G. RAMACHANDRAN : “IoT standardization would help us to reuse a common platform, which itself is beneficial for sustainability.”

 

Girish Ramachandran is the President of the Asia-Pacific business for TATA Consultancy Services (TCS), the Indian multinational information technology services and consulting company. In this interview, Girish discusses what factors are driving the market for IoT solutions and the sustainability issues that organizations are grappling with as they adjust to a “digital-first” future

Q: Let us begin by talking about your background and business interests.

GR: I began my career with TCS, about 26 years ago, as a software programmer and then shifted disciplines to lead a Business Intelligence unit. Between 2000 and 2011, I managed the TCS business for the Netherlands before taking over as Head of Europe. Thereafter I headed TCS’ Middle East, Africa and the Mediterranean region and spent five years in India as Corporate Vice-President in the CEO’s office in Mumbai rolling out strategic global initiatives, setting the tone for TCS’ rapid growth. I then relocated to Singapore, our Asia-Pacific headquarters, where I run a US$2billion business (close to 10 per cent of TCS revenue) with about 40,000 employees.

As you might expect, I have market segment, country, and strategy responsibilities in my current role. Beyond that, there are two programmes that I am proud to have launched. One is called ‘Fit for Life’. It is a program that brings health and fitness services to TCS staff; its membership is about 300,000. The other program, ‘Purpose for Life’, is all about trying to give something back to society. It is a platform designed to channelize and capture volunteering efforts for community projects. TCS’ers contributed more than 780,000 volunteering hours last year. We are piloting a sustainability program for TCS staff to monitor and measure their carbon footprint and intend to roll it out globally next year.

Sustainability is a topic of interest for me. Through TSDSI, I know that oneM2M recently launched an initiative on IoT and sustainability. My own experience of this area, from a slightly different angle, relates to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), where I am a Board member. GRI is an international independent standards organization that helps businesses, governments and other organizations understand and communicate their impacts on issues such as climate change, human rights, and corruption.

Q: In broad terms, what are the characteristics of TCS’ Asia-Pacific business?

GR: We operate with a market focus on several segments, of which Financial Services is the largest. We work with most of the telecommunications operators in the region. There is a substantial energy and utilities segment and, given the importance of travel and tourism, we also have a strong focus on the airlines sector.

Our geographic reach extends from Australia and New Zealand to the ASEAN countries. We operate in Japan via a joint venture with Mitsubishi, and we also have a joint venture in China for projects involving multinational corporations.

Asia Pacific is leapfrogging other regions when it comes to digital technology. In many ways, Asia Pacific is becoming the place where companies are figuring out how to future-proof their businesses. It is thus not surprising that Asia Pacific companies are at the forefront of digital innovation and are leading digital transformation investments.

Within this context, several trends, such as urbanization, new demands on supply-chains, access to affordable healthcare, job creation and skilling, and ageing populations are creating opportunities for innovation.

 Q: Would you elaborate on these market drivers and what that means for IoT innovation?

GR: It is important to think in terms of the fourth industrial revolution which brings the physical, digital, and biological worlds together. Through this cycle of change, industries and business models are being reshaped, at an unprecedented rate of change, even if you make allowance for the pressures caused by the pandemic.

In terms of how change is taking hold, the first thing to say is that digital ubiquity is the norm. That is one reason why we see “digital twin” technologies taking over from physical-asset management. Convenience is also becoming more important, and consumers are going beyond omni-channel systems to omni-presence ones. That means service providers need to build transparency, trust, and loyalty into their business models. And, finally, I would make the case that sustainability is non-negotiable, and organizations need to design their operations accordingly.

Technology is at the centre of these transformations and IoT is a key enabler for smart cities, smart citizens, and smart workplaces. I see IoT as a focus of digital transformation efforts in three areas:

  • Drive digitally connected enterprise for improved organizational performance through predictive analytics and a resilient supply chain. As an example, TCS partnered with a leading retailer in Australia to build a unique IoT based “Farm to Fork” solution for strawberries and lettuce. Sensors monitor temperature, humidity, location, and other parameters to track food freshness and reduce food waste.
  • Use of wearables for monitoring employee health and safety and for improving workforce management. A case in point is some work TCS did with a leading airport ground handling provider to re-imagine their Ramp Tech support experience. The solution combined smart watches with a video-wall control centre solution to increase proactive communication which improved on-time task notifications and reduced workforce fatigue.
  • Move towards sustainable business through intelligent energy management solutions, efficient fleet operations and optimum logistics cost simulations, and sensor-based care models. An illustration of this is TCS’ Energy Management Solution which allows for real-time monitoring of energy and resource consumption to bring in operational efficiencies and emissions reduction.

Q: How has your involvement with the Global Reporting Initiative informed your approach to sustainability?

GR: GRI is an independent organization with a focus on standardizing the reporting of economic, environmental, and social performance issues. One of the organization’s achievements is the creation of a common language to disclose key performance indicators. This is useful for reporting organizations and for external stakeholders that want to understand and evaluate businesses and governments.

TCS became involved with GRI from an early stage. We contributed to crafting its standards and approached this task in a digital way. I would say that standardization, a common language to enable reporting and understanding, and a digital approach are key elements in promoting the wider adoption of sustainability measures and solutions.

Q: What are TCS’ objectives in getting involved with oneM2M?

GR: Building on what I said earlier, the future will be driven by issues of digitisation, innovation, and sustainability. That means reimagining the way that many things were done in the past. To take an example, the worldwide trend to urbanization means that it is important to think about how cities will evolve. The pandemic has forced many people back to their towns and villages but there is still a need for them to contribute to the economy in different ways.

Food security is another example to rethink. As a society, we waste a lot of food and consumers have rising expectations for visibility into supply chains. The ways that people live and the ways in which we manage food security are two examples where IoT can play a significant role. To succeed at scale, however, requires standardization. TCS is getting involved in oneM2M because of the importance of IoT standardization and because we want to contribute to its recently launched sustainability initiative.

Let me explain what this means in practical terms. TCS built a connected universe platform, which we call T-CUP, and deployed it many different scenarios. T-CUP is a device agnostic platform that we use to gather data from any sensor to drive analytics and decision-making applications. Through this experience, it is clear that standardization is very important. It should be straightforward to take data from any type of sensor or connected assets, which can be supplied by many different vendors, without having to customize every integration. Standardization would help us to reuse a common platform, which itself is beneficial for sustainability.

The concept of a platform fits with the concept of a middleware capability. That is another reason for our interest in oneM2M.

Q: What are some of the TCS’ IoT applications that have a sustainability angle to them?

GR: The first example deals with the growing population of elderly people. Worldwide, there are roughly 900 million people over the age of 60 and this figure will grow to 2 billion by 2050. Many people will live in isolation, lacking friends, and family to take care of them. One of our experimental projects looked at technology enabled care. We worked with the Singapore Management University, to place motion sensors in homes and to generate alerts based on patterns of behaviour. Does a person’s afternoon nap take roughly the same amount of time every day, for example? If not, somebody should be alerted. Through this project, we saw the difficulties of integrating motion sensors from different providers. They do not talk to each other and there is an integration task each time you change from one supplier to another and also when you add sensors from a new vendor. That is where you start to see the benefits of standardization.  

My second example involves a digital twin solution for boilers in thermal power plants. The solution leverages IoT, AI and machine learning to continually recalibrate the boilers, bringing down the commissioning time and NOx emissions. TCS implemented this with a Japanese company for their coal powered boiler that requires a combustion tuning period of 14 days and optimized this to 12 days. This resulted savings of USD 3 million per boiler. In addition, we were able to reduce the NOX emissions by 50%.

Q: Finally, what advice would you give to organizations getting involved in the IoT market?

GR: Interoperability, openness and standardization are key principles when you design your IoT systems. I would encourage organizations to plan for a future that is increasingly reliant on data and analytics. The world is moving towards a cloud-based model where it is easy to pick data from the right sources, to massage that data and to make value-added forms available to consumers of data.

I think that it is important to avoid the kinds of situations we see in the healthcare arena where every provider of equipment builds their own technology and solution. Unfortunately, that makes life difficult for medical staff who struggle to gather patient data from different sources. Ultimately, it is the patient that suffers.