IoT & Edge Transforming Financial Services

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In this Insight, guest author Anupam Verma talks about how a smart combination of technologies such as IoT, edge computing and AI/machine learning can be a game changer for the Financial Services industry. “With the rise in the number of IoT devices and increasing financial access, edge computing will find its place in the sun and complement (and not compete) with cloud computing.”

Anupam Verma, Leadership Team, ICICI Bank

The number of IoT devices have now crossed the population of planet earth. The buzz around the Internet of Things (IoT) refuses to go down and many believe that with 5G rollouts and edge computing, the adoption will rise exponentially in the next 5 years.

The IoT is described as the network of physical objects (“things”) embedded with sensors and software to connect and exchange data with other devices over the internet. Edge computing allows IoT devices to process data near the source of generation and consumption. This could be in the device itself (e.g. sensors), or close to the device in a small data centre. Typically, edge computing is advantageous for mission-critical applications which require near real-time decision making and low latency. Other benefits include improved data security by avoiding the risk of interception of data in transfer channels, less network traffic and lower cost. Edge computing provides an alternative to sending data to a centralised cloud.

In the 5G era, a smart combination of technologies such as IoT, edge computing and AI/machine learning will be a game changer. Multiple uses cases from self-driving vehicles to remote monitoring and maintenance of machinery are being discussed. How do we see IoT and the Edge transforming Financial Services?

Before we go into how these technologies can transforming the industry, let us look at current levels of perception and adoption (Figure 1).

Adoption and Perception of Emerging Technology in Financial Services

There is definitely a need for greater awareness of the capabilities and limitations of these emerging technologies in the Financial Services.

Transformation of Financial Services

The BFSI sector is increasingly moving away from selling a product to creating a seamless customer journey. Financial transactions, whether it is payment, transfer of money, or a loan can be invisible, and Edge computing will augment the customer experience. This cannot be achieved without having real-time data and analytics to create an updated 360-degree profile of the customer at all times. This data could come from multiple IoT devices, channels and partners that can interface and interact with the customer. A lot of use cases around personalisation would not be possible without edge computing. The Edge here would mean faster processing and smoother experience leading to customer delight and a higher trust quotient.

With IoT, customers can bank anywhere anytime using connected devices like wearables (smartwatches, fitness trackers etc). People can access account details, contextual offers at their current location or make payments without even needing a smartphone.

Industries of the Future

Use Cases of IoT & Edge in Financial Services

IT and Digital Leaders in Financial Services are aware of the benefits of IoT and there are some use cases that most of them think will help transform Financial Services (Figure 2).   

Top Use cases of IoT in Financial Services Industry

However, there are many more potential use cases. Here are some use cases whose volume will only grow every day to fuel incessant data generation, consumption and processing at the Edge.

  • Smart Homes. IoT devices like Alexa/Google Home have capabilities to become “bank in a speaker” with edge computing.
  • In-Sync Omnichannels. IoT devices can be synced with other banking channels. A customer may start a transaction on an IoT device and complete it in a branch. Facial recognition can be used to identify the customer after he/she walks in and synced IoT devices will ensure that the transaction is completed without any steps repeated (zero re-work) thereby enhancing customer satisfaction.
  • Virtual Relationship Managers. In a digital branch, the customer may use Virtual Reality (VR) headsets to engage with virtual relationship managers and relevant experts. Gamification using VR can be amazingly effective in the area of financial literacy and financial planning.
  • Home and Auto Purchase. VR may also find use in home and auto purchase processes with financing built into it. The entire customer journey will have a much smoother experience with edge computing.
  • Auto and Health Insurance. Companies can use IoT (device installed in the vehicle) plus edge computing to monitor and improve driving behaviour, eventually rewarding safety with lower premiums. The growth in electric mobility will continue to provide the basis for auto insurance. Companies can use wearables to monitor crucial health parameters and exercising habits. The creation of real-time dynamic rewards around it can change behaviour towards a healthier lifestyle. Awareness, longevity, rising costs and pandemic will only fuel this sector’s growth.
  • Payments. Device to device contactless payment protocol is picking up and IoT and edge computing can create next-gen revolution in payments. Your EV could have an embedded wallet and pay for its parking and toll.
  • Branch/ATM.  IoT sensors and CCTV footage from branches/ATMs can be utilised in real-time to improve branch productivity as well as customer engagement, at the same time enhancing security. It could also help in other situations like low cash levels in ATMs and malfunctions. Sending live video streams for video analytics to the cloud can be expensive. By processing data within the device or on-premises, the Edge can help lower costs and reduce latency.
  • Trading in Securities. Another area where response time matters is algorithmic trading. Edge computing will help to quickly process and analyse a large amount of data streaming real-time from multiple feeds and react appropriately.
  • Trade Finance. Real-time tracking of goods may add a different dimension to the risk, pricing and transparency of supply chains.

Cloud vs Edge

The decision to use cloud or edge will depend on multiple considerations. At the same time, all the data from IoT devices need not go to the cloud for processing and choke network bandwidth. In fact, some of this data need not be stored forever (like video feeds etc). As a result, with the rise in the number of IoT devices and increasing financial access, edge computing will find its place in the sun and complement (and not compete) with cloud computing.

The views and opinions mentioned in the article are personal.

Anupam Verma is part of the Leadership team at ICICI Bank and his responsibilities have included leading the Bank’s strategy in South East Asia to play a significant role in capturing Investment, NRI remittance, and trade flows between SEA and India.

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The Winning Formula – Achieving Success with AI

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Last week I wrote about the need to remove hype from reality when it comes to AI. But what will ensure that your AI projects succeed?

It is quite obvious that success is determined by human aspects rather than technological factors. We have identified four key organisational actions that enable successful AI implementation at scale (Figure 1).

Keys to Unlock AI Nirvana - Enabled by Upskilling

#1 Establish a Data Culture

The traditional focus for companies has been on ensuring access to good, clean data sets and the proper use of that data. Ecosystm research shows that only 28% of organisations focused on customer service, also focus on creating a data-driven organisational culture. But our experience has shown that culture is more critical than having the data. Does the organisation have a culture of using data to drive decisions? Does every level of the organisation understand and use data insights to do their day-to-day jobs? Is decision-making data-driven and decentralised, needing to be escalated only when there is ambiguity or need for strategic clarity? Do business teams push for new data sources when they are not able to get the insights they need?

Without this kind of culture, it may be possible to implement individual pieces of automation in a specific area or process, applying brute force to see it through. In order to transform the business and truly extract the power of AI, we advise organisations to build a culture of data-driven decision-making first. That organisational mindset,  will make you capable implementing AI at scale. Focusing on changing the organisational culture will deliver greater returns than trying to implement piecemeal AI projects – even in the short to mid-term.

#2 Ingrain a Digital-First Mindset

Assuming a firm has passed the data culture hurdle, it needs to consider whether it has adopted a digital-first mindset. AI is one of many technologies that impact businesses, along with AR/VR, IoT, 5G, cloud and Blockchain to name a few. Today’s environment requires firms to be capable of utilising a variety of these technologies – often together – and possessing a workforce capable of using these digital tools.

A workforce with the digital-first mindset looks for a digital solution to problems wherever appropriate. They have a good understanding of digital technologies relevant to their space and understand key digital methodologies – such as Customer 360 to deliver a truly superior customer experience or Agile methodologies to successfully manage AI at scale.

AI needs business managers at the operational levels to work with IT or AI tech teams to pinpoint processes that are right for AI. They need to make an estimation based on historical data of what specific problems require an AI solution. This is enabled by the digital-first mindset.

#3 Demystify AI

The next step is to get business leaders, functional leaders, and business operational teams – not just those who work with AI – to acquire a basic understanding of AI.

They do not need to learn the intricacies of programming or how to create neural networks or anything nearly as technical in nature. However, all levels from the leadership down should have a solid understanding of what AI can do, the basics of how it works, how the process of training data results in improved outcomes and so on. They need to understand the continuous learning nature of AI solutions, getting better over time. While AI tools may recommend an answer, human insight is often needed to make a correct decision off this recommendation.

AI Research and Reports

#4 Drive Implementation Bottom-Up

AI projects need alignment, objectives, strategy – and leadership and executive buy-in. But a very important aspect of an AI-driven organisation that is able to build scalable AI, is letting projects run bottom up.

As an example, a reputed Life Sciences company embarked on a multi-year AI project to improve productivity. They wanted to use NLP, Discovery, Cognitive Assist and ML to augment clinical proficiency of doctors and expected significant benefits in drug discovery and clinical trials by leveraging the immense dataset that was built over the last 20 years.

The company ran this like any other transformation project, with a central program management team taking the lead with the help of an AI Centre of Competency. These two teams developed a compelling business case, and identified initial pilots aligned with the long-term objectives of the program. However, after 18 months, they had very few tangible outcomes. Everyone including doctors, research scientists, technicians, and administrators, who participated in the program had their own interpretation of what AI was not able to do.

Discussion revealed that the doctors and researchers felt that they were training AI to replace themselves. Seeing a tool trying to mimic the same access and understanding of numerous documents baffled them at best. They were not ready to work with AI programs step-by-step to help AI tools learn and discover new insights.

At this point, we suggested approaching the project bottom-up – wherein the participating teams would decide specific projects to take up. This developed a culture where teams collaborated as well as competed with each other, to find new ways to use AI. Employees were shown a roadmap of how their jobs would be enhanced by offloading routine decisions to AI. They were shown that AI tools augment the employees’ cognitive capabilities and made them more effective.

The team working on critical trials found these tools extremely useful and were able to collaborate with other organisations specialising in similar trials. They created the metadata and used ML algorithms to discover new insights. Working bottom-up led to a very successful AI deployment.

We have seen time and again that while leadership may set the strategy and objectives, it is best to let the teams work bottom-up to come up with the projects to implement.

#5 Invest in Upskilling

The four “keys” are important to build an AI-powered, future-proof enterprise. They are all human related – and when they come together to work as a winning formula is when organisations invest in upskilling. Upskilling is the common glue and each factor requires specific kinds of upskilling (Figure 2).

Upskilling needs vary by organisational level and the key being addressed. The bottom line is that upskilling is a universal requirement for driving AI at scale, successfully. And many organisations are realising it fast – Bosch and DBS Bank are some of the notable examples.

How much is your organisation invested in upskilling for AI implementation at scale? Share your stories in the comment box below.

Written with contributions from Ravi Pattamatta and Ratnesh Prasad

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Microsoft Flight Simulator Launch

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Last year Microsoft announced it was developing a new version of Flight Simulator which caught many of us by surprise. Flight Simulator? Really? The last launch of a new version of the game was in 2006 – 14 years ago, now!! How does something come back after all these years?

Now that it has launched about a week ago, the initial feedback has been extremely positive and it appears that Microsoft has a winner here. An analysis even claims that it will spur $2.6 billion in hardware sales of PCs, game accessories and the like!

I wanted to unpeel the onion a bit to take a closer look at what is going on and discovered a world of interesting developments around this product.

My first thoughts on hearing the announcement was that Microsoft, who has been steadily losing the battle of consoles to Sony’s PlayStation platform, was reviving this old favourite to resuscitate its drooping share.

Not a bad move. Flight Simulator has a core of die-hard fans – it even boasts of professional pilots who play the game as relaxation. It has a long history and a captive fan community. But it is old. That loyal community is not part of the demographic that a gaming company would normally look at today.

The other interesting aspect to consider is the COVID-19 situation this year. Obviously, Microsoft did not know this at the time they embarked on this project but the pandemic has turned everything on its head – hardware sales are through the roof – including accessories, at a time when people have been homebound and looking for entertainment within the four walls of one’s abode. The Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal study finds that 76% of organisations increased their hardware investments when the crisis hit – and 67% of organisations expect their hardware spending to go up in 2020-21. And that is only on the enterprise side of things. On the consumer side, at this point joysticks are in short supply – a trend that seems to have been accelerated by the Microsoft launch last week, interestingly – and so are PCs. The PC vendors are all enjoying a bumper year of growth. This is an ideal time to launch a really cool new version of the game.

Microsoft’s Bigger Game

The reality however is that while Flight Simulator will add to the revenue and also give Xbox One a fillip, Microsoft is probably after a much bigger “game” (excuse the pun!). The company has called its ‘Xbox Game Pass’ the Netflix of the gaming market. With multiple cloud-based gaming platforms having been launched – many with subscription services – the battle is on to decide the winners in a relatively new space. To this end, Microsoft has announced an intention to make Game Pass available across different devices – XBox console, PCs, tablets, phones. Having a title like Flight Simulator available through Game Pass, will act as a key hook to get customers to sign up for the subscription.

The new Flight Simulator version has been developed using AI and real-world imagery brought in with data from Bing Maps. With the newly added realistic scenery, it also seems like a great fit for use with the HoloLens Virtual Reality headsets. In one shot Microsoft is showcasing their lead in areas of technology which are likely to prove attractive to developers in a big way. I believe that this is a way for them to entice more developers on to Azure and to Microsoft cloud to develop their games – “AI SDKs anyone? Virtual Reality tools anyone?”

What seems at first glance like the launch of a new “future is here” version of a great game will turn out to be a possible big swing at multiple targets by Microsoft – at leadership in gaming with Game Pass; at reviving Xbox fortunes; at leadership in game development platforms, with Azure packing AI services, Bing Maps, AR/VR tools, among other technologies to move more development on to the Microsoft cloud. In the process Microsoft launched a highly enjoyable game and got closer to their ultimate aim to indeed become the Netflix of gaming.

Great move Microsoft! Tip: This could also give them a foothold in the virtual travel and virtual vacations market! That would be a hot seller in these times.

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