connectivity and return of investments for business-to-consumer clients are other requirements. Understandably, the 2022 commercial rollout of 5G could be much awaited and an opportunity for India to aim to be a hub for 5G and allied technologies. This view is supported by the fact that the country has a robust technology ecosystem, a talent pool, and indigenous tech stack. Together, they can be harnessed to make 5G applications and services for India and the world.   

Of course, an ecosystem needs to be built. As per the KPMG report 'Connectivity of The Future: 5G The Gamechanger', telecom service providers (TSPs) will require increased bandwidth for higher data needs to drive top line growth. This also indicates a greater need to address data transport efficiency to channel cost savings. Technology companies or system integrators may increasingly play the role of an orchestrator as TSPs forge partnerships for 5G solutions bringing on board design, integration, certification expertise and implementation.

Device manufacturers are expected to scale-up their 5G devices manufacturing capabilities to meet the massive 5G handset market that will open up in the country. Lastly, with a recent push on infrastructure spending, providers will create opportunities across the country’s digital landscape: towers, network access and transport fibre, and the vast edge-computing capabilities, will not only help in connecting the unconnected but also in implementing various enterprise use-cases.

For the 5G ecosystem to thrive, although technical key performance indicators such as capacity, reliability, latency, bandwidth and efficiency are crucial, the importance of collaboration, co-innovation, and consensus act as cornerstones for a solid future framework development.

The 3Vs – or Vernacular, Voice and Video – will become central to natural language processing. Chatbots will go beyond the chat function and leverage the features of 3Vs for better outcomes during interviews and recruitments, besides resolving troubleshooting issues; they will rely on 3Vs to understand the language and ‘talk’ to a company's clients, bringing a sea change in the manner in which organisations interact with clients across geographical boundaries. We are increasingly leveraging robots in factories, offices, shopping malls and restaurants, among others. In all likelihood, desktop robot assistants will emerge. Wherever robots are being deployed, caution should be exercised to differentiate the roles and responsibilities between humans and robots.

A confluence of factors such as 3D printing, distributed computing and decision making in nano technology could transform the manufacturing industry. We need to chalk out a roadmap for the future to keep pace with the transformation. Given the availability of digital data, manufacturers can make at scale and deploy products in mega factories. Perhaps the next thing is to look at is manufacturing with multi-layers of analytics built above. From the retail standpoint, the 'feel and touch purchases' are now becoming online purchases for many shoppers.

Chemical-metallurgical engineering graduates tend to opt for IT jobs as they are lucrative; this trend could be reversed if semiconductor jobs become competitive on the salary front. There could be a lot of openings when it comes to semiconductor jobs. For instance, an ecosystem may help fill in the gaps for services and solutions that semiconductors offer. Labs can bring in capability required for the equipment; technology can translate good ideas into use if there is an ecosystem in place along with logistics networks, and fabrication units can accelerate cycles of learning and incubate production capacity to meet the needs of the supply chain.

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