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West Bengal Government bets big on new advanced technologies

The Emerging Tech Conclave held in Kolkata, hosted jointly by The Indian Express Group and the Govt of West Bengal, was attended by senior leaders from the state government along with eminent thought leaders from across the country, who discussed the best practices for digital transformation in the state

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With the objective to recognise the dynamism and enthusiasm shown by the government and major enterprises in aggressively pursuing their plans of digital transformation, The Indian Express Group and the Government of West Bengal jointly organised the Emerging Tech Conclave, in Kolkata. The two-day conference saw partcipation of senior leaders from the state government, including Dr Amit Mitra, Minister-in-Charge, IT, Electronics and e-Governance; Finance; Industry, Commerce & Enterprises; Micro Small and Medium Enterprise and Textiles, Government of West Bengal, and Debashis Sen, IT Secretary, Government of West Bengal, along with many illustrious names from the Indian corporate sector.

In his keynote address, Sen focused on the use of emerging technologies, e-commerce model for e-rickshaw services, a hackathon and Python coding classes in schools. “We are having a hackathon which we call ‘Bengalathon’. One of the problems that we have given to the participants to solve is ’totos-on-call’. Can we not have an e-marketplace for totos? Most of these totowallahs don’t have smartphones, and no app runs on a non-smartphone. So how do we solve it? That is the challenge that we have posed in our hackathon, or Bengalathon,” Sen stated.

Further, Sen spoke about creating an ecosystem for emerging technologies which will directly provide jobs and development in the economy. “The government, through Webel, has already started an animation academy called Webel DQE Animation Academy. Moreover, we are eager to propose that ‘Bengal means Blockchain’, and are considering blockchain use cases in the government sector for property, financial transactions, crowdfinancing the public projects, and much more,” he mentioned.

The conclave was also attended by Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express Group and other dignitaries. A panel discussion, ‘Idea Exchange with CEOs’, was moderated by Goenka. Manish Prakash, Managing Director – Healthcare, Education and Public Sector, Microsoft India; Kamal Nath, CEO, Sify Technologies; Deepak Maheshwari, Director – Government Affairs, India, ASEAN & China and Srikanth RP, Group Editor, Express Computer & CRN, were part of the panel. The panelists discussed various challenges faced by government organisations and how emerging technologies could help in solving those issues. Nath said, “Emerging technologies are the next big wave to bring about change; they are unavoidable for economies and nations. These will create new jobs and would need a new and smart approach. Artificial intelligence would require a lot of data made available to everyone, everywhere, and tools and algorithms to provide smart intelligence from data.” The panel discussion concluded by giving the success recipe for West Bengal to be the technology hub.

Emerging technologies
A panel discussion on ‘Using emerging technologies (AI, blockchain, IoT, analytics) for digital transformation’ was moderated by Kirti Patil, Executive Vice President & CTO, Kotak Life Insurance. Basant Chaturvedi, Head – Information & Communication Technology, Perfetti Van Melle India spoke about the capabilities of AI to churn huge data and how organisations with structured data can bring beneficial results. Hiren Shah, Head- IT, Reliance Nippon Life Asset Management and Bhupendra Pant, former CIO & VP, IT, Welspun Corp were the other panelists. “Businesses need to first identify the business pain point to roll out AI. It is also critical to clean up data. If data is treated the right way, then it can be next to oil. Startups are at the edge, with the best technologies. Businesses need to change their vendor strategies,” Chaturvedi added.

In his session, Alok Khanna, Executive Director – IS, Indian Oil Corporation, spoke about how technology can make an impact, with the government and the public sector taking firm decisions to bring about change.

People-centric applications
The highlight of ETC 2018 was a fireside chat between Goenka and Dr Mitra, who highlighted how the West Bengal government is focusing on people-centric applications in adopting emerging technologies and its goal is to take these technologies to the grassroot level.

Responding to a question raised by Goenka on how difficult it had been for the state government to work with major IT companies, Dr Mitra stated, “After seeing the transparent tendering process here, technology companies are flocking to Bengal to compete for orders.”

Speaking about adopting emerging technologies, the Minister said, “We are looking at where we can apply blockchain. We have massive amounts of land records and want to explore whether it is possible to use blockchain for this; and the healthcare sector. We are also looking at adopting blockchain in the city’s traffic control system.” In the process of soil testing for agricultural growth in the state, the government will explore high-end technologies like AI.

The Minister said it was not easy for the Trinamool Congress government to change the mindsets of the people and the government employees after coming to power in 2011, by defeating the 34-year-old Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front. “I think the change has been huge, the challenge was also huge. The year before we came to office, the man-days lost were `78 lakh due to strikes. It took two years to bring that to around 5,000 man-days lost in a full year. Within the fourth year, it reduced to zero, and has persisted to be zero,” said Dr Mitra.

The keynote address on the second day was given by VS Parthasarathy, Group CIO & Group CFO, Mahindra & Mahindra, who spoke about how traditional businesses get disrupted by just one spark of the digital. “Emerging technologies are impacting the society, people, governance and businesses,” he said, adding that he believed in the federation and enabling the workforce, by allowing them to learn and re-learn.

A power discussion by Avaya, was attended by IT leaders from across the country. Adarsh Kaul, India & SAARC Lead Marketing, Avaya spoke about the perceptions organisations consider when they are looking at deepening the customer experience. He further interacted with the participants in order to understand their approach on digital to enhance the customer experience.

Bibek Agarwala, CFO, Raymond won the ‘Express Digital CFO Awards,’ hosted at the conference.

Rise of the digital CFO
The conference explored the rise of the digital CFO, who plays a strategic role in data-driven value creation (turning data into insights), cross-functional collaboration (enabling real-time virtual collaboration while being compliant) and cybersecurity. For CFOs, digital technologies will also play a key role in capital allocation, measurement of value creation and in proactively addressing risk and better management using centralised dashboards and digital workflows; and getting real-time alerts using analytics. A panel discussion on ‘How CFOs are using digital technologies to transform finance’ was moderated by V S Parthasarathy, Group CIO & Group CFO, Mahindra & Mahindra. The participants were Rajendra Kamath, Group CFO, Reliance Retail; Ramesh Bafna, Senior Director Finance, Flipkart; Indroneel Dutt, CFO, Cleartrip; Bibek Agarwala, CFO, Raymond; and Rashmi Joshi, CFO and Whole Time Director, Castrol India.

Joshi said, “AI and robotics will reduce the decision-making time. Emerging technologies offer numerous pockets to drive the business, provided the technology is chosen carefully.” Agarwala, added, “Do not forget the existing business, please adopt the technology and do not just straight away change. Be flexible, take the risk, but not at the stake of compliance.”

In his special session on ‘New age CFO: Digital transformation – strategy, approach, and tools’, Srinivas Phatak, Group CFO, Hindustan Unilever spoke about the new dimensions introduced by data and technology, which are leading to value creation and protection. “In this digital world, CFOs are required to be pragmatic and disruptors, at the same time, being reluctant and risk-taking. Harnessing the power of data is an asset for organisations. The fundamental change is coming through the adoption of technology to create and protect the value. Finance roles have to be strategic leaders who partner with the business and run it,” he said.

In a special address on ‘Best practices from digital transformation,’ Jayanta Banerjee, Global CIO, Tata Steel, affirmed that digital transformation cannot happen without a strong IT background, as digital has to ride on a fundamental IT backbone. “IT and digital vision is aligned to the organisation’s long-term objectives and has to move the transformation from instinct to initiative. We have gone 100 per cent on the cloud, which is giving the company scale, speed and agility,” Banerjee mentioned.

“IT and finance; one is blood and other is flesh, and together they keep the organisation breathing and beating,” stated Parthasarathy in his closing remarks.

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