(From left): Kamal Bali, president and managing director, Volvo Group India; Sameer Garde, president, Cisco India and SAARC; Abhishek Ganguly, managing director, Puma India; Rahul Agarwal, managing director, Lenovo India; Subram Natarajan, chief technology officer, IBM India/South Asia; Rostow Ravanan, CEO and managing director, Mindtree (Sitting L-R) Nivruti Rai, country head, Intel India; Franciska Decuypere, country head—India, BNP Paribas
Image: Nishal Lama for Forbes India
The second edition of Forbes India Conversations, a thought leadership forum in association with BNP Paribas, saw some of the country’s top technology evangelists share their views on a ‘CEO’s mandate in the age of intelligent automation’. The closed-door panel discussion was held in Bengaluru in January, and was moderated by Forbes India Editor Brian Carvalho. The panel comprised Nivruti Rai, country head, Intel India; Sameer Garde, president, Cisco India and SAARC; Rahul Agarwal, CEO and MD, Lenovo India; Rostow Ravanan, CEO and MD, Mindtree; Subram Natarajan, CTO, IBM India/SA; Kamal Bali, president and MD, Volvo Group India; Abhishek Ganguly, MD, Puma India, and Franciska Decuypere, country head—India, BNP Paribas. They unanimously agreed that artificial intelligence (AI) will rewrite how businesses are run and done. Edited excerpts from the discussion:
Brian Carvalho: How imperative is AI in business today?
Rostow Ravanan: AI will fundamentally rewrite the business of IT services and disrupt how we take the offerings to the market. It is equivalent to the invention of the IC [internal combustion] engine which disrupted the horse-cart industry.
Rahul Agarwal: By definition, it is difficult to predict what AI can give you. But AI is making us more efficient and bringing us closer to the customer.
Abhishek Ganguly: In my industry, AI is used in making product designs based on consumer trends and [to predict] future fashion trends.
Subram Natarajan: One of the advantages that I have is to see how different industries are consuming AI. Today if you were to communicate with any of the banks through digital channels, nine out of 10 times you will be touching an AI algorithm.
Kamal Bali: Automation and AI are creating new revenue streams in the auto industry. In five years, we will not be able to recognise how we are doing things now. We have actually demonstrated a fully-electric, fully-connected, driverless truck about two weeks ago.
Sameer Garde: AI isn’t a solution, but a tool. It is a feature and one element of the business problem. But what are the key things that will influence its adoption? One is technical feasibility, like quantum on the cloud, which makes it more accessible.
Nivruti Rai: Tomorrow, AI will be like how each one of us use [Microsoft] Excel today. We have AI in our buildings, in processors, in identifying false parts, we’re using AI everywhere. By March this year, I’ll have 14,000-odd Intel [India] employees trained on Level 1 AI and my goal is to identify more people to do Level 2 and Level 3.
Franciska Decuypere: For a bank, the potential of using AI is tremendous. Where I am a little less optimistic is that it is not easy to put applications and make them relevant to clients. Before you use them at scale, and there is a business scale, there is a lot [of homework] to do.
Carvalho: Clearly there is a business case for AI, but what has been its return on investment?
Agarwal: Our after-sales service cost has gone down by 40 percent over the last four years, as a lot of it is being driven by AI solutions. Even our supply chain keeps getting more efficient every year.
Bali: For trucks and buses [with the use of AI] we aim to reduce the logistics cost by 50 percent. Besides, IC engine-driven vehicles using machine learning and AI could lower fuel costs by at least 20 percent.
Ganguly: AI makes you more agile, so I think part of it is not measurable. Any company which doesn’t value that is probably on the wrong path.
Carvalho: Data is the fuel that AI runs on. How do you collect that and discover sources for it?
Ravanan: Today, as so many touch points have become digital, the ability to capture data has increased exponentially.
Natarajan: The key is the quality of the data, cleaning it and ensuring that it is right and important.
Rai: Data can be used for AI and machine learning only with context. I believe AI is one technology where India can fully leverage its people. There are lakhs of engineers graduating each year. I believe that with training, they can be turned into data scientists. There are people who know math and statistics, but data analysis, the way AI needs it, requires training.
Bali: In the automotive industry we have a challenge in finding people. But I agree with Nivruti…you can develop them [talent] over a period of time. Right now, however, there is a challenge.
Natarajan: Technology is helping skill data scientists and get them off the block quickly.
Decuypere: If we want to make AI relevant to the consumer, it should be based on as much data as possible. But since you could be in conflict with privacy concerns of customers, there is a lot of educational explanation that needs to be done.