When you think of Scandinavia, what comes to mind? If you’re like most, then fjords, saunas, ABBA, the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and LEGO’s are probably among your first thoughts. What about Skype, Linux, Spotify, Nokia, SMS texting, and “Erwise” – the first GUI browser? These innovations also emerged from the Nordic countries, who it turns out have a heritage of high tech innovation as rich & varied as a holiday smörgåsbord. That tradition has led to a high level of digital maturity among Scandinavian enterprises, and a culture eager for digital transformation.
To better understand the unique IT characteristics that differentiate this region of the world, we speak with Himadri Das, Head of Automation at TietoEVRY, Scandinavia’s biggest IT, business consulting, and outsourcing services provider. Himadri shares with us how best to sell AI, ML, and other advanced technologies in Scandinavia, the 3 “buckets” Scandinavian C-suite executives want addressed when these technologies are proposed to them, and Himadri’s advice on moving forward with digital transformation based on his extensive experience with organizations in Nordic countries.
Guy Nadivi:Welcome everyone. My name is Guy Nadivi, and I’m the host of Intelligent Automation Radio. Our guest on today’s episode is Himadri Das, Head of Automation at TietoEVRY, Scandinavia’s biggest IT, business consulting, and outsourcing services provider with over 24,000 employees. Himadri is TietoEVRY’s designated lead for its AIOps practice. As such, he focuses on driving end-to-end, full-stack automation solutions for TietoEVRY’s clients, and those solutions typically leverage cognitive, machine learning, and AI technologies. Since those are exactly the topics we cover on this podcast, and given the Nordic countries’ reputation as early adopters of innovative technologies, we were very eager to speak with Himadri and learn about digital transformation in Scandinavia. Himadri, welcome to Intelligent Automation Radio.
Himadri Das: Thanks Guy, for inviting me and providing me an opportunity to speak with your audiences, and I am happy to be participant on this conversation. Thank you so much.
Guy Nadivi: Himadri, let’s go right to a big question that’s on everybody’s mind these days. How is COVID-19 affecting MSPs like TietoEVRY, who provide IT services to enterprise clients?
Himadri Das: I think a very relevant question, Guy, and I will be kind of being more practical in my answers to all the questions that you will be asking me. I think typically we need to foresee the model that TietoEVRY is operating in Nordic or in Scandinavian countries. So, essentially it’s a typical model where you have verticals and horizontals. So, when you look into the verticals, we are catering to manufacturing, retail, logistics, financial services, mainly banking and insurance, public sector and the healthcare and the energy sector. I think, if you look into the horizontal services that is cutting across, it is mainly the application business, which is mainly catered by the digital consulting practice, which has bought some customer experience management, cost application, which is off-the-shelf, and the custom application. Then you have infrastructure component, which has all platform infrastructures, data center, and so on. Then Tieto also has the product. We are very strong, TietoEVRY, when it comes to the product business, combining other products within financial services, healthcare, and all the markets that I spoke about. And where we are operating today is essentially in three geographies. I mean we are very strong. It is our go-to market. It is in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and besides we have also operations in U.S., China, India, Ukraine, where we are leveraging our near shore and the offshore capability. Now, when I look, and the reason I’m explaining all this to you is so that we understand how these Nordic countries are operated. So if you look, Nordic countries, they are part of European Union, meaning they have a very strict GDPR and the data privacy policies. But what I have seen in this COVID-19 situation, many myths have been broken. I think we earlier have kind of rigid boundaries in our mind that only you can deliver once you are in office. No, I think now over 95% of population is working from home and I think they are able to deliver most of the services without any major business disruptions with the last two months. So in a way, Guy, I think I have seen this COVID-19 situation has broken a lot of myths. We are able to meet all the requirements that the customer need, yet we are compliant with the SLAs and the KPIs that we have. So, it is kind of a game changer in many ways, this COVID-19 situation.
Guy Nadivi: No question, the coronavirus has been very disruptive. Himadri, what’s been the pandemic’s effect on enterprise decisions about implementing automation, AI, and other digital transformation initiatives.
Himadri Das: I think typically, Guy, if you see this Nordic countries or the Nordic market, Scandinavian market, they’re very advanced when it comes to AI and machine learning or new initiatives, I would particularly say, and if you look back why they are so kind of forthcoming, it is kind of ingrained within the culture, the education system, the openness, the governance model that is within the Nordic countries. So it’s not a surprise that people are very free thinkers. They’re very innovative bent of mind. And what typically works in Nordic market quite efficiently and effective is this hackathon and design thinking way of working. So, meaning if you go to customer, I mean it’s very important that they see things which we are actually telling them, so they don’t believe in PowerPoint presentation. They really want to showcase credentials, references, and since this AI, ML are kind of more of a buzzword, it is very important that we scoop that out and be very clear to them that what we mean by that. So I can give you some examples. Like if you typically look into the healthcare sector or the telecommunication sector or the manufacturing sector that we have in Nordics, I think they are pretty advanced when it comes to the artificial intelligence and the ML capabilities that they are building up. So all healthcare systems are mostly automated and there are certain solutions that we are building up jointly with customers. Well, we want to make sure that the doctors are able to take decisions based on the historical patterns from the customer. So yes, in that manner, I would say Nordic market is quite advanced, quite demanding, quite challenging. So customer not only wants an automation solution on the run part, they really want to see how automation is going to impact on their business side of it and on their support function side of it. So that way it’s a learning market and it’s a challenging market.
Guy Nadivi: Now, you mentioned that Nordic countries are advanced and their culture favors free thinking, but I want to drill down a bit more granularly and ask you specifically, how do CIOs and CTOs in Nordic countries approach automation, AI, et cetera differently?
Himadri Das: Yeah, I think as you rightly asked, I mean, drilling it down basically under the hood, CIOs and CTOs want to understand. And what do you mean by, really, when you say machine learning or artificial intelligence or the automation component? So, I think typically how TietoEVRY has approached customer is bucketing this and simplifying this automation into three baskets. So one is the run basket where you need to keep lights on and you need to make sure that you are able to reduce your OPEX costs as much as possible. The second component is the support function automation. Now, when you talk about support function and the third way, which is a business function, automation part, these two typically caters to what is in it for customer side. So if I’m able to automate the business process of customer, making it more efficient, order-to-cash, pay-to-procure process, I think this is really helping them real-time in order to cut down those cycles and able to automate things right from the service center, till the field, till the operations, with the productions that are happening in the mills. But then on the run side of it, it is very essential that when they’re outsourcing a particular IT services to an IT service provider like TietoEVRY, they’re able to get the skill. They are also able to get the automation and efficiency benefits to them. So in that manner, I think in these three layers, it is very important to justify to customer how AI, ML they are working simultaneously, not in silo, in order to bring that big benefits for the customer.
Guy Nadivi: Now, Gartner reports that AI / ML is the most commonly named game-changing technology by Nordic CIOs. And that was followed by analytics, Internet of things, and automation. The top use cases for AI and automation are chatbots and process optimization. Himadri, what are some of the more interesting AI and automation use cases TietoEVRY has undertaken for its clients?
Himadri Das: It’s again, a very good question, Guy. I think, as I said, there is an ethical angle also, where Nordic countries are extremely strict and I think culturally, data privacy and the GDPR compliances are really, really followed very strictly out here. I mean, so that’s why we really need to see how this AI / ML really shapes up in future when it comes to the Nordic execution or European execution, because there is an ethical angle attached to it. But I can give you certain concrete example, like where we are able to assist other customers in terms of AI and machine learning capability. As I said, I think their healthcare system, if you look, Nordic customers or Nordic countries’ healthcare system or public system, they are among the best in the world. I mean, if you typically see healthcare, I think if you take Sweden, Norway, or Finland, they rank in top five or top ten most of the time, if you take 10 year historical data. Meaning that their healthcare system and public systems are so strong and they are so foolproof that… And it’s automated already. It’s a lot of data driven content in there, it’s not manual. So for example, take a typical Finnish healthcare system. In a Finnish healthcare system… I mean, when you go to a particular hospital, they have something called hospital management system, which is uniform across the country. So wherever you go, doctor has an application where they can feed in their data about the patient information and everything is kind of in the system. In the records. And any patient or any person who has access to healthcare system, he can see his or her records and can take decision any point of time. So he need not have to go and ask for a physical copy. Everything is kind of in the system, soft copies are delivered, meaning there is a tremendous tons of data, which is getting stored. What TietoEVRY has done in one of the assignment with the government healthcare system is, we have looked into that vast amount of data that is getting stored. And these are actually islands of data scattered along multiple municipalities that they have. Now, it’s really important that those data should be brought in, in a data link. Should be cleaned up. And then you can build machine learning and AI capabilities so that doctors are able to see, pause, record, then the historical record based on the patient’s relationship with their hierarchy and should be able to take certain decision. I think that is one pilot that we were able to successfully execute with one of the healthcare system and lot of good business intelligence-driven reports or recommendation. Now doctors are able to give to their patients because of that machine learning capability or AI capability that we have built for them. So similarly, we are building up certain solution for the automation of traffic system in the Nordic market. There are multiple examples that we have executed, Guy, in the Nordic market. But as I said, I think this is a bit advanced market, very demanding market. At the same time, you can have a real learning on the ground, when you are working in automation in the Nordic customs.
Guy Nadivi: Hmm. Interesting. Himadri, Gartner also reported that analytics and automation are the top two areas where Nordic organizations plan to increase investment as part of digital transformation. What do you think are some of the most unrealistic expectations currently plaguing the field of analytics and automation?
Himadri Das: I think, again, a very good question Guy, because at many times… I mean, these are more of hype than the reality. I think when you go and you really dig deep in the real world, I think the biggest challenge that I have foreseen with customers’ environment, and also with vendor’s capability, many a times, is the distributed architecture. I mean, they have data, which is scattered in multiple systems. So you can go and tell them that, okay, move to public cloud. And that is where the entire things will get orchestrated. No, they have a legacy of 40 years, 100 years. During that time, they have created mainframe applications, legacy application, and there is such a tight interconnection between legacy and the new world that it is not easy to kind of, just describe old, and just build something on the new. So what I have seen repeatedly is that a robust or a sound architecture is something where the APIs, SDKs are built on leverage, and you can actually connect between both the world. The legacy world and the modern world. And I think the first biggest challenge or unrealistic thing that we have seen many times, and we need to be very clear with customers so that they are onboarded is the cleaning of the data. Making sure that this data is coming to a common platform. The data is clean. There was junk in, is junk out. But if the data is not clean, if the connections are not proper, we will not get the desired report and the desired analytics that we want to build. So I think that’s one thing, very critical for the data analytics part. On the automation part, I think the biggest hurdle or the biggest roadblock that I have seen, again, this is the biggest opportunity, is how can you break silos and make automation as end-to-end orchestration? And this is easier said than done. Let me take an example. I mean, take this even run automation. Generally people are very much focused towards a specific automation part. Let me automate SAP. Let me automate a custom application. Yes, you will get automation benefit, but those automation benefits will be in small number. But if you are able to automate things from the self-service portal, from service desk, where you are actually getting the real tickets, the huge volume of tickets, then the automation potentials are much, much higher. Because monitoring systems how they are getting integrated with the event of, how they are getting integrated with the orchestration platform, how they are getting integrated with the device analytics. I think that full-stack automation has much higher impact and leverage then doing automation in silos. So I think these are the two things regarding analytics and automation. I think we need to be very mindful and make sure that we are orchestrating full-stack rather than working in silos.
Guy Nadivi: Automation and AI have many value propositions such as cost reduction, error reduction, risk mitigation, et cetera. In your experience Himadri, which value proposition has been most effective in persuading a CEO to overcome any hesitations they might have and move forward with automation and AI.
Himadri Das: I think, again, a very good question, because many times the moment you talk about automation, specifically, I mean, internal audiences within a vendor’s organization or a customer’s organization, has the first perception that, okay, automation means resource reduction. That’s the first mindset that comes and that gets triggered, which is actually wrong. Actually resource reduction is not the objective of automation at all. I think what automation brings in the order of priority in my mind, and I have seen that also with customers when talking to them in Nordics, the first and foremost is the efficiency improvement. Meaning you actually free up your resources because you have a fixed number of resources, because of the pressure that you have now from the downturn in business because of COVID-19 or different situation. So you have limited number of resources and you want them to focus on your business rather than working them on the operation, will then work. I think this is where your automation is very effective. Why to block those resources, just to do operational activity? Why don’t we focus them to push into the business activity of it? So, that’s priority number one. The second part, in my eyes, most important automation initiative has, is the business process effectiveness. So if my order to cash process, my field service, the real execution of that field service, for example, if I’m talking to a cargo company, and in a port they need to deliver something to cranes. And if the crane goes down, there is a direct impact on the revenues for that particular organization. Now, how can we make that process more effective? That the moment there is a breakdown and the moment a field engineer goes there and fixes that up, how can I improve that business process is more important. And that is where automation comes really effective if you are able to automate business process side of it. And then third is the cost reduction part. Again, cost reduction means how can you make your support function run more efficient? And that is not resource reduction. That means improvement on the quality, improvement on the SLA repeatedly, by doing things consistently. So I think that’s the order, I will put, Guy, in terms of automation benefit. So, that is my opinion out there.
Guy Nadivi: Very interesting. Himadri, I would also love to hear what you think are going to be some of the biggest disruptions we’ll see in the next three to five years, with respect to automation, AI, and other digitally transforming technologies.
Himadri Das: I think there multiple things, Guy, which comes to my mind. And I think as an organization, we are also gearing up ourselves into that direction. So if I can give you certain thought process or certain areas of which I truly believe, where the market is going to be in automation. First area is the post-modern enterprise area. So, meaning how the administrative and the operational side of ERP can be made more efficient. I mean, especially if you go to any manufacturing organization or, kind of, any service sector, they demand changes because of the nature of their job. So if I go to a hospitality service there, I don’t have a production unit. I have mainly services unit out there. But if I go to a manufacturing unit like pulp industry or retail industry, good, I need to make sure that I have both operations and the administrative part of it. So many times this post-modern enterprises, the concept that is emerging is very powerful. That how can you focus your ERP strategy based on the industry or the business that you’re operating in and bring automations out there. So I think that’s one area where I see automation will move down the line. I think second, very important, especially with the advent of 5G, which is going to come, is industry 4.0 concept. Meaning how are you able to orchestrate an integrated Internet of Things with the devices that are working on the production? With the devices that are working on the field? On the service side? And making that orchestrated with your IT platform so that business can leverage those functionality. And industry 4.0 is not a concept which is recent. I think this is going on for last 20, 30 years because you have sensors which are built in the manufacturing unit. But the demand will be more and more, especially with the 5G. And I think in this direction, automation will also get a lot of traction. So, that’s the secondary I see automation will move. Third, very interesting area, again at a very nascent stage. But I think that is going to be a disruption and people need to be gearing or organizations need to gear into that direction. It’s quantum computing because how we operate today will actually change totally tomorrow, when you have this quantum computing, which is from a binary, two bits or quantum, quanta, we will move into that direction. This change entire way we see things. Today, we are working on a linear operations in terms of algorithm. Tomorrow, we will be working on an exponential algorithm once this quantum computing comes into place. So I think that is third area where automation will get severely impacted or will change the way we see things. Fourth one, I think, again, that’s very much relevant today, but we need to build more and more traction around it, is artificial intelligence and machine learning, because how are you going to optimize a particular AI algorithm for a particular sector? I think that requires a historical data and that requires self-learning, supervised or unsupervised learning around it. So I think a lot of traction need to be built and it is still in the development phase. I won’t say it’s still in a mature phase. So, that is one side. And the last one I would like to emphasize about, is this distributed architecture. I think it’s very important that in the transformation journey, we don’t land up always telling customer that transform everything, move to SAP or move to Microsoft Dynamics, that will solve your problem. No, it is not, because 80% of their architecture is into legacy. So how are you going to connect that legacy with the new world with API’s, SDK’s, microservices architecture? I think that is very, very critical for good automation solution to be. So I think those are five, six areas where I see that automation is going to move there.
Guy Nadivi: Well, I definitely agree with you that quantum computing is going to be very disruptive. It’ll be very exciting actually to see how it affects automation and AI especially. Himadri for the CIOs, CTOs and other IT executives listening in, what is the one big must-have piece of advice you’d like them to take away from our discussion with regards to moving forward with digital transformation?
Himadri Das: I think there are a few points I would emphasize, Guy. Again, out of my experience and out of the Nordic market demand that we can see, the first and foremost I can see, they’re the KPIs. But the measuring parameters are moving away from operational KPIs over to business-led KPIs. For example, I think it’s very easy to say that, okay, I will keep my network up and running 99.99%. Okay, that’s fine. As a vendor, I’m managing that, but it’s still businesses red. This is called watermelon effect. Rather, I think more and more the direction in which organization will move, that, okay, Dear vendor, I want order-to-cash process to be automated. I want return in order-to-cash process to be automated. So I think those business KPIs will become more powerful demand from organization, especially to the service providers rather than operational-led KPIs. And this is actually moving out from the comfort zone. It means that different vendors need to work in the CR model with different other vendors to make sure that you deliver the business KPIs instead of your own operational KPIs or your own silos. That’s one thing I think more and more organizations need to move, and CIO need to focus on business KPIs. Second part, which I have emphasized multiple times is the integrated architecture. How can you leverage that using APIs and SDKs instead of doing a monolithic shift from a legacy to a new one? I think that’s the second one I would emphasize. Third one is, still keep a very tight focus on the operational efficiencies. I think run efficiencies is where you are going to free up money and you are going to invest into your capex pot, where new or innovative things need to be done. New developments need to be executed. So I think that focus should never go away. And for cognitive AI and ML, I would say, customer, CIOs, CEOs need to put their hands and keep their hands dirty because how can you shift it from a concept to a real execution? I think there I have seen many a times that management focus is not there because these are just jargons. So I think there, we need more and more organization to keep focus, have attention, have a dedication and make sure that it is happening top-down and bottom-up in both ways. So those will be my recommendation in short, Guy.
Guy Nadivi: Some very forthright advice. All right. Looks like that’s all the time we have for on this episode of Intelligent Automation Radio. Himadri, you’re the first thought leader we’ve ever had on the show from Scandinavia and it’s been very interesting to get your perspective on the state of digital transformations in that part of the world. Thank you very much for coming on the show and sharing your insights with us.
Himadri Das: And Guy, thanks for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to speak with you and share my thoughts. Thank you so much.
Guy Nadivi: Himadri Das, head of automation at TietoEVRY, Scandinavia’s biggest IT, business consulting and outsourcing service provider. Thank you for listening everyone. And remember, don’t hesitate, automate.