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Values Maketh Tech

The Indian economy is a 2.3 trillion-dollar beast, rearing towards a promising digital future, estimated to add a trillion dollars year-on-year by 2025 to its GDP. Of late, the government has been encouraging MSMEs and startups to shoulder at least some part of the burden of job creation and contributing to economic growth with greater inclusivity in policy-making. However, the responsibility of large corporations – whether Indian or transnationals with a significant presence in India – does not diminish in these matters. Mobilisers of billions at a time, multinational corporations must mobilise their capability to fulfil this responsibility, and advanced technologies are at the fulcrum of such organisations.

India is poised to derive the most from the transformational changes in futuristic technologies such as AI, Robotics and Machine Learning. Irrespective of where they stand on the future tech spectrum, traditional business houses in India have stemmed from being almost on the verge of stubborn when it comes to their values for many decades now.

Values in the Heart, Focus on Tech

ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer delivered a keynote at the NASSCOM Technology & Leadership Forum 2019 on just how advanced technologies can become enablers of exponential growth for countries like ours via a value-based approach. A regular visitor to the Indian Subcontinent, and a 9-time World Economic Forum speaker, Dr Spiesshofer offers his learnings from risks as well as mistakes that the CEO of the Swedish engineering giant has packed in in his 30-year career.

Himself in the midst of transforming ABB into a more technology focussed industrial player, he distils the learnings of a value-based approach for the company of the future. Having learned (-“the hard way”-) through his years of experience, he lists four value-pairs that have worked for an organisation as wide-spread and as far-reaching as ABB:

Hygiene: safeguarding integrity

 In leapfrogging through the milestones of future technologies, it is vital to maintain robust cyber-security and safeguarding data.

Organisation: break the mould

Speaking about the fourth Industrial Revolution that the world is undergoing, Spiesshofer notes the hero to be digital technology in daily life at its forefront, advancing at unprecedented speed. He cites making unconventional hiring decisions, bringing about fundamental changes, and creating an organisation that is ready and open for future technology as some examples.

Bringing machine learning and robotics together, with experienced people elevate the nature of work and drive productivity is a fantastic opportunity to use digital technology alongside human intelligence is a great way to augment human potential.

Be bold: dare to dare

 ABB invested the 100 mn dollars without a concrete plan from the start – essentially into uncertainty and possibly failure. The ABB CEO jests, “People would have laughed if we told them that a robot conducts an orchestra.” ABB’s YuMi, the world’s first truly collaborative dual-arm robot, made its stage debut in Pisa, Italy, in September 2017, conducting none other than Western Classical music’s living legend, Andrea Bocelli. He acknowledges the fact that the world is changing, and cites examples from ABB’s own journey.

ABB monitors the health of 5000+ robots, and 180+ process plants globally, from India. The company invests approximately a 100 mn dollars in its India operations – with an employee strength of 11,000. Its Robotics business has transformed in the last 8 years so significantly that it is now #2 in the world. It’s Motion business stands at #1.

Take the people with you

 Whether it is to prepare your employees for the advent of new technology, offering them new opportunities, raining and education or just encouraging them to unlearn old jobs. The keynote comes at a time when questions about AI replacing talent are arising and leaving senior leadership in a growth vs recruitment conundrum.

A hefty chunk of experience will walk out the corporate door in 2020, a year with the most number of sexagenarians on our planet. Inexperienced skills will enter the labour force, and it will be AI that rescues them with operational seamlessness. Democratising domain expertise and seeking out long-term experienced workforce and combine the two to remain competitive for the future. In a country like India, we have a strong skill base, but it needs experience that AI can accelerate.

Collaboration between robots and humans is sure to safeguard long term prosperity and growth. He also says, “Countries with the highest robot-density also boast of most productive outputs.” So is it entirely the figment of policy makers’ and senior leaderships’ imagination that AI will render people jobless?

Controlling Tech for Future Cities

About 34% of India’s population is in its cities. Modern cities will only be possible if we optimise them using digital technology. Predicting traffic, giving technology to the elderly to live with dignity, cleaner cities, safe home environment.

Electric mobility in India is undergoing a significant revolution – unthinkable less than a decade ago and now unstoppable. The government intends to electrify Indian Railways in its entirety by 2022. EVs shall account for 30% of all new vehicle sale. Not only will the country need to ensure electricity is available, but also control money and manage information flow. Zurich rations EV chargers in homes to manage load on the grid while predicting future trends and influence consumer behaviour for sustainable operations. India is facing all the world’s changes.

For Dr Spiesshofer, the future is made up of three major steps: portfolio expansion, solution-orientation, and innovation dynamics. Considering the number of innovation incubators in corporations and educational institution, the last is being adopted rapidly in India. In fact, the Kerala Government introduced last year a scheme for graduate students to claim college credits for classes missed if they were engaged in building an innovative business. The central government’s StartUp India scheme too, was introduced with the purpose of inspiring a new wave of industrial creativity among youth in this country.

Portfolio expansion, however, is a more arduous and time-consuming process, that needs extensive thought, analyses, and heavy capital investment in perspective of billion dollar corporations such as ABB – irrespective of where they originate. ABB invests almost 3%-4% of its turnover in artificial intelligence across robotics, its buildings, and even port operations. The sequence, as the ABB CEO sees, may originate with AI, but amalgamates swiftly into reliable hardware and culminates in autonomous operations. In the case of its port operations infrastructure offerings, ABB has invested in logistics optimisation, ensuring productivity, safety, and loads, keeping the company agile and most competitive in the digital age.

In that, the engineering conglomerate CEO mentions the value of working outside in, where technology is not evolved in isolated laboratories, but democratised and applied in the outside world. Spiesshofer urges CEOs to rethink their strategy towards innovation for “super-cool” tech, investing with the expectation of failure. He signs off with sage advice though, “While you will fail some of the time, you will learn more and evolve from those errors.”

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