Cloudification of India’s Banking Industry

4.8/5 (4)

4.8/5 (4)

In this Insight, guest author Anupam Verma talks about the technology-led evolution of the Banking industry in India and offers Cloud Service Providers guidance on how to partner with banks and financial institutions. “It is well understood that the banks that were early adopters of cloud have clearly gained market share during COVID-19. Banks are keen to adopt cloud but need a partnership approach balancing innovation with risk management so that it is ‘not one step forward and two steps back’ for them.”

India has been witnessing a digital revolution. Rapidly rising mobile and internet penetration has created an estimated 1 billion mobile users and more than 600 million internet users. It has been reported that 99% of India’s adult population now has a digital identity in the form of Aadhar and a large proportion of the adult Indians have a bank account.

Indians are adapting to consume multiple services on the smartphone and are demanding the same from their financial services providers. COVID-19 has accelerated this digital trend beyond imagination and is transforming India from a data-poor to a data-rich nation. This data from various alternate sources coupled with traditional sources is the inflection point to the road to financial inclusion. Strong digital infrastructure and digital footprints will create a world of opportunities for incumbent banks, non-banks as well as new-age fintechs.

The Cloud Imperative for Banks

Banks today have an urgent need to stay relevant in the era of digitally savvy customers and rising fintechs. This journey for banks to survive and thrive will put Data Analytics and Cloud at the front and centre of their digital transformation.

A couple of years ago, banks viewed cloud as an outsourcing infrastructure to improve the cost curve. Today, banks are convinced that cloud provides many more advantages (Figure 1).

Why banks adopt cloud

Banks are also increasingly partnering with fintechs for applications such as KYC, UI/UX and customer service. Fintechs are cloud-native and understand that cloud provides exponential innovation, speed to market, scalability, resilience, a better cost curve and security. They understand their business will not exist or reach scale if not for cloud. These bank-fintech partnerships are also making banks understand the cloud imperative.

Traditionally, banks in India have had concerns around data privacy and data sovereignty. There are also risks around migrating legacy systems, which are made of monolithic applications and do not have a service-oriented architecture. As a result, banks are now working on complete re-architecture of the core legacy systems. Banks are creating web services on top of legacy systems, which can talk to the new technologies. New applications being built are cloud ready. In fact, many applications may not connect to the core legacy systems. They are exploring moving customer interfaces, CRM applications and internal workflows to the cloud. Still early days, but banks are using cloud analytics for marketing campaigns, risk modelling and regulatory reporting.

The remote working world is irreversible, and banks also understand that cloud will form the backbone for internal communication, virtual desktops, and virtual collaboration.

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Strategy for Cloud Service Providers (CSPs)

It is estimated that India’s public cloud services market is likely to become the largest market in the Asia Pacific behind only China, Australia, and Japan. Ecosystm research shows that 70% of banking organisations in India are looking to increase their cloud spending. Whichever way one looks at it, cloud is likely to remain a large and growing market. The Financial Services industry will be one of the prominent segments and should remain a focus for cloud service providers (CSPs).  

I believe CSPs targeting India’s Banking industry should bucket their strategy under four key themes:

  1. Partnering to Innovate and co-create solutions. CSPs must work with each business within the bank and re-imagine customer journeys and process workflow. This would mean banking domain experts and engineering teams of CSPs working with relevant teams within the bank. For some customer journeys, the teams have to go back to first principles and start from scratch i.e the financial need of the customer and how it is being re-imagined and fulfilled in a digital world.
    CSPs should also continue to engage with all ecosystem partners of banks to co-create cloud-native solutions. These partners could range from fintechs to vendors for HR, Finance, business reporting, regulatory reporting, data providers (which feeds into analytics engine).
    CSPs should partner with banks for experimentation by providing test environments. Some of the themes that are critical for banks right now are CRM, workspace virtualisation and collaboration tools. CSPs could leverage these themes to open the doors. API banking is another area for co-creating solutions. Core systems cannot be ‘lifted & shifted’ to the cloud. That would be the last mile in the digital transformation journey.
  2. Partnering to mitigate ‘fear of the unknown’. As in the case of any key strategic shift, the tone of the executive management is important. A lot of engagement is required with the entire senior management team to build the ‘trust quotient’ of cloud. Understanding the benefits, risks, controls and the concept of ‘shared responsibility’ is important. I am an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and I realise how granular the security in the cloud can be (which is the responsibility of the bank and not of the CSP). This knowledge gap can be massive for smaller banks due to the non-availability of talent. If security in the cloud is not managed well, there is an immense risk to the banks.
  3. Partnering for Risk Mitigation. Regulators will expect banks to treat CSPs like any other outsourcing service providers. CSPs should work with banks to create robust cloud governance frameworks for mitigating cloud-related risks such as resiliency, cybersecurity etc. Adequate communication is required to showcase the controls around data privacy (data at rest and transit), data sovereignty, geographic diversity of Availability Zones (to mitigate risks around natural calamities like floods) and Disaster Recovery (DR) site.
  4. Partnering with Regulators. Building regulatory comfort is an equally important factor for the pace and extent of technology adoption in Financial Services. The regulators expect the banks to have a governance framework, detailed policies and operating guidelines covering assessment, contractual consideration, audit, inspection, change management, cybersecurity, exit plan etc. While partnering with regulators on creating the framework is important, it is equally important to demonstrate that banks have the skill sets to run the cloud and manage the risks. Engagement should also be linked to specific use cases which allow banks to effectively compete with fintech’s in the digital world (and expand financial access) and use cases for risk mitigation and fraud management. This would meet the regulator’s dual objective of market development as well as market stability.

Financial Services is a large and growing market for CSPs. Fintechs are cloud-native and certain sectors in the industry (like non-banks and insurance companies) have made progress in cloud adoption. It is well understood that the banks that were early adopters of cloud have clearly gained market share during COVID-19. Banks are keen to adopt cloud but need a partnership approach balancing innovation with risk management so that it is ‘not one step forward and two steps back’ for them.

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.

Cloud Insights
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Personalisation – The New Digital Imperative in Financial Services

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5/5 (10)

If you are a digital leader in the Financial Services industry (FSI), you have already heard this from your customers: ‘Why is it that Netflix and Amazon can make more relevant and personalised offers than my bank or wealth manager?’ Digital first players are obsessed with using data to understand their customer’s commercial and consumer behaviour. Financial Services will need to become just as obsessed with personalisation of offerings and services if they want to remain relevant to their customers. Ecosystm research finds that leveraging data to offer personalised service and product offerings to their clients is the leading digital priority in more than 50% of FSI organisations. 

Banks, particularly, are both in a strong position and have a strong incentive to offer this personalisation. Their retail customers’ expectations are now shaped by the experience they have received from their favorite digital first firms, and they are making it increasingly clear that they expect personalised offerings from their banks.  Furthermore, they are well positioned as a facilitator of commercial relationships between two segments of customers – consumers and merchants. The amount of data they hold on consumer interactions is comprehensive – and more importantly they are a trusted custodian of their customers’ data and privacy. 

The Barriers to Personalisation

So, what is stopping them? Here are three insights from over 12 years of experience driving digitisation of Financial Services:

  • Systems Legacy.  Often the data and core banking systems do not allow for easy access and analysis of the required data across the data sets required (eg. Consumers and Merchants).
  • Investment Priorities. There is still a significant investment happening in compliance and modernisation of core banking systems. Too often the focus of these programs can be myopic, and banks miss the opportunity to solve multiple pain points with their investments driven by overly focused problem statements.
  • Culture and Purpose. Are banks stuck in a paradigm of their own making – defining their business models by what has served them well in the past? Will Amazon think about its provision of working capital to their small and medium business partners the same way as a bank does?

Vendor Focus – Crayon Data

Thankfully, there is a new breed of tech vendors who is making it easier for banks to drive personalisation of their offerings and connect customers from across segments. Crayon Data is a good example, with their maya.ai engine unearthing the preferences of customers and matching them to offerings from qualified merchants. It benefits all parties:

  • The Consumer receives relevant offers, is served from discovery to fulfillment on a single platform and all personal data and information guarded by their bank. 
  • For Merchants, it allows them to reach the right customers at the right moment, develop valuable marketing and insights and all this directly from their bank partner’s platform.
  • For Banks, it provides a scalable model for offer acquisition and easily configurable and measurable consumer engagement.

maya.ai leverages patented AI to create a powerful profile of each customer based on their buying habits and comparing these with millions of other consumers drawn in from their unstructured data sets and graph-based methodology. They then use their algorithms to assist their Financial Services client to make relevant offerings from qualified merchants to consumers in the right channel, at the right moment. All of this is done without exposing personal client information, as the data sets are based on behaviour rather than identity.

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Conclusion

There are significant considerations for banks in offering these types of capabilities, such as:

  • Privacy. While the technology operates on non-identifiable information, the perception of clients being ‘stalked’ by their bank in order to drive business to a merchant is one that would need to be managed carefully. 
  • Consumer opt-out. The ability for customers to opt out of this type of service is critical.
  • Consumer financial wellbeing. It may be in the best interests of some consumer to not receive merchant offers, for instance where they are managing to a strict budget. These considerations can be baked into the overall customer journey (eg. prompts when the consumer is nearing their self-imposed monthly budget for a category), but care will need to be taken to keep customers’ best interests at heart.

While there are multiple challenges to overcome, the fact remains that personalisation is quickly becoming a core expectation for consumers. How will banks respond, and will we see AI use cases like Crayon Data become more prominent?

Artificial Intelligence Insights
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Personalising Your Customer Experience is Standard Practice Today

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5/5 (5)

Back in 2019 – when life was simpler and customers only expected minor miracles from the brands they interacted with – personalisation of the customer experience (CX) was a “good idea but the time has not yet come” for the majority of marketing and CX professionals.

Fast forward 24 months and the world has changed – in more ways than we could have imagined! For a start, CX dropped off the top business priority during 2020 as businesses adapted to the changing market and employee experiences. But as some economies start to create a new sense of normal, CX has returned to the top of the list of business priorities (Figure 1) – renewing pressure on CX teams to create great experiences for customers.

Key Organisational Priorities - 2020 vs 2021

In 2020 many marketing teams went back to the drawing board to create truly meaningful customer experiences. Suddenly “trust” was a core expectation of a brand, and that lens allowed marketers and CX teams to rethink what a personalised experience looks like. It is no longer about selling more products and creating more chances for commerce – it is now about creating an experience that makes brands easy to deal with. It is about understanding the customer and creating an optimised experience when they want or need to interact with the brand. A great personalised experience feels normal today – it has lost the “creepy” edge and is now about the brand giving customers the service, products, or levers that they need when and where they need them.

For some brands and customers, a personalised experience is about getting out of the way of customers and just giving them the outcome they desire. For others it is about creating a memorable journey. Some customers require that extra hand holding along the way and need to be nudged in the right direction, and just need to be left alone to make their decisions – not requiring that extra EDM, alert or message.

In some sectors – such as Banking and eCommerce – if you are not personalising your CX you are a long way behind, but in others, such as Government and Insurance, personalisation is only beginning to gain traction today, and will see slow and steady growth over the next few years.

Good Data is Key to a Great Personalisation Strategy

Lack of data is the primary reason personalisation fails and why some marketing teams have abandoned their personalisation efforts. The right data may not exist completely within your business – you may need to partner or work with ecosystem providers to create a complete view of your customers – and new restrictions around the use of cookies is making this harder to achieve. Forward thinking businesses have already forged partnerships with third parties and partners to share relevant data to help them create the personalised experience their customers demand.

Personalisation Should Apply Across the Customer Journey  

A clear understanding of brand values, customer desires and ideal customer journeys is also important to ensure personalised experiences meet the needs of customers. Creating a personalised experience that deviates from brand values means that either brands don’t understand their customers, or customer experience professionals don’t understand their brands (or both!).

Personalisation needs to focus on the entire customer journey – from prospect through to customer and even through to churn. While you have significantly more data about your customers than your prospects, a personalised experience for non-customers is still possible and sets the scene for better and easier CX once your prospects take the longer journey with your brand. Creating a personalised churn experience – making the departure from your brand memorable, friendly and easy – provides the perfect springboard for return and tells your customers that you care about them through the entire journey.

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Build a Proof of Concept for Personalisation

If you have not yet started personalising your customer’s experience, now is the perfect time to build a Proof of Concept (POC) demonstrating the business and customer outcomes you can achieve. This will help the CX and/or marketing teams to understand what data you need to collect from existing systems and processes – or source externally to create the desired experience. Initially your personalisation experience may target a limited number of key personas – but it should have the capability to roll out to all customers and/or prospects, eventually considering many scenarios and requirements. It should continue to learn and adapt. Too many businesses discovered during the pandemic that static personalisation programs will fail when market conditions change.

The POC can provide the data that your senior leadership will need to deepen their investments in and think of personalisation as a business capability – not a single project. They can demonstrate the ROI (or lack of return) and will help to guide the larger spend should the POC be a success.

Invest in Behavioural Science Skills

Building a successful personalisation strategy often goes beyond simply listening to the experts within the business and even listening to your customers. Often your customers don’t know what affects their behaviour – and will mis-report motivations or mis-attribute actions. It is important to understand the science behind behaviour – what is possible, what can work, what is guidance and what is coercion. These experts, along with your legal or privacy teams, can help to set up the guide rails for the personalisation program to operate within, and help you create customer journeys where customers can achieve their desired outcomes.

Target Consent as a Key Customer KPI

Consent is a key enabler of deep personalisation capabilities. While some level of personalisation without formal consent can be created, the real benefits of personalised journeys come with consent to use customer data to offer better services. Many businesses ask for consent in the sign-up process, but often it feels like wishful thinking – not a serious attempt to offer a better customer experience. Businesses that make “Consent to Use Data” a CX KPI think more broadly of the customer journey, the brand promise and what that means to levels of consent. It isn’t a “tick-a-box” activity at sign-up – it considers what the customer wants to get out of the engagement or a longer relationship. It focuses on helping customers achieve their instant goals more effectively and the benefits the data can bring to nurture a longer-term relationship.

Businesses that seek a higher level of consent use more tangible outcomes, simpler language and no “sweeping statements” in their consent request. They are explicit how they will use data and what data they will use. Sometimes they don’t even ask for consent to use data at sign-up – they ask after they have formed a relationship and the customer has developed a level of trust in the brand or company.

Start Your Personalisation Journey Today

Your competitors are already thinking about personalisation – some have even implemented personalised elements within their existing or new customer journeys. Personalisation – while easier than ever – is still a significant capability to build within your business. You are likely to need new technology tools and/or platforms, new skills, and new budgets. The impact for your customers – and therefore for your business – can be significant. And the impact of no action can potentially be damaging. Start your personalisation journey today to help your business take the next step towards becoming a customer-obsessed, agile, and digital business.

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Woolworths to lift store presentation with Visual Merchandiser from One Door

5/5 (1)

5/5 (1)

Woolworths have announced the adoption of a new Software-as-a-Service capability from One Door to support the quality and compliance of their in-store merchandising. There are some valuable lessons from this announcement for other retailers.  

The power of data, particularly as the capability of specialist AI tools improves, continues to help retailers improve their offering to customers. 

SaaS Capabilities Offer Performance Improvements

Woolworths are working on improving the compliance of product merchandising in-store using One Door Visual Merchandising solution. 

One Door will improve the accuracy of data available to both the in-store teams and for the central supermarket merchandising team. The supply chain in Woolworths is already highly automated but getting the shelf presence right is dependent on the quality of data being captured. While store teams already use a range of electronic tools to capture this information, the compliance with store planograms and visual merchandising standards has been difficult to automate.  

One Door’s solution provides a single source of this information in an easy to use digital format. The AI tools that One Door have developed appear to be able to show the degree of compliance of the actual shelf layout and stock position. 

For store teams, One Door will simplify tracking layout changes by highlighting them and making the data available on the shop floor. This should deliver productivity benefits to the store – benefits that can be reinvested in new activities or on better customer service. 

Store teams will be able to verify that third party merchandisers are compliant. Major product manufacturers often use their own merchandising teams in supermarkets and One Door will provide a simple mechanism to verify they have done their jobs properly. 

The central merchandise teams will be able to quickly get data-driven feedback on how the stores are making planned changes, as well as verifying the quality of compliance with their store layouts. 

All of these factors should mean that the product that is available in-store is presented in the manner that the merchandising teams have defined, and the customers will see a more consistent presentation of products. 

Integration is Critical for Rapid Deployment 

Effective integration with existing systems and new cloud capabilities is critical to support the real-time operation in Retail. 

The ability to introduce and scale up new capabilities that can be delivered by cloud services such as One Door will only be effective if integration is simple and quick. This requires compatibility at a number of levels including data semantics and the ability to exchange data effectively. Woolworths have been growing their capability for managing and supporting APIs that will make this integration smoother. 

In addition, the cloud service providers have made the development of integration capabilities an investment priority.  

The introduction of One Door is showing how the company can integrate new capability and introduce it to almost 10% of their stores as a pilot capability, with the full deployment to be completed across their chain during 2022.  

Other retailers who don’t have this capability to integrate cloud services quickly, reliably and cost-effectively are going to lag companies that have invested to achieve this capability. 

CIOs and CDOs should be leading their organisations in the development of a rich and scalable set of APIs to enable the integration of this type of high-value specialised solution. 

Deployment without Consistent Architectures will be Complex 

Rapid deployment of new capabilities requires a well-architected cloud, network, and edge infrastructure – and a well-trained team. 

It is highly likely that the deployment of the One Door solution will be delivered over the existing Woolworths infrastructure. The capability is delivered from the cloud, with little or no deployment costs or time required. With the existing network and hybrid cloud capabilities that Woolworths have developed this type of rollout will be a relatively simple technical activity. 

The integration of the service into the Woolworths environment is likely to be the most complex activity to make sure accurate data is exchanged. 

It doesn’t take long to identify a wide range of different digital initiatives that Woolworths are pursuing. With the platform that they have established, they are well-positioned to take advantage of new capabilities as start-ups and existing suppliers develop them. 

Every retailer needs to maintain their focus on their digital capabilities. As companies such as One Door develop AI-based enhancements, CIOs and their teams need to be ready to integrate these capabilities quickly. 

Strong architectures for both infrastructure and digital services are needed to achieve these outcomes. 

Recommendations for Retailers  

Retail organisations continue to find new ways to leverage the power of the data that they are able to collect. The flexibility that SaaS developments deliver will be essential to maintaining an organisation’s competitive positioning. 

CIOs and their teams need to lead their organisations and ecosystems by: 

  • Identifying new SaaS capabilities that support the strategic positioning of their companies 
  • Preparing their environments by supporting a rich set of APIs to support the rapid integration of these new capabilities 
  • Developing and maintaining strong architectures that provide organisations a solid framework to develop within 

Checkout Alan’s previous insight on Woolworths micro automation technology adopted to speed up the fulfilment of online grocery orders

Woolworths Australia Automates Dark Store
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Consumers at the Core of the Digital Financial Ecosystem

5/5 (2)

5/5 (2)

The disruption that we faced in 2020 has created a new appetite for adoption of technology and digital in a shorter period. Crises often present opportunities – and the FinTech and Financial Services industries benefitted from the high adoption of digital financial services and eCommerce. In 2021, there will be several drivers to the transformation of the Financial Services industry – the rise of the gig economy will give access to a larger talent pool; the challenges of government aid disbursement will be mitigated through tech adoption; compliance will come sharply back into focus after a year of ad-hoc technology deployments; and social and environmental awareness will create a greater appetite for green financing. However, the overarching driver will be the heightened focus on the individual consumer (Figure 1).

2021 will finally see consumers at the core of the digital financial ecosystem.

Ecosystm Advisors Dr. Alea Fairchild, Amit Gupta and Dheeraj Chowdhry present the top 5 Ecosystm predictions for FinTech in 2021 – written in collaboration with the Singapore FinTech Festival. This is a summary of the predictions; the full report (including the implications) is available to download for free on the Ecosystm platform.

The Top 5 FinTech Trends for 2021

 #1 The New Decade of the ‘Empowered’ Consumer Will Propel Green Finance and Sustainability Considerations Beyond Regulators and Corporates

We have seen multiple countries set regulations and implement Emissions Trading Systems (ETS) and 2021 will see Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) considerations growing in importance in the investment decisions for asset managers and hedge funds. Efforts for ESG standards for risk measurement will benefit and support that effort.

The primary driver will not only be regulatory frameworks – rather it will be further propelled by consumer preferences. The increased interest in climate change, sustainable business investments and ESG metrics will be an integral part of the reaction of the society to assist in the global transition to a greener and more humane economy in the post-COVID era. Individuals and consumers will demand FinTech solutions that empower them to be more environmentally and socially responsible. The performance of companies on their ESG ratings will become a key consideration for consumers making investment decisions. We will see corporate focus on ESG become a mainstay as a result – driven by regulatory frameworks and the consumer’s desire to place significant important on ESG as an investment criterion.

#2 Consumers Will Truly Be ‘Front and Centre’ in Reshaping the Financial Services Digital Ecosystems  

Consumers will also shape the market because of the way they exercise their choices when it comes to transactional finance. They will opt for more discrete solutions – like microfinance, micro-insurances, multiple digital wallets and so on. Even long-standing customers will no longer be completely loyal to their main financial institutions. This will in effect take away traditional business from established financial institutions. Digital transformation will need to go beyond just a digital Customer Experience and will go hand-in-hand with digital offerings driven by consumer choice.

As a result, we will see the emergence of stronger digital ecosystems and partnerships between traditional financial institutions and like-minded FinTechs. As an example, platforms such as the API Exchange (APIX) will get a significant boost and play a crucial role in this emerging collaborative ecosystem. APIX was launched by AFIN, a non-profit organisation established in 2018 by the ASEAN Bankers Association (ABA), International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). Such platforms will create a level playing field across all tiers of the Financial Services innovation ecosystem by allowing industry participants to Discover, Design and rapidly Deploy innovative digital solutions and offerings.

#3 APIfication of Banking Will Become Mainstream

2020 was the year when banks accepted FinTechs into their product and services offerings – 2021 will see FinTech more established and their technology offerings becoming more sophisticated and consumer-led. These cutting-edge apps will have financial institutions seeking to establish partnerships with them, licensing their technologies and leveraging them to benefit and expand their customer base. This is already being called the “APIficiation” of banking. There will be more emphasis on the partnerships with regulated licensed banking entities in 2021, to gain access to the underlying financial products and services for a seamless customer experience.

This will see the growth of financial institutions’ dependence on third-party developers that have access to – and knowledge of – the financial institutions’ business models and data. But this also gives them an opportunity to leverage the existent Fintech innovations especially for enhanced customer engagement capabilities (Prediction #2).   

#4 AI & Automation Will Proliferate in Back-Office Operations

From quicker loan origination to heightened surveillance against fraud and money laundering, financial institutions will push their focus on back-office automation using machine learning, AI and RPA tools (Figure 3). This is not only to improve efficiency and lower risks, but to further enhance the customer experience. AI is already being rolled out in customer-facing operations, but banks will actively be consolidating and automating their mid and back-office procedures for efficiency and automation transition in the post COVID-19 environment. This includes using AI for automating credit operations, policy making and data audits and using RPA for reducing the introduction of errors in datasets and processes.

There is enormous economic pressure to deliver cost savings and reduce risks through the adoption of technology. Financial Services leaders believe that insights gathered from compliance should help other areas of the business, and this requires a completely different mindset. Given the manual and semi-automated nature of current AML compliance, human-only efforts slow down processing timelines and impact business productivity. KYC will leverage AI and real-time environmental data (current accounts, mortgage payment status) and integration of third-party data to make the knowledge richer and timelier in this adaptive economic environment. This will make lending risk assessment more relevant.

#5 Driven by Post Pandemic Recovery, Collaboration Will Shape FinTech Regulation

Travel corridors across border controls have started to push the boundaries. Just as countries develop new processes and policies based on shared learning from other countries, FinTech regulators will collaborate to harmonise regulations that are similar in nature. These collaborative regulators will accelerate FinTech proliferation and osmosis i.e. proliferation of FinTechs into geographies with lower digital adoption.

Data corridors between countries will be the other outcome of this collaboration of FinTech regulators. Sharing of data in a regulated environment will advance data science and machine learning to new heights assisting credit models, AI, and innovations in general. The resulting ‘borderless nature’ of FinTech and the acceleration of policy convergence across several previously siloed regulators will result in new digital innovations. These Trusted Data Corridors between economies will be further driven by the desire for progressive governments to boost the Digital Economy in order to help the post-pandemic recovery.


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Ecosystm Predicts: The Top Cities of the Future Trends for 2021

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5/5 (1)

Public sector organisations are looking at 2021 as the year where they either hobble back to normalcy or implement their successful pilots (that were honed under tremendous pressure). Ecosystm research finds that 60% of government agencies are looking at 2021 as the year they make a recovery to normal – or the normal that finally emerges. The path to recovery will be technology-driven, and this time they will look at scalability and data-driven intelligence.

Ecosystm Advisors Alan Hesketh, Mike Zamora and Sash Mukherjee present the top 5 Ecosystm predictions for Cities of the Future in 2021. This is a summary of our Cities of the Future predictions – the full report (including the implications) is available to download for free on the Ecosystm platform here.

The Top 5 Cities of the Future Trends for 2021

#1 Cities Will Re-start Their Transformation Journey by Taking Stock

In 2021 the first thing that cities will do is introspect and reassess. There have been a lot of abrupt policy shifts, people changes, and technology deployments. Most have been ad-hoc, without the benefit of strategy planning, but many of the services that cities provide have been transformed completely. Government agencies in cities have seen rapid tech adoption, changes in their business processes and in the mindset of how their employees – many who were at the frontline of the crisis – provide citizen services. 

Technology investments, in most cases, took on an unexpected trajectory and agencies will find that they have digressed from their technology and transformation roadmap. This also provides an opportunity, as many solutions would have gone through an initial ‘proof-of-concept’ without the formal rigours and protocols. Many of these will be adopted for longer term applications. In 2021, they will retain the same technology priorities as 2020, but consolidate and strengthen on their spend.  

#2 Cities Will be Instrumented Using Intelligent Edge Devices

The capabilities of edge devices continue to increase dramatically, while costs decline. This reduces the barriers to entry for cities to collect and analyse significantly more data about the city and its people. Edge devices move computational power and data storage as close to the point of usage as possible to provide good performance. Devices range from battery powered IoT devices for data collection through to devices such as smart CCTV cameras with embedded pattern recognition software.

Cities will develop many use cases for intelligent edge devices. These uses will range from enhancing old assets using newer approaches to data collection – through to accelerating the speed and quality of the build of a new asset. The move to data-driven maintenance and decision-making will improve outcomes. 

#3 COVID-19 Will Impact City Design

The world has received a powerful reminder of the vulnerability of densely populated cities, and the importance of planning and regulating public health. COVID-19 will continue to have an impact on city design in 2021.  

A critical activity in controlling the pandemic in this environment is the test-and-trace capabilities of the local public health authorities. Technology to provide automated, accurate, contact tracing to replace manual efforts is now available. Scanning of QR codes at locations visited is proving to be the most widely adopted approach. The willingness of citizens to track their travels will be a crucial aid in managing the spread of COVID-19.  

Early detection of new disease outbreaks, or other high-risk environmental events, is essential to minimise harm. Intelligent edge devices that detect the presence of viruses will become crucial tools in a city’s defence.

Intelligent edge devices will also play a role in managing building ventilation. Well-ventilated spaces are an important factor in controlling virus transmission. But a limited number of buildings have ventilation systems that are capable of meeting those requirements. Property owners will begin to refit their facilities to provide better air movement.  

#4 Technology Vendors Will Emerge as the Conductors of Cities of the Future

The built environment comprises not only of the physical building, but also the space around the buildings and building operations. The real estate developer/investor owns the building – the urban fabric, the relationship of buildings to each other, the common space and the common services provided to the city, is owned by the City. The question is who will coordinate the players, e.g. business, citizens, government and the built environment. Ideally the government should be the conductor. However, they may not have sufficient experience or knowledge to properly implement this role. This means a capable and knowledgeable neutral consultant will at least initially fill this role. There is an opportunity for a technology vendor to fill that consulting role and impact the city fabric. This enhanced city environment will be requested by the Citizen, driven by the City, and guided by Technology Vendors. 2021 will see leading technology vendors working very closely with cities.

#5 Compliance Will be at the Core of Citizen Engagement Initiatives

Many Smart Cities have long focused on online services – over the last couple of years mobile apps have further improved citizen services. In 2020, the pandemic challenged government agencies to continue to provide services to citizens who were housebound and had become more digital savvy almost overnight. And many cities were able to scale up to fulfill citizen expectations.

However, in 2021 there will be a need to re-evaluate measures that were implemented this year – and one area that will be top priority for public sector agencies is compliance, security and privacy.

The key drivers for this renewed focus on security and privacy are:

  • The need to temper the focus of ‘service delivery at any cost’ and further remind agencies and employees that security and privacy must comply with standard to allow the use of government data.
  • The rise of cyberattacks that target not only essential infrastructure, but also individual citizens and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
  • The rise of app adoption by city agencies – many that have been developed by third parties. It will become essential to evaluate their compliance to security and privacy requirements.

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Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 Contact Centre Trends for 2021

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Running a contact centre has been extremely challenging in 2020. Contact centres have had to ensure business continuity, keep the focus on customer experience, and manage and motivate a largely remote workforce. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, not only have contact centres seen high inbound activity, but they have also had to manage agents who are dispersed and working remotely. 2020 has seen many contact centres starting, accelerating or re-focusing their digital transformation initiatives (Figure 1).

COVID Impact on Contact Centres

2021 will see contact centres focusing on transformation, not only to survive but also because their organisations and clients will expect more process efficiency and better customer experience. Ecosystm Advisors Audrey William and Ravi Bhogaraju present the top 5 Ecosystm predictions for Contact Centres Trends in 2021.

This is a summary of our predictions on the top 5 Contact Centre Trends for 2021 – the full report (including the implications) is available to download for free on the Ecosystm platform here.

The Top 5 Contact Centre Trends for 2021

  1. Remote Working Will Force Contact Centres to Re-evaluate Security Measures

Security has always been a concern for contact centre leaders. Improper data use by agents and agents breaching confidentiality are the biggest security challenges for contact centres. This has been further heightened, especially the fear of agents purposely breaching confidentiality while working from home.

Contact centres are still trying to figure out the best security measures when managing customer data, especially in the work-from-home environment. There is greater scrutiny over security and compliance measures – what agents view, how agents access the data, when agents log in and out of the system. Outsourcing providers will also have to guarantee high levels of security – a trusted relationship and defining the best practices on working from home will not be sufficient.

Many contact centres will trial different methods – from installing video surveillance cameras, desktop monitoring tools and access controls. Others will test technologies that can mask the information captured through mobile devices. This presents immense opportunities for vendors, as contact centres will rely heavily on technology to re-invent their security practices.

  1. Contact Centres will Invest in Conversational AI – Chatbots will No Longer be Enough

Many enterprises have rushed into deploying chatbots with expectations that these engines can solve the problem of high call volumes. The outcomes have often been poor, leaving customers frustrated and opting to interact with a live agent instead. Implementing a basic chatbot does not fully solve the problem and will force companies back to the drawing board.

Conversational AI offers a different experience by designing multiple forms of dialogues and conversations. It requires conversational design and the algorithms go through rigour from the start. The aim should be to make the channel irresistible – one that customers have confidence in, and that can reduce the need to email or call an agent. Successful uses cases have shown that conversational AI can reduce calls and repetitive queries by 70-90%.  Ecosystm research finds that contact centres are ramping up their self-service capabilities and their adoption of AI and machine learning.

  1. Offshore Centres will Re-invent Themselves and Make a Comeback

2020 has seen contact centres in offshore locations struggle to offer services to global clients. Many of these operators have been plagued by poor internet connectivity at agents’ homes, and unfavourable home working environments. These outsourcing locations remain vital however, for multiple reasons – for example the range of services offered, agent specialisation, costs or diversity in agent profile.

Contact centre outsourcing providers will make a comeback in 2021 and we can expect new models to appear. Many providers across the globe have been running successful work-from-home only operations for years – other outsourcing providers will learn from these best practices. Organisations will find that bringing jobs back to high-cost locations will incur more costs. A full onshore model may not be the right model for business continuity, and organisations will prefer to have back-up locations to ensure continuity of services if another pandemic or catastrophe happens. Organisations will want to see the outsourcing providers offer them a choice of location – they will prefer some services to be delivered from offshore locations and others to remain onshore.

  1. Digital and Mobile will be the Cornerstone of Deeper Customer Engagement

COVID-19 has changed how customers want to be served, and organisations have had to re-evaluate how they use their channels – e.g. email, web, chat and voice. Customer profiles and expectations have changed over the year and they are more digital savvy and are more likely to interact with brands through digital and mobile apps. They will expect a single point of interaction – for their enquiries and to complete their transactions. For instance, they will expect to chat while filling up shopping carts. Introducing chat capabilities within mobile apps is a good way to impress customers – this can be an effective way to push promotions and upsell. Capabilities such as the ability to directly place a call from a website will make the customer experience exceptional. Customers will expect to move between channels easily when interacting with a brand.

  1. Workplace Collaboration Will be Fully Integrated into Contact Centres

Contact centres will reassess their business and talent models. The focus on employees will be in two major areas:

  • Productivity. The contact centre floor dynamics have changed in how agents are spread out across outsourcing locations and in-house contact centres. Agents are no longer located in the same room or floor and do not have access to their usual way of work – continual training, digital signage that provides guidance and demonstrates KPIs, conversations with supervisors, managers, and team members for guidance or assistance, easy access to back-office functions and so on. This can impact their productivity.  
  • Engagement. Contact centre staff often work in high-stress environments -chasing sales targets and deadlines, handling complaints – and it is important for managers and supervisors to be able to engage and motivate them constantly. Remote working has further exacerbated the stress for those agents who do not have a conducive working environment at home.

Contact centres will increasingly look to workplace collaboration platforms and  tools to improve employee productivity and experience.


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Telefonica & AWS Partnership – The End of the Beginning for Private Cloud

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Earlier this month, Telefónica Germany announced it will use Amazon Web Services (AWS) to virtualise its 5G core for a proof of concept (POC) in an industrial use case and plans to move to commercial deployment in 2021. Part of the POC process is to ensure compliance with all applicable data protection guidelines and certifying them according to relevant industry standards.

“With the virtualisation of our 5G core network, we are laying the foundation for the digital transformation of the German economy. This collaboration with AWS is an important part of our strategy for building industrial 5G networks”, said Markus Haas, CEO of Telefónica Germany.

Sentiment about cloud – especially public cloud – has been on a slight roller-coaster ride since they emerged back in the “noughties”: From initial reluctance to reluctant acceptance – to  customer driven enthusiasm to scaling back and migrating back data and apps to on-premises data centres or private clouds to a more recent acceptance, that most enterprise resources may work best in a hybrid or public cloud environment.

Still, the viewpoint of many is still that core resources for the most part belong on-premises – especially if they are essential for the running of the business or involves sensitive data.

It is in this light that the Telefónica Germany announcement is interesting. On the face of it, it may appear that this is a possible major validation of public cloud as a platform for core systems and sensitive data. Although the core network components will remain on a different platform delivered by Ericsson, there is clearly an element of that.

Perception on Public Cloud

Many organisations remain sceptical with regards to public cloud. Ecosystm data shows that almost 40% have private cloud as their primary cloud deployment model (Figure 1); roughly a third have gone for a hybrid model and only around one quarter have chosen a public cloud model.

Primary Cloud Deployment Model

Most cloud deployment strategies ultimately come down to an evaluation of cost vs. risk and this evaluation is clearly demonstrated in Ecosystm data. Close to 80% of those choosing an on-premises private cloud model mention security and compliance as a main reason whereas cost considerations are the main reason for those opting for a public cloud model (Figure 2). What our data also shows is that public cloud providers are not necessarily winning the argument of cost savings among users.

Reasons for Choosing Deployment Model

For many organisations today, security and compliance concerns are still a valid point against public cloud as a primary deployment model. However, as we see more and more initiatives like Telefónica Germany, this argument diminishes – and it will become harder for IT organisations to convince senior management that this is still the way to go.

The Edge Complements the Cloud

The other noteworthy take-away from the Telefónica Germany initiative is how cloud-enabled edge computing is being embraced by the network design to ensure lower latencies for those who need it. The company states, “If companies use 5G network functions based on the cloud-based 5G core network of Telefónica Germany / O2 in the future, they will no longer need a physical core network infrastructure at their logistics and production sites, for example, but only a 5G radio network (RAN) with corresponding antennas.”

As I’m sure that you are an avid reader of Ecosystm Predicts every year, this should not come as a surprise as we wrote about something like this in the Top 5 Cloud Trends for 2020. Although some are touting Edge computing as the ultimate replacement of Cloud, we then believed – and still do – that it will be complimentary rather than competing technology. Cloud-based setups can benefit from pushing computing heavy workloads to the Edge in much the same way as IoT and provides a great platform for managing the Edge computing endpoints.

But to go back to the private cloud bit – while private cloud is not going away in the foreseeable future, we may be starting to see its demise in the more distant future.

To paraphrase a famous Brit: Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning for private cloud.


Identifying emerging cloud computing trends can help you drive digital business decision making, vendor and technology platform selection and investment strategies.Gain access to more insights from the Ecosystm Cloud Study.

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Technology Enabling Transformation in the Life Sciences Industry

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As the search for a COVID-19 vaccine intensifies, there is a global focus on the Life Sciences industry. The industry has been hit hard this year – having to deliver overtime through a disrupted supply chain, unexpected demand spikes, and reduction of revenues from their regular streams. Life sciences organisations are already challenged by the breadth of their focus – across R&D and clinical discovery; Manufacturing & Distribution; and Sales & Marketing. Increasingly, many pharmaceutical and medtech organisations choose to outsource some of these functions, which brings to fore the need for a robust compliance framework. In the Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal Study, two-thirds of life sciences organisations mention that they have either been forced to start, accelerate or refocus their Digital Transformation initiatives – the remaining one-third have put their Digital Transformation on hold. The industry is clearly at an inflection point.

Challenges of the Life Sciences Industry

Continued Focus on R&D. Life sciences companies operate in an extremely competitive global market where they have to work on new products against a backdrop of competition from generics and a global concern over rising healthcare expenditure. Apart from regulatory challenges, they also face immense competition from local manufacturers as they enter each new market.

Re-thinking their Distribution Strategy. Sales and distribution for many pharma and medtech organisations have been traditional – using agents, distributors, clinicians, and healthcare providers. But now they need to change their go-to-market strategies, target patients and consumers directly and package their product offerings into value-added services. This will require them to incorporate customer experience enhancers in their R&D, going beyond drug discovery and product innovation.

Tracking Global Regulations. Governments across the world are trying to manage their healthcare budgets. They are also more focused on chronic disease management. The focus has shifted to value-based medicine in general, but pharma and medtech products are being increasingly held accountable by health outcomes. Governments are increasingly implementing drug reforms around what clinicians can prescribe. Global Life Sciences organisations have to constantly monitor the regulations in the multiple countries where they operate and sell. They are also accountable for their entire supply chain, especially ensuring a high product quality and fraud prevention.  

The global Ecosystm AI study reveals the top priorities for Life Sciences organisations, focused on adopting emerging technologies (Figure 1). They appear to be investing in emerging technology especially in their R&D and clinical discovery and Manufacturing functions.

Top Tech priorities for the Life Sciences Industry

Technology as an Enabler of Life Sciences Transformation

Discovery and Development

With the evolution of technology, Life Sciences organisations are able to automate much of the mundane tasks around drug discovery and apply AI and machine learning to transform their drug discovery and development process. They are increasingly leveraging their ecosystem of smaller pharma and medtech companies, research laboratories, academic institutions, and technology providers to make the process more time and cost efficient.

Using an AI algorithm, the researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered an antibiotic compound that can kill many species of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. MIT’s algorithm screens millions of chemical compounds and chooses the antibiotics which have the potential to eliminate bacteria resistant to existing drugs. Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is manufacturing 3D printed organ-on-a-chip to give insights on cell, tissue, and organ biology to help the pharma sector with drug development, disease modelling and finally in the development of personalised medicine.

Life Sciences are also engaging more with technology partners – whether emerging start-ups or established players. Pfizer and Saama are working together on AI clinical data mining. The companies are developing and deploying an AI-based analytical tool where Pfizer provides clinical data and domain knowledge to train models on the Saama Life Science Analytics Cloud (LSAC). Saama was identified as a partner at a hackathon. Sanofi and Google have established a new virtual Innovation Lab to develop scientific and commercial solutions, using multiple Google capabilities from cloud computing to AI.

Tech providers also keep evolving their capabilities in the Life Sciences industry for more efficient drug discovery and better treatment protocols. Microsoft’s Project Hanover uses machine learning to develop a personalised drug protocol to manage acute myeloid leukaemia. Similarly, Apple’s ResearchKit – an open-source framework is meant to help researchers and developers create iOS-based applications in the field of medical research.

Manufacturing and Logistics

The industry also faces the challenges faced by any Manufacturing organisation and has the need to deploy manufacturing analytics, and advanced supply chain technology for better process and optimisation and agility. There is also the need for complete visibility over their supply chain and inventory for traceability, safety, and fraud prevention. Emerging technologies such as Blockchain will become increasingly relevant for real-time track and trace capability.  

The MediLedger Network was established as an open network to the entire pharma supply chain. The project brings a consortium of some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and logistics providers to improve drug supply chain management.

Since the data on the distributed ledger is encrypted, it creates a secure system without any vulnerabilities. This eliminates counterfeit products and ultimately ensures the quality of the pharma products and promotes increased patient safety. To foster security and improve the supply chain, the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) successfully completed a pilot with a group including IBM, KPMG, Merck and Walmart to support U.S. Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) to trace vaccines and prescription medicines throughout the country.

Diagnostics and Personalised Healthcare

As more devices (consumer and enterprise) and applications enter the market, people will take ownership and interest in their own health outcomes. This is seeing a continued growth in online communities and comparison sites (on physicians, hospitals, and pharmaceutical products). Increasingly, insurance providers will use data from wearable devices for a more personalised approach; promoting and rewarding good health practices.

Beyond the use of wearables and health and wellness apps, we will also see an exponential increase of home-based healthcare products and services – whether for primary care and chronic disease management, or long-term and palliative care. As patients become more engaged with their care, the life sciences industry is beginning to serve them through personalised approach, medicines, right diagnosis and through advanced medical devices and products.

An online tool developed by the University of Virginia Health Systems helps identify patients that have a high risk of getting a stroke and helps them reduce that risk. This tool calculates the patient’s probability of suffering a stroke by measuring the severity of their metabolic syndrome – taking into account a number of conditions that include high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels and excess body fat. Life Sciences organisations are increasingly having to invest in customer-focused solutions such as these.

Wearables with special smart software to monitor health parameters, gauge drug compatibility and monitor complications are being implemented by Life Sciences organisations. The US FDA approved a pill called Abilify MyCite fitted with a tiny ingestible sensor that communicates with a patch worn by the patient to transmit data on a smartphone. Medtech companies continue to develop FDA approved health devices that can monitor chronic conditions. Smart continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) and insulin pens send blood glucose level data to smartphone applications allowing the wearer to easily check their information and detect trends.

Technologies such as AR/VR are also enabling Life Sciences companies with their diagnostics. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals has created an AR/VR app called “In My Eyes” to better diagnose vision impairment in patients.

What is interesting about these personalised products is that not only do they improve clinical outcomes, they also give Life Sciences companies access to rich data that can be used for further product development and improvement.

The Life Sciences industry will continue to operate in an unpredictable and competitive market. This is evident by the several mergers and acquisitions that we witness in the industry. As they continue to use cutting-edge technology for their R&D practices, they will leverage technology to transform other functions as well.


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