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When Digital Becomes Human at Infocom Kolkata

Digital Becomes Human

Last week, I happened to watch the film E.T – Extra-Terrestrial, with my 10-year old son. This was the 10th time I watched the 1982 American sci-fi film by Steven Spielberg. Like many of us, I also have tears in my eyes every time when the moment comes for E.T. to say goodbye to Elliott, his human friend. Before E.T. aliens were always labeled as ‘bad’; they were our enemies. There was nothing human about them. Their lack of human qualities made them something to be feared. E.T. changed all that with the filmmaker creating an extraterrestrial with a warm, human side. It paved the way for filmmakers who started making ‘good’ aliens in films having similar human aspiration. 

Last week, I also attended one of India’s biggest events Infocom 2018 that’s aimed at technology professionals, corporate leaders, academics, visionaries, and policymakers. The three-day conclave held at ITC Sonar and now in its 17th edition chose the very pertinent theme, “When Digital Becomes Human”. With digital world encroaching human spaces making the human touch and interactions rare, the conference explored various the challenges, opportunities and changing dynamics which digital transformation brings to fore. 

The commonalities between the film and the event are obvious. Both the entities bring out the point that Emotional relationships are strong. In business, successful customer relationship relationships make the difference by virtue of their emotional content. But the emotional part of a relationship can only work if the rational, practical side of that relationship also runs smoothly. The successful customer relationship of the future will therefore be built on digital perfection and human touch to a point when the customer relationship excels in both its digital and human aspects. And that’s why this year’s Infocom – brings together experts from Business, IT, Government and SMEs from across India and SAARC – with its theme ‘when digital becomes human’ becomes even more pertinent today.

Digital Transformation and humans

Needless to say that digital is no longer a buzzword and is being chronicled and debated by experts across in various forums, as organizations have begun to embark on their digital transformation journeys and subsequently, with the changing landscape of customer experiences, the yardstick of companies is being measured by their focus and relationship with their customers.

What needs to be highlighted is the focus is not only on how digital technology is touching the lives of every human being today in one way or the other, but also as most speakers stressed on how rapid digitalization is deeply impacting relationships.

As Steven Van Belleghem, thought-leader and entrepreneur, Co-founder of Nexxworks and Snackbytes said in his keynote address that consumers now live in a world of automation, smart data and demand proactive customer service. Self-service, automation and robots would dominate the customer relations of the future and the time is fast approaching when the computers will dominate our lives making human interactions rare. This will make the human touch all the more important because of its ability to offer significant added value within the impersonal digital landscape.  As a result, enterprises need to focus on human transformation on an equal footing as digital transformation. The future is both, digital and human!

Dr. Bhaskar Ghosh, Group Chief Executive, Accenture Technology Services believes that our lives have already changed in the last one decade, whether in the hospitals or on the football field. Concepts like the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial intelligence (AI) and big data will continue to grow big and humans will get more value out of it in the days to come.

An interesting panel discussion on ‘Humanizing the customer experience in the digital age’ brings to light why brands must ensure that a human aspect always remains the key priority in their digital transformation journey. In this regard, Sridhar Narayan, Enterprise Manager – Digital Transformation, Adobe India, discussed the way to humanize the experience of a truck driver – a profession that is fast disappearing. “After a brainstorming session we not only started monitoring their speed, but also came up with a portal for truck drivers where they can share pictures. This assured the drivers and they started loving their jobs.”

Amitabh Ray, Managing Director, Ericsson India Global Services emphasized on the skills that will make digital transformation relevant. “Digital transformation is about the uplift of humankind. IoT for example can help those engaged in farming, agriculture, pisciculture, and similar professions. The need of the hour for future generation is to learn how digital transformation can redefine itself and learn those skills to remain relevant.”

While the debate on whether digital and human can coexist, or ‘Will Human Beings Become Obsolete?” Aritra Sarkar, CEO, Wedoria Technologies, believes that robots and machines will make our lives easier, but can never replace the human element necessary to make an experience outstanding. Even the most realistic robots couldn’t offer the same human connection as an actual person.

“Though machine learning is growing by leaps and bounds, they still struggle to recognize and correctly process human emotion. When it comes to battling machines for our jobs, it might just turn out that our humanity is the most powerful weapon that we possess.” as Sarkar’s suggestion is, “AI needs to be evaluated with the intention of enriching lives, and not cause any harm.”

When explaining human touch in the digital journey, Kshitij Mishra, Tech Evangelist, Avaya India conducted a brief session on ‘Voice Impact in the Customer Journey’ where he mentions, “Voice has already addressed most of the typical challenges of technology adoption. And implemented correctly, voice can be the customer communication channel of the future.”

The conference also fostered a gamut of discussions ranging from topics such as digital transformations across varied sectors, including BFSI, retail, FMCG, telecom, media and entertainment, IT services, healthcare and ecommerce –each highlighting how automation can make work more human.

Cyber security at the helm

Infocom 2018 would have remained incomplete without the discussion of Cyber Security, which comes across as the primary offshoot of all digital transformation process.

Within modern workplace infrastructure, there are a range of devices that are creating entry to networks – and creating security risks. Mobile devices, printers, desktop PCs and now devices supporting the Internet of Things are among the risks that are often overlooked in security.  And each of those endpoint devices has a network operating system application and data layers and they can be exposed if they’re not monitored and managed correctly.

Sessions by KP Unnikrishnan, Senior Director & Head of Marketing, Asia Pacific & Japan, Palo Alto Networks on ‘Disrupting the Cybersecurity Status Quo’ and Jaspreet Singh, Partner – Cyber Security, Advisory Services, Ernst & Young LLP speaking on ‘Building a Cyber Resilient Enterprise’ on the evolution of cyber resilience and how it is rapidly gaining momentum need a special mention at the event.

Finally, questions such as ‘Will machines eventually outsmart us at all tasks’, ‘would AI replacing humans on the job market or ‘can one build a society free of cyber threats in the age of machine?’ … and many more will continue to be a matter of discussion and debate and platforms like Infocom and others may show us the way forward, but there’s one strong message or take away from these discourses. Technological advancements are amazing, where customer experience will continue to push the envelope as well as digital will become the new normal. But, we must remember one thing when planning and implementing new ideas…we are humans and when rolling out these cutting edge strategies we need to ensure that a human aspect always remains!

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at sohini.bagchi@trivone.com