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September 26, 2016

Welcome the Robots Among Us

Posted by Sanjay Nambiar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:52 AM

Welcome the Robots Among Us

You've heard the saying that it takes money to make money. Nowhere is this maxim truer than among bond trading desks at the world's largest banks. Even when the global economy went south, banks could rely on the lucrative activities of their traders. But now there's talk of robotics coming to Wall Street in what some might think of as quite a radical way: the bond desk.

Goldman Sachs Algorithm is more than just an algorithm. It's the name of an entire program that the bank is using to execute bond trades. What's so interesting about this particular "bond bot" is that bond trading was always said to be the undisputable job of humans because of the nuances involved. Well, this particular program appears to be so good that it can learn from human traders and augment the already lucrative trade they make.

An account of the new program included a remark from one of the bank's executives saying that comparing bots to humans was an apples-to-oranges proposition - in other words, it didn't make much sense. Still, when a definitively human job becomes enhanced by collaborative robots, it's hard to deny that smart machines will touch just about every career in the near future, from medicine to education.

I think you understand where I'm going with this. Breakthroughs in robotics are giving machines the skills they need to work side by side with us - and to learn from each other. When people hear the word "robotics," what invariably comes to mind are those immense welding machines on the assembly lines in automotive plants. True, those spot welders are incredibly accurate and speed up the time it takes to build a car. But in the world of Industry 4.0, we're unbolting those giant welding arms from factory floors, shrinking them in size, and bringing them into our offices. These are today's robots - machines that not only have arms but brains. They can multi-task and solve problems.

Just last week I was reading an interesting essay from the Columbia Business School on hospital emergency room utilization. Between 1992 and 2012, the American Hospital Association found that ER utilization (defined as the number of visits per 1,000 people) grew by about 18 percent in the country. That's an overcrowding trend that the essay says reflects the world's ERs. Hospitals have largely had one solution: to 'go on diversion,' that is the act of telling an incoming ambulance to go to a different hospital. In short, the essay's authors conclude that hospitals could decrease wait time for patients by up to 15 percent. How? Through predictive analytics. The scenario that I see playing out in hospitals around the world goes beyond the robotic surgeon - although that's already becoming a reality. I also see robotics taking control of a block of hospital ERs throughout a region and, by using predictive analytics (and becoming smarter by the day), routing ambulances to the most under-utilized ER. Therefore, robotic surgeons as well as dispatchers will be saving more lives in the near future.

And what about global commerce? Everyone knows that Rolls-Royce Holdings is one of the world's top airline engine manufacturers. The aviation Rolls-Royce is one of the leaders in Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications program and has made news by predicting that the technologies used to improve airline operations will soon be used on large ships - specifically massive container ships. The time will soon come when these enormous vessels will be run by onboard robotics - or 'at-sea autonomous operations.' Rolls-Royce is even collaborating with companies working on driverless cars to develop the sea-borne technology. Thanks to advanced communications satellites, robotics can perform all the functions of a human crew and navigate these massive ships across oceans with utmost efficiency.

Indeed, the kind of collaborative and smart robotics I've described might be in the form of something you wouldn't recognize as a robot. But there are some robots which will not only think but move on their own. And they won't all be rigid, metallic entities. What's truly amazing is the 'octobot' - the first robot to be constructed of soft, flexible parts. A recent article in the journal Nature describes the robot, just two centimeters long, as formed of rubber with a brain that is a 'micro-fluidic circuit' that can transfer itself to different parts of the bot when it has to contort into new spaces.

If the future of robotics seems filled with limitless possibilities, then that's because we humans are no longer limiting ourselves as to what a robot can be. From a bank's bond trading desk to a ship's captain and crew, to a gelatinous piece of goo, robots can be anything we want them to be. And far from taking away jobs from humans, robots will transform the global economy such that they will create new, advanced jobs in place of positions they take away. It's time to start planning for the robots among us. Our global marketplace is about to get a lot more interesting, efficient, and exciting.

September 23, 2016

Redefining Innovation With Design Thinking And Digital

Posted by Indranil Mukherjee (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:25 AM

'Redefining Innovation With Design Thinking And Digital' on InfyTalk

One of the most prestigious business and technology conferences in the IT industry, Oracle OpenWorld 2016, concluded this week at San Francisco with Infosys bagging an unprecedented seven Oracle Excellence Awards. Dr. Vishal Sikka, delivered the keynote address on Being More, Our Transformations in the Time of A.I.

In this post, we bring you updates and snippets of our participation as we chat up our Oracle expert, Indranil Mukherjee, Service Offering Head - Oracle Practice, Infosys. He also shares his perspective on why organizations need to be 'Zero Distance to Digital'.

Continue reading article on Medium»

September 22, 2016

Is Your Business Prepared for Conversational Commerce?

Posted by Madhu Janardan (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:27 AM

Is Your Business Prepared for Conversational Commerce?

Who hasn't heard of the popular comic strip and television show 'Dennis the Menace,' in which an obnoxious little boy would confound and annoy his neighbor, the unwitting Mr. Wilson? That old show perfectly describes the state of consumer-focused chat bots up until very recently. For example, you might purchase a home security system that hooks up to your smartphone only to have the teenager next door hack into it and set off the alarm in the middle of the night. A funny prank to the teenager - but not funny to you and your family!

And haven't we all had some amount of fun asking Siri or Google Voice questions in such a way that they would elicit funny responses? But this is changing. Have you noticed that bots are now becoming smart enough to know that people are playing around with them? Instead of trying to answer a question, they simply stay silent. The goofiness involved with baiting a chat bot is changing quickly, as human beings begin to respect machines for what they are.

For instance, I have a smart house - I spent $600 to make it smart. I get alerts, I can set an alarm, unlock doors remotely, drive up to my house and turn on the lights from my car and I can use a voice-activated speaker at the front door. I can look into my fridge from the grocery store to see how much milk we have. Why? Because I installed cameras inside my fridge. The ease of operating anything from anywhere is getting seamless. On the road, my Honda has a lane detection warning system - essentially cameras that identify the line on the road. With time the lane detection warning system will mature and I will stop goofing around by swerving the car out of the lane in order to make the alarm go off.

I used to think that A.I. would become ubiquitous when we embraced technology. Instead, what I realize is that A.I. is already embracing us, whether in fridges, TVs or phones. True, these may seem small steps, but this is intelligence that helps us make decisions faster. We're almost to the point at which we won't need to program devices because they will update and teach themselves.

While A.I. powered bots and digital assistants continue making progress, their presence is still a bit knotty in the retail industry. Bots that have mastered 'conversational commerce' are still to work out a few glitches related to language before retailers can use them to improve customer service.

But these new and improved bots will be ready sooner than you think and find their place as an integral part of 'conversational commerce', a term coined by an Uber executive to describe what he saw as the potential for retailers to utilize messaging apps to communicate with customers.

But first, there's the privacy issue: When Facebook, which owns one of the most popular messaging apps, WhatsApp, decided to revise its privacy policy, a number of privacy and communications advocates lodged official complaints with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Not surprisingly, regulatory bodies in the European Union are also hearing similar complaints.

What's to complain about? Well, Facebook recently announced that WhatsApp would share data about its users so that Facebook and Instagram could better target its ads. The move could have a direct impact on 'conversational commerce,' where data from a messaging app could provide retailers contact to users through chat bots or other forms of Artificial Intelligence.

But let's be realistic: Messaging apps that change privacy policies to accommodate the wishes of retailers will happen. It's just a matter of how quickly. In her latest "Internet Trends" presentation, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Mary Meeker pointed to the continually surging growth of advertising via the Internet: It is accelerating up 20 percent vs. up 16 percent year-over-year. Such growth, she said, is thanks in large part to mobile devices, up 66 percent, vs. desktops, up 5 percent. She also pointed to what Baidu's chief scientist, Andrew Ng, said in September, 2014: "In five years' time at least 50 percent of all searches are going to be either through images or speech." So chat bots will become an integral part of customer service.

Artificial Intelligence is on the brink of enabling seamless conversation between chat bots and humans. Retailers will soon be creating effective and seamless 'conversational commerce'. They will have come a long way in a very short time. My message to you is that in the very near future, new iterations of conversational commerce will be potent and offer effective ways for retailers to boost their customer service levels and strengthen ties with their consumer bases. However, they need to make sure the technology is at a level that makes 'conversational commerce' seamless and fun to use - not a public relations nightmare.

September 20, 2016

China: The Next Global E-Commerce Powerhouse

Posted by Rangarajan V. R. (View Profile | View All Posts) at 4:56 AM

China: The Next Global E-Commerce PowerhouseI read with intense interest that private equity firm Carlyle Group, is one of the leading bidders to buy the McDonald's restaurants in China. It turns out that McDonald's Inc. prefers as a strategy that its locations in China be owned by franchisees who will guarantee stability, and a steady stream of income rather than directly run thousands of fast-food joints from its headquarters in America. On the heels of that, came the news that Yum Brands Inc, China owner of KFC and Pizza Hut had sold part of their stake to Primevera Capital (an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.) for $460 million. This sale is part of a planned move by Yum to spin off their business into a franchisee model. Interestingly, this investment by Primevera Capital will deepen the reach of Ant Financial, which runs Alibaba's Alipay mobile payments platform, into China's restaurant business.

Could this be a sign of the times as China increasingly goes the e-commerce way?

The change in strategy at McDonald's and Yum is in sync with a greater trend in China these days: its e-commerce revolution. Consumer-facing companies are realizing that as the largest single market on earth begins to become digitally savvy, they need to shift the focus from building a bricks-and-mortar infrastructure to having a robust online presence and product delivery mechanism.

From Alibaba, Baidu and Didi, to WeChat and its financial off-shoot, Chinese e-commerce companies are growing rapidly in sophisticated ways, and in many cases outpacing their counterpart's worldwide. For instance, online sales of goods and services in 2015 totaled RMB 3.8 trillion, a year-over-year increase of 37.2 percent.

Today's corporate giants across China have an entrepreneurial culture in which it is quite natural to develop their own social media or computer laptop or software division. So technology firms have competition from industrial companies! This unique corporate culture is what allows Chinese companies to innovate faster and in more interesting ways. WeChat, the easy-to-use messaging service now has a WeBank counterpart. It is a fully online financial services firm that reviews enormous amounts of data from WeChat users to offer customized services like loans and accounts without physical branches. Consumers can do all their banking online, yet they receive personalized service because WeBank leverages its customer data analysis from WeChat. Most companies in other parts of the world can only dream about being able to innovate digital services in such ways. And so fast!

This rapid pace of innovation is paying off: Some 55 percent of Internet users in China have made at least one mobile payment compared to just 19 percent in America. According to the Internet Retailer 2016 China 500 - the largest online retailers in China as measured by their annual online sales - the 500 merchants ranked grew 59.6 percent in 2015 to $198.30 billion from $124.22 billion, representing 33.6 percent of the total Chinese e-commerce market. Now here's the most interesting part: just 40 percent of Chinese consumers currently shop online. Thus, there continues to remain enormous room for expansion, not just for e-commerce, but logistics and IT as well. A consultancy that focuses on China's Internet industry, iResearch, reports that the country's online sales is slated to double in the next three years, reaching RMB 7.5 trillion in 2018.

Thus it is rather obvious even to a casual observer that China's e-commerce market has a lot of potential for growth and is likely to become the world's largest e-commerce market soon. As the industry burgeons, retailers will also need to adopt an omni-channel approach and ensure their in-store and online services are seamlessly integrated and designed to meet the diverse needs of their consumers.

Why omni-channel? Well, although online retailing is growing by leaps and bounds in the country, it accounts for only a small slice of the global pie. In markets like China, figures for 2015 show online sales represented just 11 percent of total retail sales and were valued at the equivalent of $672 billion. E-commerce has made it cheaper and easier for companies and individuals alike to market their products on various online platforms. One of the consequences is the increase in intense market competition and the benefit that consumers are able to enjoy reducing prices.

If Chinese companies are going to protect and continue expanding their market share in the country, they will need to implement robust Big Data and analytics programs. With millions of customers sharing information, companies need to adopt programs that enable them to segment their customers, better understand purchasing behaviour, improve product recommendation, upselling or cross-selling options and implement business strategies that are ever responsive.

We know that the digital Chinese consumer is attuned to e-commerce, but they continue to patronize brick-and-mortar stores as well, so companies need to strategize on how best to combine the online and physical stores into one coherent merchandising plan.

The Chinese enterprise has just a few steps to implement regarding best practices in Big Data and analytics. When it does, those rapidly growing companies will be the envy of the world.

September 14, 2016

Preparing Your Enterprise to Be Zero Distance to Digital

Posted by Sajit Vijayakumar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:02 AM

Corroborating the point made by Sajit Vijaykumar is Indranil Mukherjee, VP and Global Head - Oracle Practice, Infosys, who explains how Infosys can help enterprises identify areas for digital innovation. [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEBkbwrAYss]

Consumers and technology are going digital. But what does this mean for enterprises? In this interview, Sajit Vijayakumar, VP & Delivery Head, Oracle Practice, Infosys, shares his thoughts on how the enterprise landscape is changing in this new era of digital, and what organizations need to do to prepare for it.

How is digital shaping the ERP landscape?

'Digital' has become core to an enterprise, ushering significant changes to the ERP landscape, and this change is driven by multiple factors.

Firstly, core business models of an enterprise are becoming more consumer-driven than ever before. Secondly, consumer preferences and the modes of engagement are changing. Thirdly, the software development process is also rapidly changing to align with the needs of the enterprise and consumers.

Today, 'Consumer grade' is the standard, and the enterprise follows and delivers based on customer demands; a very different scenario from what it was a decade ago. Aligned with the rapidly growing proportion of millennial workforce, it is mobile first, with extreme focus on user experience.

With technology becoming rapid and dynamic, enterprise Facebooks, collaboration, peer-help, knowledge base and social support are the new 'must haves' for enterprise systems. Real-time integration with sensor data is a pre-requisite for efficient and effective enterprise systems. Improvement opportunities are driven primarily by deep and insightful analytics as opposed to user requirements. Agile, cloud-based is the preferred method for technology deployment, with crowdsourcing gaining popularity and acceptance in functions like testing.

What is the role of cloud migration in this journey of digital transformation?

When we talk of cloud migration as part of digital transformation, three things come to mind:

  • The cloud enables us to break away from conventional, restrictive practices we have followed thus far. For example, infrastructure is no longer a constraint. The cloud enables us to access an agile infrastructure where users can access new computing power, technology and begin developing a product within minutes.
  • Cloud enables us to buy when we need, use what we want, and pay for what we used. This is a shift from traditional models to an on-demand, value-driven, fail fast and learn faster model.
  • Ecosystems and market places (i.e. in SAAS models) focused on cloud products significantly drives the utility and usability of these products.

Given your experience, what is the X-step journey from analog to digital?

I wish we had a simple answer. When the new business models, driven by digital transformation, are themselves changing, who can provide a template? The key to digital transformation is to dream up or innovate a unique 'digital' business model, and be very agile and committed in embracing the same. As you can see, these models have been very different across industries, be it banks, retailers or hotel room aggregators. Agility is the core.

What do you think are the pitfalls companies need to look out for during their transition to digital?

Two pitfalls that companies definitely need to look out for as they transition to digital are,

  • Cultural stiffness - Companies need to be ready to unlearn and relearn quickly, and be willing to prioritize newer business models over the tried and tested business models that may have helped them succeed, even lead in their industry earlier.
  • Contracts to drive change - Since migrating to digital is a collaborative process, contracts have a central role here. However, no longer can these be hard and fast, rather they have to be responsive, flexible to change and iterative. Enterprises need to drive spending (discretionary) decisions based on impacts to business such as faster time to market, rather than budgets and SLAs.

What according to you are the few things companies cannot compromise when they becoming truly digital?

There are broadly four aspects that companies need to get right before they can call themselves truly digital, and these are:

  • Customer Experience -Needs to be instant and seamless across touchpoints and/or channels of interaction. The first touchpoint itself has to be perfect and impressive enough to build a positive experience and loyalty.
  • Quality of Service - Since self-service is integral to digital interaction, where the human element is activated as and when required, quality of the product or service is the only benchmark, and it has been set very high. Enterprises need to be geared up to meet the high consumer demands and stamp in a strong element of trust.
  • Customer Loyalty - Enterprises need to keep their customers engaged at frequent intervals to ensure that loyalty stays high, as well as measure them for life-time value than tactical outcomes, and this is a huge and progressive challenge for all digital companies.
  • Financial Performance - Profitability is key to any successful business model. Today, many digital start-ups avoid addressing this issue and focus on building a customer base instead. This strategy enables startups to build the valuation of their company and cash in on a quick sale, but does not make for a truly digital business model that is sustainable in medium to long-term.

What are the benefits of companies going digital and cloud-based?

Today, enterprises do not have a choice about going digital, rather it is an imperative. We already have examples of these in Nokia, Kodak, Blockbuster, and it's not because their products weren't good but because they were not prepared to deal with the competition from digital business models. The need to go digital is so critical, even partial attempts will not prevent the inevitable, as in the case of Nokia. Two immediate benefits of going digital are:

  • Higher Productivity: In the digital world, product development has to be so rapid that every individual should be targeted to create automation and move up the value chain - inability to be nimble makes way for competitors to coast in and grab your market share.
  • Access to new revenue streams: Investing in the new 'digital' business model you identify is key, and an enterprise needs to do it with full intent and on time, before the existing business models fail completely.

September 12, 2016

How Banks and FinTech Start-Ups Can Work Together

Posted by Dennis Gada (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:16 AM

How Can Banks and FinTech Start-Ups Work Together

Ever after the global economic crisis of a decade ago, the world's largest banks have continued operating much like they always have because of the belief that they were "too big to fail." Governments for the most part seemed to go along with this reasoning. Then came the rise of the financial technology start-ups.

One can compellingly argue, that FinTechs grew so fast and offered such innovative and groundbreaking products and solutions simply because of the vacuum that existed from 'banking-as-usual'. If there is one thing the world's consumer's desire, it is a new and more convenient way by which they can use digital devices to pay for goods and services. My favorite example of this completely new paradigm involves telecommunications companies, which realized that they controlled an infrastructure that could not only be used for telephone calls but for financial transactions as well.

Enter the M-Pesa, a mobile money platform created by Vodafone for Africa based mobile communications company Vodacom and Kenya-based Safaricom. The entire premise of the M-Pesa is that people in emerging and frontier markets, who don't have bank accounts, can use the platform via their mobile phones to make payments and facilitate money transfers. By some estimates, nearly 43 percent of the gross domestic product of Kenya takes place on the M-Pesa platform. The success of the platform can be seen from another perspective: entire businesses have arisen because of the ability of the consumer base to move money around.

Global banks are now waking up to the economy going digital and the ability of FinTech startups to develop innovative disruptive solutions for consumers to move money. To counter this trend, a consortium of some of the world's largest banks recently announced they were dusting off a project known as clearXchange. Although it has existed for about five years, the consortium is moving forward as a way to counter the serious challenge posed by the rise of FinTech start-ups.

The attraction of clearXchange is that consumers can use the platform to make real-time payments instead of the traditional method of waiting for payments to clear. Not to be outmaneuvered, the digital payment app PayPal announced that it is now working with credit card company Visa to allow consumers who use both the PayPal and Venmo apps to access money transfers in an instant. What's most interesting about this new battle for the hearts (and wallets) of banking consumers is that the large global banks have set aside fierce, old rivalries in order to make clearXchange work. That means a Wells Fargo customer can use clearXchange to transfer funds instantly into a Bank of America account. No middleman. No clearinghouse. No waiting.

But the real challenge before large banks is whether they should continue to work in isolation, consolidating their strengths internally or whether they can realize near and long-term value in partnering with FinTech start-ups. The opportunities are huge, and a partnership of this nature could create a new global payment system.

The trend is not too easy to spot. Younger, more digitally savvy consumers are increasingly demanding person-to-person payments. So much so that the most traditional banks are taking notice. Add in the plethora of FinTech firms and even telecom companies that are innovating new ways to make payments possible for their consumers, and you will realize that we are seeing the birth of a new, global system of finance.

September 1, 2016

Precision Medicine Urges Us To Think Small, Really Small

Posted by Siva Nandiwada (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:00 AM

Precision Medicine Urges Us To Think Small, Really Small

In the history of human endeavors, the entrepreneur or inventor who thinks big is usually the one who makes a major breakthrough and lasting mark on mankind. More recently we've seen the development of vast Cloud superstructures by a host of top technology firms as evidence that it pays to think big.

In the world of healthcare, however, the future might rest with those who think small. What I mean is that there is increasingly rapid progress in the field of genomics, where scientists are learning that medicine can be more proactive than reactive. That is to say, by manipulating the building blocks of the human body, doctors can "edit out" diseases rather than what has traditionally been done: fight the afflicted area of the body with drugs after the disease has altered the genome in some way.

There is no better example of how doctors view the fight against disease than the development of the liquid biopsy. For decades, traditional medicine dictated that if the doctor suspected the patient to have cancer, he would operate and take samples of the tissue of an organ. Then that tissue would be tested in a laboratory for the presence of cancerous cells. The rationale behind chemotherapy is to flood the body with cancer-fighting chemicals, the only problem being that chemo fights healthy cells as well. That's why cancer patients lose hair, their strength, and are in prolonged stretches of extreme pain.

The liquid biopsy is noninvasive. Scientists have developed ways to screen blood and even a small urine sample for traces of tumor DNA released by dying cancer cells. Currently there are only a few companies that offer such technology. But recent Wall Street analyst reports suggest that what is a $100 million market today could balloon to a $20 billion market within just five years. Usually there is no better barometer to gauge the success of medical technology than how much interest there is from the financial community.

That's not to say the emerging field of liquid, non-invasive biopsies faces no hurdles. Experts generally agree that getting the regulatory approval for a new kind of medical diagnostic tool can be as cumbersome and costly as it is to get a promising new drug through the testing and approval pipeline. There is also the fact that insurance companies don't always embrace new diagnostic technologies immediately, so those who initially benefit from them are patients who can afford to pay for the tests out-of-pocket.

Still, thinking small appears to be the hottest way to transform modern healthcare. Another promising medical technology is bioelectronics which is making news due to a new joint venture between Alphabet's Verily Life Sciences (formerly Google Life Sciences) and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. The company, called Galvani Bioelectronics, appears to be the ideal combination of pharma expertise and computer analytics.

The goal of a company like Galvani is to design and manufacture very small devices that can be implanted into a patient or even swallowed like a pill. The miniature computer could not only relay information back to doctors in real-time, but depending on the kind of device, can send electrical pulses that could help a patient's body defeat diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, and asthma, according to GSK.

The pharma company stated that it has been experimenting with bioelectronics for four years. The new joint venture with Google is a signal, I think, that GSK recognizes the need for more algorithmic and computer expertise to be brought to its research & development process. Bioelectronics and liquid biopsies are both subsets of a greater field: precision medicine.

Precision medicine is quite the opposite of chemotherapy, where the entire body must suffer through injections of strong chemicals in the hope that the cancerous cells die before the entire body succumbs to the treatment. True, micro-devices that can travel through a body have been fodder for science fiction movies for decades. With innovators thinking small, however, the way doctor's deal with disease is evolving into an entirely new paradigm -- one that is quite real and happening now.

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