Mr. Shekhar Sanyal, Director and Country Head, the IET India

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    IED Communications

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  1. Automation is the new buzzword in technology today.  Do you think Indian enterprise is ready for it, across verticals?

There are two things to be noted here. Firstly, the level of automation in Indian industry is much more than people perceive. If you talk about applications we know about, and is it commensurate with actual amount, there is a gap. People need to   know more about how much is happening on ground. However, compared to the work that needs to be done, we are not there yet.

 Automation in industry is capital intensive, and people want to be sure that this is the right kind of approach. So the big brands are in a better place to experiment with automation, added to the fact that a number of them would have also experimented outside India.  

The sector that needs to grow is the SME sector because it is still not too sure, whether they should go ahead and invest completely. That’s the gap.  Automation essentially talks about moving to IoT, AI, M2M, augmentative reality, which are all technologies still at a very nascent stage. We know of them but there is no institution or universities providing courses, we are still learning, and even across the world people are learning. It is being practiced rather than studied and mostly in brands with big financial muscle, as they have the exposure as well as ability to do it.

The related economies of scale associated with automation are massive, and like with all things new, there will be first movers and there will be people wanting to see how others have done it then take it forward from there.

 In the IoT India Congress, we have decided to identify SME industry clusters and bring them on to this platform to allow them to learn how IoT will impact their business.

So in a gem and jewellery industry, which is a high margin business, all actions are mostly manual, except maybe for bigger brands. Most players do not understand that with proper automation, they will save costs on security, handling and even display, if augmented reality can be used. Those conversations need to happen to induce greater adoption. We need to convince people it is for everybody, and for the journey to start. A lot of issues on manufacturing and retail side of gems and jewellery can actually be eliminated with automation.   As of now even the big guys in the sector are not doing it.  They think IoT and automation is for somebody else.

Similar impact can be seen in dairy farming, animal husbandry, manufacturing, and textiles. However the question is -are they thinking about it? Do they understand the value? That’s why we are working with various partners and industry to bring this to the various SME segments.

  1. Indian market is a completely unique animal, given its resources and infrastructure diversity. What, in your view will be the challenges that Indian industry will face with increasing automation demanded due to global competitiveness?

The Indian government is very keen, and hungry for the industry to tell them about what support is needed. They are very open, want to listen; they realize that it’s a catch up race and some part of this work should have happened much earlier. However in some areas India is a different ball game.  What the consumer wants from automation is different in different markets, but the technology that powers it remains the same.   Autonomous cars while the latest buzz area in the west, might be difficult to implement in India , but telemedicine and cheap remote healthcare management systems built for rural India will have massive impact for the Indian consumers.   While 71% of our population is in rural India, approx 75% of healthcare providers are based out of urban India. There is a huge demand mismatch.  Automation, IoT have to be adapted to reach the services across.

  1. Automation requires big investments so, how do you go forward?

In any new technology generally only 2% of the population is early to adopt. Currently, I am only worried about those 2%.  We need to work with that 2% to start off and the remaining will get influenced by their success stories.  Is it where it should be with early adopters? I would say no, however it’s starting off and if you were to ask me in another 12 months, I will probably have a much more positive answer.

  1. What other ancillary technology changes are needed in order for industrial automation to drive growth in a company?

There are a couple of things Indian industry is already doing – capturing data- which is definitely needed; but otherwise there is no basic changes required in the current setup.  

 One challenge is that SMEs capture lot of data and just keep it. One of the things automation depends on is analytics, how well data is structured and utilised. Is it being useful, analysed, taking us somewhere, helping to take decisions? One of the improvements of automation depends on how well you use that data, analyse it. We they need to move towards data based organisation. That requires a culture change.

  1. Apart from manufacturing and auto, which industries do you see automation being adapted the most?

Across the board. Manufacturing as a whole, a single horizontal across all industries, has a huge potential, and will certainly have to happen. One of the challenges that industries will face is the risk- the jobs at the bottom layer, will be less needed, so they have to plan for a certain amount of labour management.  At the same time, they will need people with newer skills to manage the automation side. So it’s better to start a re-skilling program to they can be moved up, not laid off.  Some will be laid off, same numbers will not be required. They will need to build strategies to minimize that.

  1. Nasscom puts the number of employable engineers in India at about 18%. Do you think this bodes well for technology adoption in order to keep par with global markets? How can this be remedied?  What role does IET play in adding value to engineering professionals in India?

Lots of work happening in this area and everyone realises it’s a big challenge. There currently is no course for IoT, but that will change fairly soon.  I look at the next 12 months very positively. One university is planning a full term M Tech course in IoT. It’s still not offered, and should start from next year. There are other universities and colleges as well. But the bigger challenge will be of re-skilling, getting the current workforce ready for this new wave of automation. That is going to be more difficult. Over the next 5-7 years, about 40% of the universities time or more, will be spent in re-skilling current workforce which is already in the industry. That’s the part nobody is still working on.

A number of smaller institutions are planning to offer courses to re-skill working professionals. But, they are not enough, because there are no quality regulations, and the industry does not have set standards.

We believe India is in a unique position to add value in the area of IoT unlike the other technologies. Unlike the catch-up game we play with most technologies, this time we believe India has the potential to lead the pack. To help that movement, we have created a credible neutral panel – the IET IoT Panel which has 8 working groups that work with 5 industry verticals and 3 horizontals. Their objective is to evangelise and help in adoption of IoT. We work with industry, govt, academia, and the startup space, on helping put together a roadmap and charter.  As part of this initiative we created the IoT India Congress which is a two day physical event where all the stakeholders come together to deliberate the way forward and learn about what has been happening in this new technology space.

One of things IET is doing in the area is an Educational Working group in IoT, which is doing a couple of things. We are trying to work with content providers to create 3 levels around IoT. One is university school level, for the 2- 4 year Engineering students as additional elective.

A second course is for people who have just entered the workforce and mean to explore a career in IoT. Third is for working professionals who want to re-skill.

 They are being endorsed, evaluated and then we can endorse a set of programs which the aspirant can look forward to. Then we can create some kind of a standard around IoT and automation education. That will happen probably next year. We will start certifying the content available, to ensure some standardisation, as obviously as IET we have global expertise in certifying. We also plan to work very closely with industry to do that. Indian universities need to be enabled, to fill the gaps.  The aim is to get the Indian system working and take out the roadblocks, to increase the whole pace of IoT adaption.