Tech Trends for 2021
Published by : Industrial Automation
Harnessing Disruption to Drive Meaningful Change
What are the technology trends most likely to dominate in 2021? Industrial Automation invited views from experts in the field. Excerpts…
Niels Bohr, the 1922 Nobel laureate in Physics, once said, ‘prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future’. A year ago, nobody expected Covid-19 to wreak such havoc across the world even as the pandemic was preparing to strike humanity. Technology trends, on the other hand are based upon ongoing developments, and though there is a risk of either being too cautious or a bit too optimistic, one cannot be too off the mark. Global market research company Forrester, in the introduction to its report, ‘Predictions for 2021’, has this to say about 2020: “In the wake of profound disruption, the future came into focus. Changes long in the making for some firms were implemented overnight. Agility, creativity and customer obsession showed the way forward. These principles will continue to guide companies as we enter the next normal.”
Emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics have already entered the mainstream. What newer forms of technology are likely to dominate 2021? Will 5G networks become a reality in India in 2021? What are the trends that will shape the way people live and work in the near future?
“As we look ahead into 2021, four key technology predictions stand out for the Industrial sector. First, digitisation will continue to spread and mature within organisations – connected IIoT will go deeper and wider across the core of many businesses. Second, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) enabled technologies will continue to automate processes to deliver improved performance and agility. Third, there will be greater focus on sustainability as businesses look to become cleaner and more efficient in their use of natural resources. Fourth and not least, businesses will look to unlock critical insights from data,” says Craig Hayman, CEO, AVEVA, the company that provides innovative industrial software to transform complex industries such as oil & gas, construction, engineering, marine, and utilities.
“Although industry will continue using AI and data analytics, 2021 is likely to see the emergence of a new leader – 5G technology. 5G is the first wireless technology likely to have a large impact on the industrial world,’ opines G Ganapathiraman, Country Manager, ARC Advisory Group, India. The ARC India team of analysts conduct research related to a wide range of topics including sensors, automation, operations management, asset management, Industry 4.0, supply chain, and logistics. “While Wi-Fi and 4G are already used in some industrial applications, their value-add is limited by the fact that they were never designed specifically to meet industrial requirements and, as a result, have been adapted for specific purposes along the way. 5G, on the other hand, is designed to meet industrial requirements with ultra-low latency, high network availability, and high device density capabilities. Looking at the big picture, 5G is a key enabler for initiatives such as Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0, as it supports connectivity of a large number of devices and allows large quantities of data to be aggregated and delivered from shop floors to remote data centres and cloud-based systems,” he elaborates.
According to Himanshu Jadhav, Chief Executive Officer, Jendamark India, data is more crucial than previously realised in the past. Data technologies help collect data and analyse trends based on it. These trends in turn, help us make predictions which can be employed to increase one’s insight into their business and its efficiency to a level never before considered possible, evade potential risks to the image of the company and most importantly, serve its customers better.
Jendamark Automation, headquartered in South Africa entered the Indian market in 2014 and has since offered Indian customers a unique blend of world-class engineering at a competitive cost through its subsidiary, Jendamark India. “The focus in future will shift to a 24-hour work cycle. Just as we have a 24-hour news cycle, globalised markets and the shift to flexible work arrangements will create a full-day work cycle. Night owls will work second and third shift, traditional workers will stay on first and second shifts. And, because everyone is able to work at preferred times, a company can reasonably expect some form of operation at all hours – without the cost of keeping a physical office open,” says Himanshu.
“Artificial intelligence and advanced analytics have been touted to be the key value drivers behind digital transformation. In the future digital enterprise, everything is connected. Data flows seamlessly between operational systems and business systems, enabling new capabilities such as process optimisation, opportunity loss management, activity-based costing, predictive maintenance and other data-driven decision making,” asserts Krishnadas Manjaparra, Business Head for South Asia, Middle East and Africa, ABB Industrial Automation, Process Industries. However, Krishnadas points out how cyber-attacks and hacking incidents have been on the rise this year and could undermine organisational continuity plans. “I think a major technology trend that will emerge in industry is investment and implementation of an in-depth cybersecurity strategy. My personal assessment of cybersecurity preparedness in most operational systems is that they are vulnerable,” he adds.
What are the technologies that would top the wish list of the manufacturing industry in the new normal? Which industries will benefit most from digital technologies, and which industries must try and catch up?
“There are industries which have been at forefront in adopting technologies for competitive advantage. The ones that spring to mind immediately are automotive and pharma sectors, and also the digital industry itself – who provide digital tools to the manufacturing and service sector at large,” says PV Sivaram, Non-Executive Chairman, B&R Automation India. “When we look at the trends from the recent past, there is a spread in the pace with which technologies get adopted. At the forefront in accepting new technology and putting it to use are the young individuals, who are eager to try new things and are not fazed by novelty. They are closely followed by their elders. However, industries seem to have more inertia – at both ends of the size spectrum. Large corporates are prone to experiment in small silos. MSMEs appear to be daunted by the challenges of investment, and availability (to them) of skilled manpower,” elaborates Sivaram. According to him, the main challenge for organisations of all sizes is change management. “Digital technologies cannot yield much benefit, if organisational behaviour and structure do not evolve to support and leverage the Big Data,” he adds.
“Covid-19 has not only proved a threat to life but has caused unprecedented shock to the global economy. The pandemic hit manufacturers in an unexpected and unprecedented way. For the first time in modern manufacturing history, demand, supply and workforce are affected globally at the same time. The spread of virus has resulted in plant closures (full or partial) in many countries, halting production for prolonged periods, resulting in huge losses and loss of jobs. The virus has highlighted various critical gaps in the manufacturing sector,” says Rajesh Nath, Managing Director, VDMA India Services Private Limited, German Engineering Federation (VDMA). According to Rajesh Nath, companies need to build their business continuity plans afresh, need to review the existing manufacturing supply chain models and explore automation possibilities to reduce the impact of this crisis on production lines in the future.
For Sandeep Prabhakar, Product Marketing Manager, Moxa India Industrial Networking Pvt Ltd, there are 3 key aspects in the wish list of the manufacturing industry in the new normal. These are:
Improved Productivity – Through the IIoT gathered I/O data to ensure machine operation, production managers can have a clearer picture of uptime, tuning, idle, and downtime hours within the day, and can thereby improve the OEE in real time.
Increased Production Yield – By adding more sensors to existing IoT devices to collect additional big data, variation control standards can be established and predictive maintenance can be conducted before variation becomes a big problem in order to avoid the production of defective products.
Improved Profitability – With improved OEE that eliminates bottlenecks at key equipment boosts production capacity and reduces production cycle, a shortened production cycle translates to more profitable production days.
What could be the ideal plan of action to face the challenges and adopt a safe and stable Covid-19 survival strategy? Assuming a prediction of a 'W' shaped infection curve, how can industry work in tandem with government towards rapid recovery?
“Be bold, reflect and evolve,” stresses Craig Hayman, who believes the uncertainty is here to stay, as well as the possibility of a resurgence of Covid-19, the length and depth of the economic downturn, trade wars, oil price fluctuations and so forth, so businesses must take lessons learned from uncertainty and create their new normal. “What lessons have we learned from 2020? Businesses require intelligent software to address industrial pain points for value creation, productivity improvement, insight discovery, risk management, and cost optimisation. With the right technology, businesses can be incredibly agile to manage costs, boost efficiency and avoid costly mistakes. The combination of digitisation, automation and data driven insights, with a focus on sustainable business can be a key differentiator and a propelling force to help ensure businesses meet their goals of today and tomorrow,” he adds.
“It all boils down to adaptability. It is driving how businesses are managing technology and accelerating the pace of change. Digitalisation is an imperative now,” emphasises G Ganapathiraman. According to him, broadly, businesses could concentrate on three things:
1. Enable a flexible product flow and ensure that inventories are aligned with consumer demand
2. Improve online presence and maintain close contact with customers, and
3. Manage cash flow and have a sustainable business model.
“When the pandemic ends restructured business models will emerge and the entire landscape will change. So, businesses must be agile and ride the crest of the wave,” says Ganapathiraman.
What strategies can corporates use to inculcate company culture in millennial workforce in a Work From Home or WFH scenario?
“Since the millennials have a different approach, inculcating company culture in them by packaging it in the millennial way would work the best. Keeping everyday interactions respectful and formal but also having weekly informal meetings can help millennials open up and share their experiences. Also, millennials tend to be the most optimistic to adopt new kinds of technologies and practices, so a shift from conventional methods of management to a newer model will be welcomed by them,” opines Himanshu Jadhav. According to him, companies can reap many benefits from joining the tech revolution by saving time and money, creating a better experience for clients and employees while expanding their reach.
“We have done our best to facilitate and manage changes as they happen. ABB is committed to supporting both: protect people, while helping businesses to stay operational during these challenging times,” says Krishnadas Manjaparra and adds that as businesses have limited site work, the need remains to ensure that assets continue to operate across industries. “We are working with customers to ensure access to field operators and service engineers who cannot be on-site at this time, by delivering control room livestreams, operational insights, process data and plant key performance indicators to users working from home. To ensure continuous operations, customers can access a suite of ABB remote-enabled solutions, including remote condition monitoring of critical assets; augmented reality maintenance support; online tools for training and spare parts stocking; and self-diagnoses that mitigate risk to assets, processes and security. This suite of solutions is packaged under the Collaborative Operations Centre portfolio and we have launched it across most industry verticals including Metals, Cement, Paper and Mining,” he elaborates.
“The work-from-home job force just got a big push from the current global coronavirus pandemic. But even before Covid-19 became a factor, increasing numbers of people have been saying goodbye to their onerous commute to work. Thanks to ever-evolving technologies like Skype, Facetime, Slack, Zoom, Google Hangouts, authenticator apps, and cloud computing – not to mention texting and email – it's no longer necessary to be in an office full-time to be a productive member of the team. In fact, many kinds of work can be done just as effectively, if not more so, from a home office,” maintains Rajesh Nath, who also sees this as leading to the next trend, WFA – Work from Anywhere. “Companies with work-from-anywhere policies can boost employee productivity, reduce turnover, and lower organisational costs,” he says.
“Work from home culture is acceptable in the IT sector while manufacturing has its own challenges as it is labour intensive, physical presence is needed. Supply chain also plays an important role as there has to be a tight knit coordination with suppliers and customers in order to maintain better operational efficiency,” points out Sandeep Prabhakar. “The O&M team also has to upgrade themselves with Secure Remote Access solutions so that their OEMs can provide remote services and diagnostics on the equipment when it is down. Downtime for system upgrade will impact on productivity and also loss of revenue,” he adds.
Technology alone cannot usher in the digital era. Behavioural change is essential. How can digital technologies help in change management?
“There is a prevailing myth that by deploying wireless technologies and automated machines, the organisation will turn digital. It is far from the truth. Tech is just a tool. A digital organisation will use these tools and technologies for all activities internal and external, to gain competitive advantage,” states PV Sivaram emphatically. “Digital organisations will use data for all decisions. Arriving at the decision from data will be using transparent algorithms. This data will be obtained from the public domain or voluntarily shared by the second party. There will be an audit trail for all decisions. By informing employees about how data is collected and how it will be used, a bond of trust can be established. By revealing the checks and bounds mechanism, employees are encouraged to use data for making decisions as against intuition or guesswork,” he elaborates.
According to Rajesh Nath, advancements of modern technology are actually making us safer – not only can new forms of password protection help to safeguard our digital files and documents, advances in voice recognition and gesture control also create a heightened degree of security for our devices and homes. “As remote computer hacking becomes a greater concern, the marriage of data to a local hard drive – or better yet, to a small set of drives – can be the best course of action for any individual or company hoping to keep information safe. Hardware- and software-based data encryption systems encode your information so that only authorised parties are able to retrieve and read it. In the event that an intruder does manage to breach your front door, ADT home automation technology can send immediate alerts to your mobile device – whether you are in the house or miles away at the time of break-in – allowing you to take the necessary precautions to ensure your and your household’s safety,” he elucidates.
So what will be the Covid-19 impact on campaigns like Aatmanirbhar Bharat, Startup India and the path ahead in 2021?
“Campaigns like Aatmanirbhar Bharat were launched in the midst of the lockdown – so it would be right to say that the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated these programmes. In these unprecedented times, India is working to structure a balanced strategy between saving lives and restoring economic activity. The outbreak of Covid-19 and government-mandated social distancing norms have impacted various sectors and while short-term repercussions are likely to be seen, India’s long-term vision is laudable. This movement of becoming self-reliant is what will charter the next course of growth for the country,” says G Ganapathiraman. About Startups, he feels India has borne the brunt of the Covid-19 impact as funds have dried up and many startups have shut down. “The adverse impact is being felt in the form of disrupted supply chains, depleted cash flows and steep fall in revenues. To help startups weather the storm, the government must provide fiscal incentives and rebates. The path ahead in 2021 will be about rebuilding a resilient and self-reliant India through collaboration,” suggests Ganapathiraman.
For Krishnadas Manjaparra, the vision to build an India for the world is highly commendable. Startups and technology innovators will play a key role in accomplishing this mission. “Of course, the success of these campaigns depends very much on fixing the fundamentals… revamping our education system so youngsters are employable, making it easier to do business, reduced bureaucracy, increased diversity in our workplaces, better infrastructure, etc.,” he says. According to Krishnadas, ABB has always seen the value of localisation in India. “We have an extensive footprint in manufacturing, engineering and R&D and have been working towards localisation for several decades. In fact, our R&D centre in Bangalore for Automation and Digital is the largest centre for us globally,” he emphasises.
Are we doing enough in areas like employee wellness, social support, occupational safety and infection prevention? How can MSMEs and startups leverage the new technologies to gain competitive advantage vis-à-vis large corporates?
“MSMEs have the advantage of being able to bring out change sooner than their larger counterparts. Larger companies, on the other hand, are restricted due to their pre-existing heavy investment in their current setup. It makes them very reluctant to try out newer things. When it comes to start-ups, they’re very fortunate to be in a position where they don’t have to replace anything as such. They can start anew with the new available technologies, and maintain their way of execution of projects without having any strings attached from previous practices. MSMEs and start-ups can utilise this opportunity to capture a position that can bring immense attention towards themselves for providing process security by using the tools of the digital revolution,” says Himanshu Jadhav.
“Startups have the most to benefit by using new technologies. In general, they have more entrepreneurial energies, more receptive to new ideas, and so are eager to experiment. They fit the requirement of agile working – ‘Fail quickly and pickup fast’. This is not a method available to the dominant players in the market. Startups are best positioned to create disruption in the existing order of things,” says PV Sivaram, while maintaining MSMEs have a different set of concerns regarding new technologies. “In general, they are more focussed on RoI considerations. Calculating and predicting RoI for data technologies is tricky. It is not the gadgets which provide the competitive advantage, it is the workforce practices using the data, and management decisions which are based on data. Second area of concern is regarding access to qualified personnel to operate and interpret the new picture of business and operations. Having said this, however MSMEs do need to invest in these technologies to be able to integrate into large supply chains,” he sums up.
The Forrester Report, cited at the beginning, has also made this pertinent observation, which is very relevant for the industry going into the New Year:
“2021 will mark a turning point. The business landscape has fundamentally shifted. Success will depend on firms’ ability and willingness to harness disruption to drive meaningful change.”
(Note: The responses of various experts featured in this story are their personal views and not necessarily of the companies or organisations they represent. The full interviews are hosted online at https://www.iedcommunications.com/interviews)