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A New Beginning: Operating remotely and autonomously

Regu Ayyaswamy, SVP & Global Head – Internet of Things (IoT) at TCS, shares his views on the game-changing role remote and autonomous systems are playing in the disrupted world of today, and their potential to shape the connected world of tomorrow.

It’s 8 AM in the morning. Roger gets ready for another typical day at work—albeit from the safe confines of his home. Ever since the pandemic struck, he has settled into a new routine that is radically different from his previous one. As the control room supervisor of the city’s largest power plant, he used to spend his entire day in a room full of blinking lights, painstakingly watching out for alarms that would give the slightest indication of something going wrong in the plant. But that is not the case anymore.

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Today, Roger simply needs to pick up his tab and with a single tap on his screen, gain access to a virtual control room, where he can monitor every single anomaly in the plant from the comfort of his home. What’s more, he can get alerts on predictions about the failure of a boiler or turbine or any other equipment, and schedule a maintenance check in advance, thereby averting any potential disaster and keeping the lights on in the process— literally—throughout the city. And as he pauses for a moment to take a deep swig from his black coffee and begins to go over the performance of the plant, he feels pleased, and more importantly, safe during this unprecedented pandemic.

What is true for Roger today is also true for his peers across almost all industries. With the power of IoT at their disposal, mining operators, oil field workers, factory workforce, and logistics operators today have the potential to tap into remote monitoring and operations. The COVID-19 pandemic is driving this digital transformation for many companies, perhaps, more so than before when digital transformation was a CXO agenda.  It is not surprising then that even companies that had not yet set out on a digital transformation roadmap, are today leaning heavily on technology-led recovery and revival and gearing up to get back on their growth trajectory.

The New Beginning

In this New Beginning, organizations need to remotely operate & monitor their businesses and build real-time responsive systems by connecting the physical context with sensors and devices to enterprise digital ecosystems. This calls for first connecting their assets to the ecosystem and then leverage real-time data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to impart a predictive capability to their operations.

From connected mines to connected ships, and power plants to any other industrial units, the ability to connect remotely, collect information, pass on intelligence to the systems and enable them to perform with limited and remote supervision, has helped many enterprises to tide through this pandemic and prepared them to operate in the new world order in an extremely flexible and agile manner.

An industry perspective: Shifting gears towards remote and optimized operations

In the context of the current pandemic, enterprises who have set out on this journey early have had a distinct advantage in being able to resume operations and swiftly adapt to the changing requirements.

For example, Damen Shipyards, a European ship building major, whose vessels keep the flow of goods and services through the world economy, set out to transform themselves into a maritime services provider. They created the Connected Vessels Platform powered by IoT to enable remote diagnosis, predictive maintenance, and digital logbook for their customers and the entire ecosystem. This proved to be a game changer for them in rapidly transitioning to remote operations. They have minimal staff presence on the field for employee safety, and continue to serve their customers diligently without any disruption.

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The changes today, in consumer preferences and buying habits have compelled Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) players to move towards increased personalization, facing varying demand conditions and the need to optimize production with a limited workforce. To address this atypical problem for the industry, which has thus far been accustomed to mass manufacturing and volume-driven growth, robotics has indeed proven to be a godsend.

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Johnson & Johnson, a leading healthcare and consumer goods major, has made significant progress in realizing its vision of an autonomous factory. One such application of robotics that has clearly benefited their factories, is the use of cognitive grippers, which can pick up objects irrespective of their shapes and sizes. This eliminates the constant need to change parts—taking a step towards autonomous operations and ensuring optimized production.

Another sector, which is experiencing a sudden stress on its systems is logistics. Postnord, one of the largest European postal service providers, is experiencing Christmas-like business volumes month after month, as consumers shift to online ordering of parcels during the pandemic. This change in consumer behavior is expected to sustain even after the pandemic eases out, thereby necessitating the reimagination of the complete business dynamics and value chain. Logistics is a low-margin business with a constant hawk-like focus on cost. The entire fleet of Postnord’s distribution cars in the region have been fitted with dongles, which helps them to track and optimize the usage of distribution cars. Consumer demand is inevitable. Hence, leveraging autonomous operations will help organizations become flexible.

The journey towards autonomous systems

As we traverse further in our journey towards the evolution of technology, connected systems of this kind that unlock the power of real-time data and predictive analytics can be promoted to a self-aware state, thereby empowering them to be self-healing, self-managing, and self-optimizing in nature. This brings up the aspect of autonomous. Autonomous systems operate in complex and open-ended environments with high levels of independence and self-determination. They perceive, learn, reason, and act with self-awareness and respond intelligently to unforeseen changes in the environment. There are many industries that have devised their road map to reach that self-aware or autonomous’ state.

Even in today’s dynamic business environment, by embracing disruptions enterprises are getting one step closer to realizing the vision of a truly autonomous world. The collaboration, co-creation, and entrepreneurial innovation in technologies such as robotics and haptics, the ecosystem of technology and solution providers, service providers, and the academia is bound to accelerate the adoption of autonomous systems as we learn to sustain businesses in the new beginning.

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