The rise of affordable devices, analytics and cloud computing is expanding the horizons of India’s IoT market. Alok Bardiya, Head of Internet of Things at Tata Communications, is at the helm of his company’s efforts to scale new heights. An alumnus of Wharton Business School and IIT Delhi, he is responsible for shaping and scaling Tata Communications’ IoT business. Alok comes with over 20 years of experience in the tech industry.
In an exclusive interview with Analytics India Magazine, he spoke about the driving force behind India’s IoT growth and the road ahead for Tata Communications. “For our India IoT business, even before the pandemic, we were at a stage where CEOs were keen to drive IoT implementation and urging for quick deployment. The impact of COVID 19 has accelerated the demand; however, the challenge lies in getting the IoT ecosystem ready to deliver devices at scale,” Alok said.
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AIM: What are your thoughts on India’s booming IoT market?
Alok: While India was already in the process of establishing itself as a significant player in the digital economy, the pandemic accelerated digital transformation for all. The need to connect, meet and work remotely across every business has increased our reliance on automation and the Internet of Things for data insights. As a result, the increase in the adoption of IoT-enabled devices and the data generated from these devices enable businesses to gain organisational insight, make quick and accurate decisions, and improve efficiency and productivity.
As companies diversify their supply chains amid the pandemic, India is expected to become a hotspot for the IoT deployment combined with the government’s push on the Digital India mission. As a result, we witnessed an increased number of factories leveraging IoT for supply chain monitoring and asset management.
AIM: How did pandemic impact your business lines?
Alok: From an enterprise perspective, we have seen increased traction during the pandemic for our Connected Operations proposition, which comprises Connected Worker Solutions, particularly Safety Watch and SafePass Card. These solutions track and locate employees across locations, monitoring their health and safety parameters — instrumental in preventing over 20 plus critical incidents so far (watch the demo here).
We have demand from the FMCG, metal & mining, chemicals, cement, auto, oil & gas, pharma sectors and expect it to trickle in from the travel and the service sector. Asset management is another area. Several FMCG and manufacturing companies during several stages of the lockdown were all keen to keep track of the location and health of their assets. With minimal manual intervention through remote assistance, our IoT-based asset tracking solution provides a unique asset management system that allows enterprises to track their assets, however widely distributed. Built-in intelligence converts this data into actionable insights and makes it available through a simple, easy-to-use application – anytime, anywhere.
We also have video-based IoT used for object recognition (geo-fencing), people recognition, and process adherence in the last phases. In addition, given the surge in demand in the market, we also launched an IoT fabric proposition which is a single platform to manage connectivity and data from any IoT device and enables users to manage the lifecycle of their entire IoT use-case.
AIM: Tell us about the challenges you have faced during the pandemic. How did you overcome them?
Alok: There are several challenges that we face while deploying an IoT framework for a company. As you would know, IoT needs physical implementation, cloud application and analytics. During the initial days of the pandemic, we faced some roadblocks regarding the physical implementation of IoT due to lockdown guidelines, chip shortages, and other hardware materials.
As supply chains had been hit, companies resorted to Make in India solutions. One such example we are proud of is our streetlight solution hardware manufactured in India. Lastly, the challenge lies in getting the IoT ecosystem ready to deliver devices at scale. Fortunately for us, in the past year, we laid out the groundwork. As a result, we can cater to enterprises that were earlier looking for 100 to 200 devices but are currently looking beyond 1,000 to 10,000 devices to transform their business. To expedite and enable enterprises in their digital journey, we launched an IoT Fabric – the solution offers basic connectivity and data platform infrastructure for enterprises on a usage-based model, thus enabling them to do quick pilots followed by scale-ups.
AIM: How small manufacturing companies are responding to IoT technologies?
Alok: Small manufacturers play a critical role in keeping the world’s supply chain moving and are now slowly embracing Industry 4.0. While we are seeing increasing demand from mid to large enterprises, the small players are adopting niche solutions in the ecosystem. The increasing use of digital devices will transform the operations time along with service history time and at the point of use. The ripple effect of having new age technologies is being felt across enterprises, irrespective of size. As such, all enterprises are stepping up their digital spending as that’s the only way to survive and grow.
AIM: Tell us about your smart city solutions.
Alok: Smart cities are a major focus for us, and with growing customer interest, we have solutions for smart lighting and smart metering systems, including water, gas, and electricity metering. Our end-to-end smart cities solutions are powered by state-of-the-art devices running on our dedicated IoT network, platform, and applications. Our smart cities framework focuses on – intelligent and sustainable smart city solutions, integrated infrastructure, and collaboration solutions. We are in the process of expanding to more cities over the next two years along with areas such as special economic zones and highways.
AIM: What is the future of the IoT market in India?
Alok: Smart Digital workplace technologies like the connected worker solutions, including contact tracing, contactless operations, and remote monitoring, became popular with enterprises to manage work remotely. IoT adoption is now being prioritised and pulled forward. A recent report by Zinnov noted India as an emerging market for IoT in the world.
Tata Communications IoT entered the space very early on. We are experts in this field. As the usage of these technologies increases, it will only extend into newer domains such as the Man-Machine-Material interface. That is the narrative we are driving to ensure an all-encompassing offering across the supply chain. Man-Machine-Material offers diverse use cases across employee safety & efficiency, machine & facility management and material & equipment handling.
We believe that this ability to flexibly add IoT-enabled use cases on existing infrastructure will go a long way in driving IoT adoption in India. Enterprises are also going to increase their dependency on IoT analytics for data-driven decision-making, which aligns with our business focus.
AIM: What are we lacking in terms of the infrastructure and policy support?
Alok: Indian market is making progress, but we are yet to fully monetise the value of real-time data. Until the market is cost-focused, the business model’s viability will always remain a challenge. Secondly, we have seen several small players enter the market offering quick fixes at much lower prices. They drive the pricing benchmarks to unviable levels to sustain and sell and then eventually shut shop.
The slow adoption of 5G in India is yet another reason. However, recent announcements by telecom players on starting 5G trials in India are likely to lead to cheap and ubiquitous network connectivity after the network rolls out, ensuring last-mile connectivity. In the end, for IoT to make substantial inroads in a business, a CEO needs to have a clear vision of what he wants to achieve with the IoT deployment.
AIM: Can you share a few case studies with us?
Alok: Our Connected Worker Solution has been deployed by a multinational manufacturing company. We deployed 3,000 safety wearables and 75,000 SafePass across 20 plus locations. Apart from enhancing worker wellbeing and minimising workplace risks, the connected employee solution has also helped the manufacturing company in making data-driven decisions for enhanced efficiency and security.
We have also deployed our smart lighting solutions for Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Co. Ltd (JUSCO) partnered with Mahanagar Gas Limited to deploy smart gas meters in Mumbai and supported Indraprastha Gas Limited with a pre-paid smart gas metering system.
AIM: What’s next for Tata Communications?
Alok: The Tata Communications IoT India portfolio is geared towards meeting this demand and has witnessed major tailwinds last year. We saw an increase in our margins across customers, devices bought from March 2020 to March 2021. We had 12 new customers added, 75 627 devices bought during the year, and ventured into new sectors. Along with this scaling, we have also continued to expand our products and solution portfolio. Tata Communications’ Internet of Things has been focused on the Indian market and is now poised to explore international opportunities.