October 2014 | Shilpa Sachdev

Betting big on digital

Tata Consultancy Services is helping clients unlock disruptive business opportunities by leveraging the power of big data and other digital technologies

There is a tremendous explosion of data happening around the world and this data presents big opportunities. Companies can gain important and timely insights about customers, competitors, products and new product opportunities from the huge volumes of external, unstructured data that is streaming in from different sources, especially social media.

Big data technologies have become essential to handling the volume, velocity and variety of data that enterprises now have at their disposal.

Businesses that embrace big data concepts and adopt new adaptive intelligence approaches will break data limitations, improve the use of data and analytics for better business outcomes, and create disruptive business innovations. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is helping clients unlock disruptive business opportunities using the ‘Digital Five Forces’, says Satya Ramaswamy, vice president and global head, TCS digital enterprises. These include mobility and pervasive computing, big data and analytics, cloud computing, social media, and AI and robotics.

He further explains, “Digital reimagination takes place when one uses a combination of these digital five forces to create something ‘transformationally’ new for the company in the areas of business models, products and services, customer segments, channels, business processes and workplaces.”

Reengineering responsiveness
Big data and analytics, in combination with the other four digital forces, are helping companies across industries to reimagine critical business processes and boost efficiency. Says Mr Ramaswamy, “One common impact of business process reimagination is the migration from physical artefact-driven business processes to digital processes. Mobile applications on the cloud can leverage big data analytics and enable companies to reimagine paper and pencil-based business processes into highly accurate, speedy and responsive ones. For example, aeroplane cockpit instrumentation is being converted to tablet applications on the cloud; insurance claim verification processes are being converted from paper-pencil-camera business processes to tablet-based applications.”

The real-time availability of data and the constant connectivity from digital devices can even lead to elimination of certain workflows that require multiple levels of approvals. For example, when an employee needs to purchase an item for a manufacturing operation, it will significantly speed up the process if the validation is performed using artificial intelligence systems as soon as the employee raises the request instead of having two or three layers of checks by human supervisors that could take days or weeks, adds Mr Ramaswamy.

This integration of data across different channels also allows greater insights into customer relationships. Nearly two billion people around the world today use social media to share their thoughts. Social media is not only a very effective business-to-consumer marketing medium, it has also become an invaluable medium which companies can tap into for consumer-to-consumer communications without invoking the observer effect that can taint consumer research. Since big data analytics can handle comments of hundreds of millions of consumers over long periods of time with ease, companies can now exhaustively analyse consumer sentiment rather than superficially assessing it on the basis of limited samples. The accuracy of the models increase exponentially when run against the entire breadth and depth of data instead of just a sample.

With technological advances in computer hardware and new technologies such as Hadoop, MapReduce, and in-memory databases and text analytics for processing big data, it is now feasible to collect, analyse and mine massive amounts of structured and unstructured data using both regression and machine learning approaches for new insights, which are more reliable, self-healing and self-learning, and can be re-run as needed. Other benefits include lower financial, operational and business risk profiles; better product and service offerings; new innovations; better investment decisions and better customer relationships.

Quantum leap
The challenge in leveraging big data is finding the right return on investment (ROI). One of the key drivers for the adoption of big data is advanced analytics. It holds the promise of finding optimisation insights for operations, finding new business models and more. This requires businesses to take a quantum leap in terms of rationalising their use cases, unifying their data sources into a new platform (data lake) and investing in new analytics development. Many organisations are still working out the right ROI before they make these investments.

Companies that are flooded with massive amounts of data are advised to adopt big data sooner rather than later. Big data adoption is critical to advanced analytics, which creates a competitive differentiator for any company. A slow adopter might be left behind by its more nimble competitors who are able to generate better insights and act and react faster in any given market condition. A good example of a company that reimagined its business model, products and services, and customer segments is Netflix, who went from a distributor of content to additionally becoming a producer of content with the very popular “House of Cards” series, using consumer data analytics. Big data analytics is at the heart of the digital five forces, and those who invest in innovation using a combination of these technologies to reimagine key areas of their businesses will emerge as the winners.

Partner of choice
TCS has executed over 200 big data customer engagements addressing specific business problems of more than 130 customers. Its focus and investments in intellectual property development has resulted in nine patents filed with 14 more in progress, over 50 contributions to open source Apache Hadoop, and five innovative, low-cost products for big data and analytics. TCS has also created big data products such as TCS Active Archive (archival on Hadoop), PeriVista (customer 360 view) and big data migration tools. Products like Active Archive have been certified by leading big data platform vendors. The company has over 40 partnerships that span across products and platforms, and it actively collaborates with TCS research labs and academic institutions for research. Infrastructure created in the space includes 10 big data clusters (Hadoop and NoSql) that are available to run client proof-of-concepts and do performance benchmarking, and eight delivery centres.

TCS also has the largest number of industry-certified associates in the field of big data technologies. To build the talent pool, TCS has instituted a strong learning and competency programme. It recruits associates who are experts in programming, databases or analytics, and puts them through a rigorous competency programme based on their skill levels and proficiency. There is a clear competency map defined for proficiency progression from developer to designer to technical architect to solution architect. For the big data business consulting space, competencies include business solutioning and data science competency. In addition, TCS utilises technology partner alliances for technology certifications such as MapR, Cloudera and others.

The company has witnessed an increased adoption of big data across its client base. “There is a desire to seek, understand and dig deeper into big data that is driven mainly by the next generation of consumers — Gen-Y, the Millennials, the Digital Natives and Generation Edge. It is imperative that companies see the value of big data not as a standalone technology or ‘siloed’ solution, but rather one that can be powerfully leveraged in combination with mobility, cloud, social media, and AI and robotics,” notes Mr Ramaswamy.

TCS’s goal is to be a trusted advisor to its clients on their digital reimagination journey, making it easy and seamless for them to adapt to the digital consumer economy, by providing them with skilled professionals who can ideate, conceptualise, innovate, analyse, plan and execute end-to-end engagements in big data.

“The race is on for companies to reimagine their businesses”
N Chandrasekaran, CEO and MD, Tata Consultancy Services talks on the growth in digital investments across the globe

“We are in the middle of a tectonic shift, one ushered in by the five digital forces — emerging technologies that give companies unprecedented means to sift, analyse, monitor and above all, adapt to changing customer preferences in real time.

Our global study (July 2014) on the state of digital initiatives in large companies in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America found significant variations in digital investments and business impact. Across the 820 executives surveyed, the average spend on digital initiatives this year is $113 million per company.

The race is on for companies to reimagine their businesses for a digital world. While only a small number of companies (8 percent) said digital reimagination was their digital strategy today, nearly a third (32 percent) said it would be their strategy by 2020.”