Is becoming a connected enterprise still possible in a post-COVID reality?

The COVID-19 pandemic is easing around the world and, for the most part, organizations are settling down to the challenging task of rebuilding their businesses in the new economic reality.

Many enterprises are resuming regular office operations, while others are persisting with remote working arrangements. Others still are reconnecting disrupted supply chains, or getting back in touch with salespeople or business partners located in different towns or countries altogether.

One thing all companies have in common is that remaining reliably connected will be integral to resuming some semblance of regular working arrangements.

Here in Asia, where the uneven distribution of communications tools is a rule rather than an exception, telecommunications service providers have proven invaluable, not only in helping enterprises stay connected in spite of new work requirements, but in pushing the quality of digitalized services and offerings in a shorter time span, to meet mounting customer needs.

Tata Communications last month announced that its Asia Direct Cable (ADC) Consortium is building a high-performance submarine cable connecting China (Hong Kong SAR and Guangdong Province), Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The firm was one of the early initiators of the ADC, and its high capacity optical fibers can carry 140 Tbps of traffic, enabling high capacity transmission of data across the East Asian and Southeast Asian regions, and supplying an additional route to connect with Tata Communications’ existing global network.

Tech Wire Asia spoke to Srinivasan CR, the Chief Digital Officer for Tata Communications, about how data-driven technologies and connectivity is helping to future-proof enterprises around Asia.

Tata Communications sees itself as a digital ecosystem enabler, and in today’s world if a well-equipped digital ecosystem is the engine that keeps your business running– big data is the oil that keeps it working smoothly.

“Data is the new currency, the new oil… we can confidently say that 90% of the data that we see today was created in the past two years, because that is the rate at which we are accelerating on the creation of data,” said Srinivasan, commenting on the quicker pace of today’s data-driven intelligent systems.

Tata Communications’ data insights are driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), and Srinivasan says these data analytics tools will be indispensable for enterprises looking to scale up their operations. “Because that will ensure the analytics is useful for the company to scale, by actually using algorithms that are smarter, that are faster, and can do the work consistently and self-learn – that’s where the scalability of the data will come from.”

“I call those technologies the new members or new employees of every team. Because they need to be embraced, they need to be accepted, they need to be trained as you would do with any new employee,” he said.

Tata Communications provides last-mile services to connect customers’ offices around the world to its network. It uses an algorithm that is based on historical data and that is able to generate intelligent feasibility quotes very quickly compared to what would have been possible manually.

Next-generation tech advancements like cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT) enabled connectivity, and AI are being increasingly embraced by organizations as they pivot towards digitalizing their systems and processes. While accelerating the company’s digital maturity, they will also consume much more data to function efficiently.

Providers of high-performance connectivity capabilities are looking towards 5G to provide the performance robustness to support the heightening data transmission needs. “5G gives you the ability to get rid of the bandwidth constraint from the conversation, particularly when you talk about the data or insights that would be truly meaningful to the point that it would make sense,” Srinivasan said.

The technology, he said, is an enabler of edge computing, which takes the processing of data closer to where it’s being generated, without compromising its quality and the decisions that are being made because of the bandwidth, he continued.

What digital-led trends did Tata see forming at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic? “When COVID-19 started impacting places like India, workplaces obviously were seen as less safe from a proximity standpoint, so people started working from home,” noted digital chief Srinivasan.

“That countered the [previous] data requirements of enterprises; we saw 650-plus [enterprise] customer orders for additional bandwidth augmentation” to cope with the additional demand during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, and identified by a large number of other studies, Srinivasan saw a surge in demand for cybersecurity as people began working from home.

“I don’t know if it was a coincidence, but in the last three months, we have seen a lot more [cybersecurity] vulnerabilities come out in the open,” he said. “A lot more exploits and a lot more data breaches have been occurring, so all these are making people look a lot more at data connectivity and securing that connectivity.”

With the coronavirus still a threat in India, Srinivasan was hesitant to speculate about post-COVID digital transformation trends – but feels that a more rapid uptake of digitalization is inevitable for those enterprises that want to remain relevant.

“Post-COVID is anyone’s guess, it’s crystal-gazing until things actually settle down, but from where I see things, I think digitalization is going to accelerate,” he said emphatically.

“We’re going to see a massive acceleration of digital transformation – meaning more data, more connectivity, more security, because security is going to become ingrained in everything that we do.”

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