‘Connectivity will be the differentiator’

More than financial investment, it’s about how the Centre and States work together



Digital technologies are going to drive growth in the IT/ITeS sector going ahead. There are vast opportunities as well as challenges that this change may bring. VC Gopalratnam, Senior President, IT & CIO- Asia Pacific Japan & China, Cisco, in an interview with BusinessLine, shared his perspective on the Centre’s Digital India initiatives.

With the limited internet penetration in India and given the poor quality of network, is the scale of digitalisation imagined by the Centre possible at all?

I think connectivity is going to be the differentiator. Without reliable connectivity, a lot of consumer services cannot be deployed. So, the first step should be to ensure that connectivity is available and consistent. But for this, the States need to work in partnership with the Central government. And both of them have to work with service providers and private enterprises. Without this partnership, ubiquitous connectivity will become difficult to achieve at the scale that we are talking about.

So, it is not really the financial investment, but how we work together. India still lives predominantly in its villages and to deliver services such as healthcare and education to the rural population, reliable connectivity is non-negotiable, so that’s where the focus needs to be.

What’s the challenge in establishing this connectivity across the country?

Apart from the huge investments that are needed, it is also the physical deployment of it. There are parts of India which are still quite remote, and access to those parts is difficult. And more importantly, once you deploy something, how does one make sure that it stays operational and that its quality stays good? For instance, of 10 surveillance cameras deployed in a city, may be one or two remain operational at the end of two years. It is not because they are not serviced; it is just that environmental conditions, including dust, make it difficult to keep these things going. So when you roll out services to rural or remote areas, we need to address these challenges effectively. The partnership between the government and private sector can come in handy because the private sector can supplement the efforts with its reach.

When people talk of a smart city in Singapore or another developed country, many think it is possible to replicate that in India. But don’t you think India’s sheer size brings a specific set of challenges?

India has its own challenges, the land mass and population is so huge that we need to adopt a completely different approach. Looking at our current cities, to completely transform them to smart cities, you need significant overhaul of whatever we have invested in terms of infrastructure. I think where it makes sense is for us to look at portions of a city or even a new community that is coming up so we can actually incorporate technology considerations in its architectural blueprint. You can also have certain selected citizen services enabled in phases for cities.

As businesses evolve to become more digital, what are the biggest challenges they will encounter?

As organisations explore new IT/digital initiatives, the resulting complexity will increase pressure on IT infrastructure, operations, management and support. At the same time, as more and more devices or sensors are added to the evolving Internet of Things, these new additional data sources will have to be secured, monitored and managed.

In addition, companies and governments need to be able to unlock intelligence from their IT infrastructure to support faster, better, decision-making. This brings in more complexity and more pressure on budgets. By incorporating software automation, rather than relying solely on human intervention, to solve network management and support issues, organisations can adopt a proactive strategy and focus more on meeting the demands of business and keep costs under control.

What are the key technology changes that will impact enterprises over the next 12 months?

It is estimated that, in general, IT spends a significant portion of its budget on operations management and support costs, leaving only a small portion for innovation and capabilities that help change the business. However today, CIOs are being tasked with figuring out how to move more of their ‘run the business’ operational expense into innovation efforts. Over the next 12-18 months, we will see the focus on ‘IT innovation’ increase; the adoption of technologies for digital transformation such as cloud, mobility, analytics, security and the Internet of Everything will reach new scale and open up new opportunities. However, the biggest challenge will be to invest in these technologies without increasing the complexity of the current IT environment and operations costs.

You have deployed smart service solutions in a few cities, including Jaipur, Lucknow, Navi Mumbai and Bhopal. What has been the feedback?

The feedback has been very encouraging. Lucknow City Police deployed a smart surveillance system which covered 70 crossings with 280 IP cameras. The cameras are capable of automatic number-plate recognition, which has helped issue electronic challans to more than 500 traffic offenders on the day of the launch itself.

Cisco video surveillance solutions help Navi Mumbai Police to track, monitor and prevent crime. Using data from the installed CCTVs, around 50 to 60 criminal cases have been successfully resolved during the first few months itself.

Our fully networked campus in Bengaluru, helps us accommodate more people and reduce real estate usage by 35 per cent. Within the campus, the Cisco Energy Management solution, which can monitor the energy usage of every device connected to the network across IT, Office Space, Data Center and Building Systems, helps us cut energy costs by 30 per cent.

There is a lot of talk around IoT. Analysts estimate that there would be over 20 billion connected devices by 2020. When we are talking about India, how close are we to this reality?

The IoT is expected to grow from more than 12 billion devices in 2015 to 50 billion by 2020. So far, it has been predominantly mobile phones that were getting on the network. Today, we are seeing smart devices and sensors from education, healthcare, logistics, retail, manufacturing, etc, get online.

Going forward, the sheer size and variety of devices getting online and data traversing today’s networks will increase exponentially. This highly distributed data will be generated by a wide range of cloud and enterprise applications, websites, social media, computers, smartphones, sensors, cameras, and much more — all coming in different formats and protocols.

What opportunities does this throw up for hardware and services companies?

IoT is an opportunity for everyone and not limited to hardware or services companies. Digitisation and IoT are not something that a single organisation can drive, it needs a kind of consortium — somebody needs to do the architecture, somebody the solution, somebody to connect the solution, and more importantly, somebody needs to monetise the solution. All these are opportunities for technology companies.

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