Seize the challenge of Big Data and AI, says Tata boss

N. Ganapathy Subramaniam, the chief operating officer of Tata Consultancy Services. [European Business Summit]

Europe is ahead in the digital game, says Tata’s Consultancy Services COO. But businesses and governments will need to utilise Big Data and Artificial Intelligence to improve services and the quality of life of customers.

N. Ganapathy Subramaniam is the Chief Operating Officer of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), an Indian multinational IT service, consulting and business solutions company headquartered in Mumbai.

He spoke to EURACTIV’s Alexandra Brzozowski on the sidelines of the European Business Summit in Brussels. 

How could digital economy improve business and public-sector performance?

Digital is not one single technology, digital is a range of technologies. It has empowered the ultimate end user, for example, individuals like me, you, or the businesses if it’s a business to business communication or cooperation. It has empowered them in the sense that you could make the whole dialogue of a particular transaction that you’re trying to do with anybody being more interactive, more instantaneous, more intuitive. I think that’s the power of digital. So, it is the responsibility of the organizations, I need to be cognicent of that. And then make sure that they provide. Because ultimately you see, hey, that organization is doing it, that ministry is doing it, why we not doing it?

You are basically speaking about Big Data. Companies started gathering more and more data, and as we slowly acknowledge, computers can also predict behaviours. How is big data analysis helpful to increase the revenue of businesses, for example?

That is an excellent point. If you really look at what organizations have done for the last seven years, they were focusing on processes. The process maturity was the key to them, but the future is all about data maturity, because there is so much data coming into the system and data is no longer a structure data.

A lot of unstructured data comes in. Big Data is a technology that essentially helps to mash your structured data, unstructured data and then see patterns around it, and then see how it can help to mitigate some of this, how to make sense of all of this. And the quantum of data that is coming into your access increases every second. That is the reality today. So Big Data is a big enabler.

Big Data combined with Artificial Intelligence is the next wave, that is what is going to make a huge difference to us.

Where exactly are the challenges and opportunities of AI?

I think there is a big debate about artificial intelligence today. One question is: What does Artificial Intelligence mean and where it can impact? That is one big debate. The second thing is about: Is Artificial Intelligence going to take away jobs? Is it going to improve productivity tremendously? And then the third is: Is it only applicable for defence and surveillance and security complaints etc. or can we apply it for day to day business? So, the answer is, in my opinion, AI is not going to take away jobs. It is going to – like any change in technology, whether it is from Industry 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 – every time it is a radical shift in technology that happened, it has improved the productivity of people, it has improved the quality of life of people.

Likewise, Artificial Intelligence, in my opinion, will improve the quality of life, improve readily accessible information. Because of Artificial Intelligence, you are in a position to scale your business much better, you will be able to take right decisions, you will be able to give them a better experience with the customers. You will become much more relevant to the customers; the customer’s loyalty will be with you. So they will pump in more transactions and volume will grow.

Your technology services firm has reinvented how to deliver services as I understood. Should business then embrace automation?

Absolutely. I think, in every business, whether it is the IT services business or a bank or a manufacturing company, disruption is very, very important. And I think, you know, if you are not going to disrupt yourself, somebody else going to disrupt you. Business 4.0 is all about continuous disruption as opposed to continuous improvement. Continuous disruption is the norm.

In fact, it could change the whole working environment.

Absolutely. Europe is actually very much ahead of the rest of the world. Every bank that I have seen in here, or every transport company that I have seen here or retail company, they have been going through a large-scale workplace and workforce transformation, they are changing their offices to be a lot more collaborative, corner offices are vanishing, conference rooms are no longer there. What places workforce transformation?

They also train their people, upskilling their people to the new ways of working, knowing these new technologies. How can you integrate with the machine learning libraries and how can you develop algorithms? Yes, you can automate some of this, but then how can you put all these things together and generate an algorithm on top of it, so that it doesn’t happen again? So, automation is the key thing and I think, I wholeheartedly feel that people have to embrace that.

When it comes to cybersecurity, what are the approaches that we would need to help enterprises to detect, respond, and also recover from cyber threats?

Very good question. Unfortunately, for cybersecurity there are no silver bullets right now. Each organisation has to do its part and I think the key thing is to collaborate and share best practices, because it is quickly evolving and because it is done by people who will always want to be one step ahead of you and we want to be one step ahead of them. So, it is a race that’s going on, right? In that sense organizations need to come together.

There has to be a unified way of doing it and a collaborative way of sharing information, that is a very important point. The second point is: research has to happen. A lot more research has to happen. And we as TCS, we are working with some of the universities in the US as well in Australia and in Europe to see whether we can find a silver bullet for doing this. But at the same time, it is a lot more about awareness, for example, what information you want to put into Facebook, what information do you want to put on LinkedIn?

And we have to work with Social Media companies to make sure that they are able to protect my privacy information, a lot more than what they are doing today.

Are we Europeans, getting too anxious about sharing our data? We have the GDPR regulation which comes into force today, for example, and after the whole Cambridge Analytica scandal, people are getting very anxious.

Rightfully so. You are anxious, and we are all anxious. But I think, there is a tradition in Europe that privacy is important and somehow you know, the others are not recognizing that. For example, in developing countries like India or China or the Asian countries, they have not understood yet the implications of it. They work very hard to guarantee their basic living, for them, you know, that is more important than the privacy of information. Whereas here, quality of life is deeply important, your personal time is important, your personal information is very important.

One of the things that we look at from India or China or any of these countries is that Europe has led the world in terms of standards, in terms of policies. And I don’t think any other country put the amount of effort and investments have made in defining policies and standards and procedures. For example, data privacy, GDPR, who has done it? Only Europe. People are discussing data privacy, but now they are looking at GDPR and saying: How can we adopt this? Europe they are implementing lot more workplace workforce transformation, they have invested a lot more on digital foundation, or digital core as we call it. Yesterday it was very nice to see people talking about one digital Europe. What does it really mean? Are we there? Are we not there?

Speaking of disruptions, there are obviously disruptions from all sides, which we can see looking at the EU-US relations for example. Do you think that we might be doomed to a global trade war, because of President Trump’s protectionist instincts which also could have a hampering impact on business and how we deal with new innovations in certain fields?

I am not an economist, I cannot comment on this too much but the way that I see it is that it is unusual. No other US administration in the past has taken such steps. So, in that sense, it’s unusual. And so we are feeling, oh my God, what is it happening? But if you look at it from the perspective of trade, that is a trade negotiation that takes place in every country, in Europe-Vietnam, Europe-ASEAN, Europe-India, Europe-China. It is business as usual.

But would you say that the business environment is going to be negatively affected by that?

Well, in the short-term it will be. But I think the US and Europe collaboration and the partnership is so deeply engrained,  I think it will set itself right. Again, that is the optimist in me speaking. Business has to proceed, and you know, people are using Apple computers, they are buying cars, they are buying Airbus planes and Boeing planes. And they’re not going to stop right there.

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