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December 31, 2015

Banking For My Generation

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:10 AM



Banking of the future [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QY3_wcJcLZ8]

The British rock band The Who is probably best remembered for their breakout hit, 'My Generation,' in which Roger Daltrey sings: "I hope I die before I get old!" The song resonated so well in the 1960s because it was about a new generation of consumers, born in the second half of the 20th century, who were not bound by their parents' traditions.

The same goes for today's generation. I think Max Levchin really connected with the youth when he co-founded PayPal. Why? Because he loathes traditional banking and everything it stands for. Interestingly, Levchin also helped start Yelp, which crowdsources reviews about local businesses, and has invested in Evernote, a multi-platform note-taking app. What's common between all three is that these are businesses that put consumer convenience above everything else. That's important to grasp, because financial services companies like PayPal are addressing the needs of younger and digitally-savvy consumers. These are the sorts of consumers who do not want to stay in traditional hotels on their vacations but are opting for 'experience' stays on Airbnb. They want to use their mobile phones to book or share cabs on Uber. These also do not tolerate long lines at a bank branch or banker's hours.

For banks to remain relevant in today's day and age, they have to become 'friction-less'. It is estimated that some 80 percent of account closures take place even before the first transaction because of delays in processing requests. Adoption of automation is imperative for the integration of customer-facing processes like applications and onboarding. Citibank Brazil, for instance, reportedly achieved a 70 percent reduction in account opening times by automating customer onboarding in their commercial banking operations. While digital consumers would rather bank on the go and get real-time information about their account activity and wealth planning on their mobile devices, banks should also think about engaging their millennial customers within the branch. According to a study by Nielsen, customers are moving to mobile and digital channels within the brick-and-mortar space. So retail branch visits are still significant to a certain extent. An interactive wall that displays the stock market ticker, latest products, services, and comments by customers on social media might be the first thing a consumer encounters when he walks into a digital-ready branch. Teller pods might be installed alongside traditional teller lines to provide much-needed speed. On-the-spot access to online and mobile apps ca maximize the value of digital platforms. Even video conferencing with product specialists could enhance the product experience for customers.

According to a recent study by Richard Foster of Yale University, the average lifespan of a corporation in the S&P 500 is currently 15 years. Back in 1920s, that lifespan was 67 years. Enormous global banks would do well to take notice of just how turbulent the market is becoming. FinTech startups are doing things faster, more efficiently, and looking at the way banking is done in entirely new ways. Crowdsourcing, for one, is transforming how entrepreneurs seek out loans and connect to investors. Startups are also doing a lot of exciting work around blockchain technologies. Argentinian financier Wences Casares, who is an advocate of Bitcoin and the founder Bitcoin wallet and vault startup , cited frequent currency fluctuations in his native country Argentina as one of the reasons why he became a fan of cryptocurrencies. He says that there were times he couldn't receive wire transfers from his traditional bank due to Argentina's monetary troubles. Bitcoin made that possible.

Digitally empowered banks are recognizing that the more they enhance their digital capabilities and appeal to a new generation of consumers, the greater their digital footprint will be in a rapidly evolving market for financial services. And it is not just banks - nation-states are also catching up. This week Tunisia became the first country to offer its national currency for transmittance through cryptographic technology (will put the nation's currency on the blockchain). Surely, this is a sign of the times to come for my generation and the next!

December 23, 2015

Would You Trust A Robot With Your Money?

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 12:06 PM



Should You Hire a Robot as a Financial Advisor? [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPvfGWsg7po]

Every year the Consumer Electronics Show features robots doing amusing things. Whether it's Honda's ASIMO humanoid robot shaking hands with dignitaries, or the round robot whose mission it is to vacuum carpets - there seems to be a novelty robot for everything. This year there is much more to look forward to. First, there's the holiday shopping season that will result in coffee-making robots, lawnmower robots, and even childcare robots. The second is the reboot of the 40-year-old Star Wars franchise, which has plenty of robots known as droids.

Fun, yes. Entertaining, without a doubt. But what do serious robotics experts and inventors have to say about the fact that the world doesn't seem to take bots seriously unless they're welding a car frame together? That's a question that was burning inside a brilliant young engineer's mind whose family had emigrated to the United States from China. After landing a job a Microsoft, he prudently shopped around for wealth advisory firms that catered to people like him: not rich at the moment, but with a lucrative career in a high-demand field, he might have some funds to invest down the line.

It turns out that few firms were interested in a millennial without substantial savings. Bad move. Analysts predict that despite the economic woes plaguing the West, millennials as measured as an entire generation might have as much as US$ 7 trillion in cash to invest by 2020. Wealth management's business model is not unlike that of, say, residential real estate or book publishing: It's much better to land a couple big fish and reap the considerable commissions from being their agents than to spend precious time with clients whose commissions are relatively small. The engineer, Bo Lu, devised his own computer program that would address the penchant for millennials to do business digitally (87 percent of world accesses the Internet with a mobile device) along with their generally low satisfaction with traditional wealth management firms. His solution was elegantly simple: A user lists her risk appetite and existing investment portfolio and Lu's robotic FutureAdvisor would essentially take care of the rest using his proprietary algorithms, guiding him/her to suggested investment vehicles.

Although this story didn't exactly herald in the genesis of the robot wealth advisor, it nevertheless demonstrates how robotics trump the human touch when humans are less-than-interested in serving consumers. Not only can robot advisors be smarter and better wealth advisors than their human counterparts; they have no qualms about spending as much time as a customer requires to feel comfortable about building an investment portfolio for the long haul. Moreover, 'roboadvisors' are far more arithmetically accurate, and can take decisions rationally (as opposed to a human investment advisor who may be emotionally affected by market ups and downs when dealing with clients).

According to the mutual fund industry trade group ICI, only five percent of the US$ 16 trillion that American households have invested in mutual funds are in the millennial age range. Perhaps that's one of the reasons wealth management professionals have a tepid interest in serving that age group. Mutual funds charge considerable fees, and many millennials are shrewdly shopping around for investment products that mimic mutual funds but don't come with substantial fees attached. In an investment market with miniscule interest rates, high fees, and commissions paid to advisors, a stock must perform brilliantly simply for an investment portfolio to break even. The good news for the hard-working and ingenious Lu was that the behemoth wealth management firm BlackRock recognized a good product when they saw it. BlackRock snatched up FutureAdvisor, which at that point already had US$ 700 million of assets under management, rather than build its own robot advisor from the ground up.

FutureAdvisor is just one of many robot advisors. Many firms in this evolving space charge far lower entrance thresholds than the established wealth management players, so they can begin their relationships with younger consumers earlier and strengthen those relationships as robot advisors efficiently and relatively cheaply build their portfolios. With built-up trust comes an added advantage: A firm can develop new investment products and sell their consumers on them using robotics rather than the 'used car salesman' pitch so often typical of human reps.

One of my favorite counter-arguments to the robotic wealth advisor is that bots lack that lifetime of experience in investing and the innate nurturing of customers. Well, if you've ever followed that popular Wall Street Journal investment feature, in which someone who throws darts randomly at a board emblazoned with industries and companies and invests in where the darts land, you'll know how important a 'lifetime' of experience is when choosing wealth advisors. In the Journal feature, the random dart board often boasts better investment returns than the carefully chosen portfolios of human advisors.

So this holiday season, when your senses will be overwhelmed by examples of entertaining robotics, know full well that serious robots are already serving humans and will continue to do so as they improve their performance and efficiency. A combination of artificial intelligence, robotics and human aspirations will take banking and investing to the next level in the next few years.

December 18, 2015

Bookstores Make A Comeback Through Customer Experience

Posted by Amitabh Mudaliar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:30 AM



'The Guardian' Names 'Powell's' Best Independent Bookstore Worldwide [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-HHIg7rRIc]

The end-of-the-year shopping spree is fun if for only one reason: To see what the creative advertising firms of Madison Avenue have come up with in terms of memorable TV spots. My favorite this year is an ad for the Barnes & Noble bookstore. Pop music stars Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett are shopping for books and meeting each other inside the store, which, of course, results in the two of them belting out a duet. Both Bennett and Lady Gaga are holding up the books they presumably are going to purchase. The store, decked up in resplendent holiday decorations, is part of an overall TV commercial that proclaims that the death of the brick-and-mortar store has been greatly exaggerated.

Not too long ago retail analysts were predicting the death of bookstores like Barnes & Noble. So what, they said, if the store had coffee boutiques within each space or impromptu concerts by local chamber music groups? None of these mattered when compared with the sheer power and influence of the giant web retailers. Could it be, however, that we as consumers became downright intimidated by unmanned delivery drones, and reports in the press about the lousy working conditions in the fulfillment centers of the web retails? Could a quick walk or car ride to a local Barnes & Noble, beautifully decorated for the shopping season, actually be an enjoyable experience?

The answer is a resounding YES. Why else has Amazon opened a bookstore in Seattle this holiday season? You see, today customer relationship management (CRM) is being displaced by customer experience (CX). CRM suggests that brand owners are in control; they dictate the relationship with consumers. Remember how important it used to be (and still is) that prominent CPG brands be on store shelves that are eye-level? The difference with CX, is how customers are managing relationships with brands they like. The consumer is now in control.

The fact that the retail world is moving beyond CRM is a testament to the catchy Barnes & Noble advertisement. In the old days of CRM, retailers would know that a consumer bought certain kinds of books. Now, with CX, the retailer can analyze how many times the consumer has driven by the brick-and-mortar bookstore; how many times he has browsed for books on similar topics; and the likelihood that he will buy peripherals (tablets, board games, puzzles, bookends, etc.) related to the previous purchase. It's about an enterprise consuming the data at hand more effectively. If CRM meant blanketing the airwaves with adverts for books of all kinds, CX means targeting each consumer with books they are inclined to buy.

Sir Isaac Newton, in his Laws of Motion, wrote that a body at rest will continue to be at rest unless there is some sort of external push. Decision-making, says one scholar, is not unlike this Newtonian law: Unless someone is nudged in a different direction or to do something different, he will go on doing whatever he's always done. Therein lies the power of CX; it's re-writing how enterprises get their consumers to change course or to get going and shop altogether.

And because CX is so far advanced in its leveraging of consumer analytics, retailers know that brick-and-mortar stores, once left for dead, have risen from the ashes like a phoenix and become serious tools in their marketing arsenals. You might not run into Tony Bennett while walking up and down the aisles of your local bookstore, but you might receive emails or notifications to your social media sites on your mobile device, letting you know about an in-store event or sale.

Well, brick-and-mortar stores will never be out of fashion, thanks to the continuing evolution and sophistication of CX solutions. And perhaps also because there's something special about keeping the neighborhood shop alive. An independent family-owned bookstore in Brooklyn (which is coincidentally located a couple of blocks away from a Barnes & Noble) is one of the many independent bookstores that are thriving. According to the American Booksellers Association, from 2009 to 2014, the number of independent bookstores has increased by 27 percent.

Winter's here. It may be cold outside. But not cold enough to discourage consumers to brave the elements and check out the offerings in their favorite brick-and-mortar stores. It smells like a comeback to me.

December 14, 2015

OpenAI: AI for All

Posted by Dr. Vishal Sikka (View Profile | View All Posts) at 3:19 AM

Recently, we saw the announcement about the birth of OpenAI, a non-profit organization to develop and advance Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, and share these in the greater good. We are a part of this very exciting endeavor, and I've been asked tons of questions in the last 24 hours about this, so I thought I'll write some thoughts down.

Why OpenAI?

A few weeks ago, Marvin Minsky, one of the fathers of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the one who gave the field its first definition -- that AI is "the science of making machines do things that would require intelligence if done by men" -- made a few sobering statements about the state-of-the-art in AI. Indeed I felt sad listening to this giant lament the lack of fundamental progress in the field, and highlight some of the underlying causes. And this despite all the buzz and hype AI work has picked up lately. Marvin is one of the truly great human beings and scientists, whose teachings and advice helped influence my life and led me to focus on AI in my grad studies and beyond. So more than anything else, I see OpenAI as an opportunity to "do something about it".

My friend and teacher Alan Kay once referred to Sam Altman, the CEO of startup incubator Y Combinator, as a "builder of civilizations". When Sam, a wise man who is but 30 years old, was thinking about the idea of building an open ecosystem for, among other endeavors, AI, Alan and I shared our ideas with him and our experiences. Sam asked me if I would be ok with the fact that such an endeavor would be untethered and would produce results generally in the greater interests of humanity, and he was somewhat surprised by my reaction, that indeed I would only support this venture if such an openness was a fundamental requirement! In all my experience with corporate research teams, I found a continual struggle for the teams to find relevance with the work in the "here and now", usually knowing that this unnecessary and premature seeking of relevance not only blinds us to those opportunities that can shift our paradigms, it defeats the point of research. Sam shares the view that cooperation helps dramatically improve our lot, helps create a foundation for much larger value creation than any isolated "feudal" system can. Indeed, endeavors such as agriculture, and science, show that when we share, we improve all of us. As Newton once said, "if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants".

I am really excited that Sam, Elon Musk, and others -- including Reid Hoffman, Peter Thiel, and Amazon Web Services, and Infosys of course -- are supporting this great endeavor, and in addition to Alan, a great set of leaders will serve as advisors. Ilya Sutskever, who has worked over the last several years as a leader in developing the so called "deep learning" techniques, will direct the research at OpenAI, and will be joined by several dynamic leaders and individual contributors, whose conviction and imagination will help this field move forward, based on the best of what we know, the best ideas, the best inventions, and the key lessons.

Our wish is that together the OpenAI team will do unfettered research in the most important, most relevant dimensions of AI, no matter how long it takes to get there, not limited to just identifying dancing cats in videos, but to creating ideas and inventions that amplify our humanity, that help us learn more, see/perceive and understand more, and be more.

Why Open?

One question that's been asked since yesterday, is why should this be open? Isn't it better to have deep AI be in the hands of a select few experts or specialists? My sense is, our trust in complex systems stems mostly from understanding these and their predictability, whether it is nuclear reactors, lathe machines, or 18-wheelers; or of course, AI. If complex systems are not open, not open to be used, extended, and learned about, they end up becoming yet another mysterious thing for us, ones that we end up praying to and mythifying. The more open we make AI, the better.

Why Infosys?

Another question that's been asked a lot, is why Infosys? We at Infosys, with over 150k software engineers, are unique beneficiaries of and contributors to this endeavor. Most of our work is in building and maintaining software systems, and AI will increasingly shape the construction and evolution of intelligent software systems, in all kinds of domains and industries, from complex machinery to consumer behavior, from medicine to energy. In addition, as a large services company, many parts of our work can transform fundamentally with AI. In services like infrastructure management, business process outsourcing, and verification and maintenance of existing software, we can massively migrate mechanizable work to automation, and instead build intelligent software systems, that amplify us, our abilities, as well as those of our customers. So a great transformation that we are undertaking at Infosys, is to embrace automation at a very large scale, so people can, as Prof Mashelkar once said, "do more with less for more", and at the same time, educate ourselves in new areas to help build intelligent systems, but also to increasingly transform ourselves towards being innovators. This is the main point of all of us learning design thinking, and all of us engaging in the Zero Distance initiative. No innovation department. Each one of us an innovator. And just as AI helps us automate the more mundane parts of our work, AI training and building and using AI systems, can help amplify our abilities, can free us to exercise more of our creativity, our humanity.

But beyond business, there is another key reason; our endeavor to do purposeful work. Our founders always believed in this. Many years ago, Mr Murthy and our founders started the ACM Infosys award, which celebrates great young Computer Science practitioners. The Infosys Science Foundation supports work in the pure sciences in an unprecedented way, as does the Infosys Foundation in India (e.g. with its recent support of the AI programme at IIIT-D). And the Infosys Foundation in the US, the most recent Foundation in our family, is working hard on its mission to help enable/expand computer science education, and has already started many promising initiatives in the US. So OpenAI aligns very nicely with our long-held values.

So as we get started on this great journey, I find myself excited, hopeful that OpenAI will help uncover great innovations, that new AI techniques yet to be discovered, and built to share, built in ways that are open to all, will help us transcend our limitations, improve and amplify us all, and that our work in artificial intelligences, may help bring us closer to our natural spirituality...

December 11, 2015

Cognitive Tech Empowering Healthcare

Posted by Suman Sasmal (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:08 AM



5 ways robots are delivering health care in Saskatchewan [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_eD1Bvmr_g]

It's 2018. Dr. Riley, a neurologist, receives a call from a clinic located about 300 miles away. The clinic has only a handful of general physicians. Until a year ago, whenever a specialist consultant was required, the clinic referred patients to hospitals in other cities - a journey not many could make. However, now, the clinic has state-of-the-art equipment allowing it to connect with specialists in neighbouring towns and cities, and access speciality healthcare expertise- especially for critical needs - remotely.

When the call arrives, Dr. Riley returns to his office, which is equipped to enable him to conference remotely with patients and physicians, receive patient history at the click of a button, engage with the patient to understand his/her condition and offer diagnosis and treatment and even perform interventions like remote robotic surgery when needed. Dr. Riley discovers that his patient, Edward, is a 20 year-old with severe persistent headache, neck stiffness, balance problems, and blurred vision. He looks at his medical history from the EHR and recommends a battery of diagnostics tests and a CT scan. Results of the diagnostics is a brain CT scan that needs to be analyzed by a qualified radiologist. In the absence of a radiologist, the doctor turns to a computer vision tool - a technology based on cognitive skill - to analyze the scan using pattern analysis. The vision tool provides a report revealing a brain lesion. This timely availability of radiology analysis enables Dr. Riley to clinically co-relate the history, symptoms and conclude that the condition is severe and needs an immediate surgery. Losing no time, Dr. Riley directs a robot surgeon at the clinic where Edward is, to perform brain surgery and treat the lesion.

This is an example of what healthcare professionals can achieve and offer patients with cognitive technologies. The field of cognitive care includes a number of perceptual or cognitive skills that until a few years ago, only humans possessed and were leveraged for tasks like planning, pattern analysis, decision-making, speech and handwriting recognition, reasoning, learning, and comprehending partial information.

Today, cognitive technologies have advanced significantly to foray into acquiring and using these human skills. Technology has made human intelligence definition accurate, allowing system developers to build self-learning machines to simulate a host of human activities involving skill and intelligence. Innovations in big data, cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) have propelled advancements in cognitive technologies as well. Its application value in healthcare includes supporting and augmenting roles of physicians, nurses and technicians and improving care quality by expanding human capabilities. They imitate the human ability to recognize and understand language, learn and assimilate new information, generate hypotheses, and make decisions based on reasoning.

With these technologies, healthcare organizations can reduce expenses on tasks that through automation, enhance population health management, decrease fraud, and maintain efficiency even during crisis, with virtual assistants. Cognitive technologies offer crucial insights that help healthcare organizations function more effectively and efficiently. What are some of these cognitive technologies? Computer vision, machine learning, natural language processing and robotics are a few. Let's take a closer look at each of them. Computer vision, helps reconstruct, interpret and understand 3D visuals from 2D images. It analyzes data on scans and provides comprehensive reports especially about abnormalities like lesions and tumors. This helps healthcare providers offer a more targeted and accurate treatment plan - similar to Dr. Riley and Edward's case above.

Another skill, with which machines identify and infer information from complex patterns in large amounts of rich data, is called machine learning. Truly digital healthcare organizations can, on a daily basis collect and analyze data from various sources, including electronic medical records (EMRs) and sensor enabled wearables. Based on this, a patient status index - which indicates the order in which patients should be attended to - is communicated with physicians and nurses through connected handheld devices. This helps ensure critical patients get attended to first in order to prevent adverse events like heart attacks arising from not receiving medical attention on time.

With natural language processing, physician documentation can be leveraged more effectively to understand aspects like patient healthcare needs, reimbursement eligibility and healthcare outcomes. This skill also extracts, analyzes and maps data to classification codes like ICD-10. When combined with the latest EMRs, it gives physicians the flexibility to document and share patient data with other healthcare providers with whom they collaborate. Another skill, robotics, has big application value in healthcare - three such are in performing surgeries, offering remote care and providing additional assistive services.

Edward's example showed us how robotics can help with the first two. The third, assistive services, is an area, where if robotics is applied thoughtfully, can perform tasks not mandating human interaction. Let's look at an example: Most healthcare organizations are looking for ways to avoid patient readmission and revisits. Virtual assistant robots can help here. They can ask these patients a set of questions, gather data and interpret it, without requiring physicians or nurses to engage with patients. This data could reveal the factors leading to patient readmissions and revisits, and indicate the avoidable ones at the organizational level. This way, with insights generated by cognitive technologies, healthcare organizations can enhance the quality of care they provide.

The need for IT is deeply entrenched in modern healthcare industry's DNA. It's here to stay. Is this dependence comforting or worrying? Where do you think healthcare is headed to next, with IT? These are some of the questions worth pondering over.

December 8, 2015

Robotics And The Productive Worker

Posted by Sanjay Nambiar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:55 AM

Robotics and the Productive Worker

Boosting productivity. It's the mandate and mission of every organization. What I learned recently during a discussion is that besides monitoring workplace computers for employee output, enterprises might someday resort to an amazing array of information to gauge their workers - including genetic records. Some might call it Orwellian, but experts say that the day is near when a prospective candidate for a job might be asked for some DNA in the form of a swab of the inner cheek. Those who refuse to do so - well, what are they trying to hide?

One of the things that technology is supposed to do is to illuminate, and it has done so very well when it comes to measuring an employee's output. Because so many workers now operate connected machinery or sit in front of computers, organizations can record and measure their output against datasets of similar workers. One expert wrote that it will become harder for one employee to hide behind the excellent work of a group of co-workers.

I don't know about you, but one of the funniest television shows of the past 15 years was The Office, which poked fun at corporate life. So much time is spent fulfilling regulatory and compliance measures in the modern workplace that very little work actually gets done. It's ironic that the regulations meant to guard and to empower workers are now holding them back. Which is why it might be ideal for robotics to leave the nest that is the factory (some 30 percent of robots in the economy are currently used for auto components, chassis, and suspension) and fly on over to the office.

According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group, manufacturers will opt for robots when the cost of using one is 15 percent less than employing a human worker. Part of the equation is that robots come with maintenance, power, security, and software costs. But a company can even rent those services to keep its robots in good working order. Plus, think about human welders in an automobile plant who make US$ 25 an hour (after health and insurance benefits, pension, breaks, vacation time, union dues, etc.) compared to US$ 8 an hour for robots. The initial investment in a robotic assembly line could go a long way.

The best part of today's scenario is that there need not be a long-term investment in robotics. They can be leased like storage space on a Cloud. Companies that want virtual chatters in their call centers or even automated greeters in their Big Box stores can rent robots and associated services from the companies that manufacture them. One of my favorite companies is Intellibot Robotics, the only American manufacturer of robotic commercial floor cleaners. The machines use maps and sensors to vacuum and scrub floors in offices, hotels, and factories.

Do we as humans need to maintain some kind of balance? That's always been the question, hasn't it? The author of a great new book, The Pixar Touch, writes that the über-successful animation company actually holds back in its finished product. That is, they could produce even more life-like images in their movies. But the appeal is that human audiences enjoy the animated look and sound of the characters. Anything too close to resembling humans would seem a bit creepy, according to the book. Think of the difference to the downright cute R2D2 of the Star Wars movies to the extremely lifelike droids in the Aliens and Terminator franchises. One is loveable, the others are menacing and unpredictable.

That's why my hunch is that the unseen robot will come to offices and homes first. Like the robot that uses artificial intelligence to build a website that hones in on the expectations of consumers. Shoppers might wonder how the website seems to know them and their shopping habits so well. As far as the illumination of a human worker's output, however, robotics might best be used as tools to help an organization get the very best out of a person. So when a robot measures certain deficiencies in a human's productivity, the answer isn't to replace her - which is costly - but rather suggest ways to improve through on-the-job gamification techniques and other motivational tools.

Our own experiences with clients who have been early adopters have led to dramatic insights. One of them discovered that the total time spent by a human worker on the machine including scheduled meetings was only four hours in a day, and that they could save US$ 15 million a year by not overpaying contractors. Another client discovered that they could save US$ 25 million per year by simply looking at derivative insights on user desktop licenses that are not being actually used by the human worker but being paid for through software AMC.

The good news is that enterprises are approaching robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence in an extremely measured and mature manner. They're slow to institute organization changes, but when they do, they're with the best interest of the company and all of its human employees in mind.

December 4, 2015

Dangerously Close To 2 Degrees Celsius

Posted by Aruna C. Newton (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:14 AM



The Importance of 2 degrees [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oQUcUKInmI]

Environmentalists have marked the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP21) - also known as the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference - being held this week and the next in Paris, on their calendar eagerly. The topic of climate change is nothing new. It has been debated and discussed extensively in the past two decades by politicians, governments, and environment activists. But, this time around, there seems to be a sense of urgency. Average temperature of the Earth has increased by 0.85 degrees Celsius since 1880. And if the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions stay high, experts predict that we could see the average temperate rise anywhere between 2 to 4 degrees Celsius. Global warming to that extent can wreak havoc across the world. We're talking about floods, wildfires, extreme heat, limited water supply, and much, much more. That's why, it's more important than ever for heads of states at COP21 to arrive at an agreement to keep global warming below the critical threshold of 2 degrees Celsius.

As someone who is passionate about preserving the environment, I've been closely following the discussions around COP21. It's encouraging that many large corporates are also pledging their commitment to this endeavor. In an open letter to world leaders, CEOs from 78 companies, including Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka, have come together to reduce GHG emissions, and help the world move to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum (WEF), have offered to contribute concrete innovations, solutions, practices, and policies to reduce the overall global warming. This alliance has set targets to reduce their own GHG gas emissions and further seeks to catalyze and aggregate action and initiatives from companies from all industry sectors.

Think about this: Governments across the world have made progress, albeit sporadically, in the fight to curb global warming. Denmark, for example, created a world record by using wind source for 39.1% of its electricity needs in 2014. And, on a particularly windy day, the country produced 140% of all its electricity needs from wind power for a brief period of time! Electricity needs of approximately 6.7 million families in the U.K. were met by wind-generated electricity. Inspiring stories come from as far as the Caribbean island of Bonaire, which has completely modified its electricity source from fossil fuels to renewable sources, after a major fire broke out in the year 2004 destroying its diesel power plant.

Now, think about some creative ways in which corporations are trying to do their bit for the environment. DHL has deployed couriers on bicycles in nine European countries so far, and it has replaced 33 trucks with 33 cargo bikes in the Netherlands. The latter, the company estimates, reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 152 metric tons per year. Technology company, Dell, has introduced plant-based packaging, which can be composted and used in gardens to add nutrients back into the soil. At Infosys, we have also been working towards reducing our carbon intensity, per capita electricity consumption, and meet 100% of our electricity consumption from renewable energy sources. We've made significant progress - at this moment, 30% of our electricity comes from renewable sources, in-house developed Radiflux radiant panels improve energy performance in buildings, and we now have 12 LEED Platinum-rated buildings.

Undoubtedly, there's great intent on the part of the governments and global enterprises across the world. With commitment from 78 global enterprises, facilitated by WEF, there's so much more that we can achieve. The most important asset that corporates bring to the table is the ability to influence individuals, citizens. Enterprises can build a corporate culture that encourages sustainability - reducing business travel, for example. By committing to ambitious environment goals, they can make a significant impression on employees. In fact, I believe corporates can engage employees and channelize their energies towards a greater cause, creating mini-revolution. But, we have to start reasonable. Car-free Wednesdays? Lights-off lunch hours? Incentivizing employee volunteerism, recycling?

One outcome that I hope will emerge in the near future is a better understanding of renewable energy sources as a viable option. Research, innovation, and the power of technology can make that happen and corporates can provide that support. I cannot think of a better time for corporates to do much more. The COP21 summit has the potential to establish the fundamentals for a path that will bring together governments and corporations. Governments, corporations and the larger society have to synergize their efforts towards a greener tomorrow - NOW!

December 2, 2015

Pharma Gears Up For Connected Care

Posted by Subhro Mallik (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:04 AM

Pharma Gears Up For Connected Care

Pharmaceutical and medical device industry is on a precipice that's equally exciting and daunting. It's daunting, because many patents that the pharmaceutical industry acquired in the 1990s will expire soon. This, according to a Sanford C Bernstein report, can decrease revenue and cause generic erosion (expiring drug patents impacting revenues of pharma cos) between 2% and 40%, especially for companies without valuable pipelines. However, it's also exciting times. The industry has access to cutting-edge technology to strategically expand pipelines and innovate for better outcomes. From technology that virtualizes research processes and fast-tracks clinical development to those that enable compliance with government's rules and regulations, there are many technological advancements the industry is tapping into.

This gives it the edge to face challenges like expiring patents, and to create a connected and smart ecosystem. It helps companies stay ahead of competition, meet the complex regulatory requirements and align better with the global aim to offer more effective and long-lasting patient outcomes. Companies can achieve these goals with a 'connected care' approach and enablers like digitally-powered tools, technologies and touch-points for information monitoring, recording, storing, accessing and analyzing anytime, by any stakeholder. These enablers allow researchers and other stakeholders to stay connected with consumers, and enjoy benefits like reduced costs, enhanced performance, faster go-to-market, and seamless sales and marketing processes.

Today, customized solutions are taking the industry by storm. Supported by technologically advanced tools, areas like genomics and personalized medicine have revolutionized the industry. Just look at how much has changed since the Human Genome Project was piloted in 1990. Back then, the entire project took close to a decade and cost more than $1 billion. However, today, a person's genome can be sequenced in a few days for around $1,000. Genomics, and more specifically personal genomics, gives researchers complete biological information about each individual - including their predisposition to illnesses and allergies.

This information is especially useful in pharmacogenomics where researchers develop drugs to target problem areas more effectively in each individual. Based on each individual's genetic profile, such drugs will also most likely have minimal side effects. This is the future of drug discovery and manufacturing. How does this lead to connected care? Individuals taking personalized medicines - either clinical trial participants or consumers - can use wearable devices (like Google's smart lens) that monitor physiological parameters (like glucose levels in tears) post drug intake and share the same with researchers (via mobile devices synced to the smart lens) and consumers in real-time.

Based on this, consumers can monitor their own vital signs and manage conditions, while researchers can tweak the drugs and make them more effective. But how will it be possible, if detailed information like this is generated for all the patients, resulting in a data explosion like nothing we've seen before? There will be tons of information to be analyzed and interpreted. Pharmaceutical and medical device companies will have to integrate analytics and business intelligence tools into their systems for this. Also, this is not the only source of information. With more companies investing in connected smart medical devices - new age instruments that detect, collect, store and analyze information - there will be mountains of new data. These devices should have the capabilities to monitor, store, analyze and share insights on this data.

One such smart medical device is the digitally-evolved ECG which identifies, analyzes, and transmits data directly on the cloud, making it easily accessible for stakeholders authorized to use it. Smart medical devices can shrink the cost of managing these issues, as it can detect them before they proliferate into a more complex condition needing expensive medical attention. Mobile-enabled tools are also contributing to this. Companies are developing apps to direct consumers to monitor drug intake for chronic conditions and infections - a key step in reducing the need for emergency care. One such app is Well B, by Bristol Meyers Squibb, for Hepatitis B patients to get reminders for drug intake and monitor their symptoms.

With each passing year, these digitally-enabled advancements are getting smarter and more capable, allowing companies to achieve the connected care goal with less investment or spend, and in shorter spans of time. Connected care is a wake up call for pharmaceutical and medical device companies still struggling with obsolete medical instruments and data entry methods, in a dynamic industry that faces big demands from within, to innovate and accelerate towards a smarter and more Connected care delivery ecosystem. With the right IT infrastructure and systems that support the adoption and use of the new digitally enabled tools, pharmaceutical and medical device companies can make the transition from traditional systems to new age devices more effectively and seamlessly.

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