Key members of the C-suite – chief technology officers, chief innovation officers or digital officers – are now similar to the alchemists of the past, transforming businesses through the use of artificial intelligence, data, Internet of Things and blockchain.

So said K. Ananth Krishnan, Executive Vice President & Chief Technology Officer, Tata Consultancy Services. Opening the first panel session of the TCS Europe Summit he declared: “We do live in exciting times.”

Krishnan said that over the last 15 years he had witnessed the dramatic growth of ecosystems for innovation “in leaps and bounds”.

Chris Webster, Senior Vice President IT Strategy & Architecture at grocery retailer Ahold Delhaize said that creating a Business 4.0™ ecosystem was no longer a nice to have, but also essential to the survival of his enterprise.

The need for partners

Faced with digital native companies like Amazon moving into its market, Ahold Delhaize had to accept the need to change and use new technologies to deliver a truly personalized digital service to customers. 

“As an organization, we simply cannot invest all we need to in order to adopt all of those technologies. We don’t have access to Amazon’s $25 billion per annum budget, so we have to work with partners,” he said.

Emphasizing the need to choose innovative partners, Webster described how his company worked with a partner who developed interactive shelf-edge labels which give customers an experience tailored to their needs as they shop. 

K. Ananth Krishnan at the TCS Summit Europe.

Driving positive health outcomes

Ecosystems are not new for businesses in the life sciences sector, according to Daniel Hartert, Chief Information Officer at Bayer AG & Chairman of the Executive Board, Bayer Business Services. But technology is transforming how they work.

“We are already in an ecosystem: we have patients, hospitals, national health systems and the companies, so that is an ecosystem by itself and that is rather difficult and costly,” he explained.

Ecosystems could help overcome one of the biggest challenges facing pharmaceutical companies – how to predict which new drugs and treatments will work. Currently 99% fail to make it through development to the patient. 

Now, by sharing patient data in an ecosystem, Bayer is able to use AI algorithms to decide which medicines to prioritize, shaving at least two years off the development schedule.

The ultimate ambition is to spot problems before patients become ill. “We have predictive maintenance for machines but where is the predictive maintenance for us, for people?” he asked.

In the future, data gathered by devices like Fitbit would inform clinicians that there was a problem long before they felt any symptoms, enabling people to live longer, healthier lives.

Green ambitions

Data is also driving energy giant Total’s ambition to be a responsible energy provider. Marie-Noëlle Semeria, the company’s Senior Vice President, Group Chief Technology Officer, told delegates that this goal could only be achieved by leveraging ecosystems. 

Technology is driving the transition from an oil and gas company to a business that is generating green electricity and improving the efficiency at its refineries, reducing emissions by 15%.

The Total Refinery 4.0 program depends on a diverse ecosystem of partners to deliver a better world with better energy. “The key to success – and it’s the same for all the partnerships- lies in trust in order to rely on the experience of the partner, to really link together what we do best,” Semeria explained.

“In order to be able to make a breakthrough happen, we need full trust, full commitment, and to go beyond what we already know. So, it’s a very high expectation that we have for all our partnerships. And it’s really key to be agile, to move in new fields and to discover.”

Marie-Noëlle Semeria speaking at the TCS Summit Europe.

Driving cultural shifts

Similarly, ecosystems are also crucial to Denmark-based telecom operator TDC Group, where Chief Information Officer Antonietta Mastroianni is right in the middle of the separation of the group into two new entities focused on infrastructure and digital.

For the 130-year-old company it has been a massive change, she said, calling for the creation of a whole new culture.  TDC is deliberately breaking down its traditional structures to drive innovation, creating digital tribes and partnering with startups. “Basically, we leverage them in order to make sure that we can get access to the best digital solution.”

Already the company has built a monitoring system that allows it to see what the customers are experiencing in real time.

Meeting tomorrow’s challenges

A key theme of this Summit is abundance and all the panelists agreed that we are living in age of data and technology abundance. 

However, there was one note of caution sounded regarding the abundance of data. “If there is too much data, it’s not useful. We really need to select the most relevant data in order to be able to manage our assets in real-time,” said Total’s Marie-Noëlle Semeria. 

And Ahold Delhaize’s Chris Webster was unconvinced that there was an abundance of talent. He said that he had encountered issues where people were unable to use the data tools his team were providing.

“I describe it as giving people a V12 engine and we’re using two cylinders. The problem there is the talent. It’s not just the talent to use the technology, but the talent to understand what is good data science,” he explained.

Despite these challenges, the opportunities are enormous. And technology is transforming a wide range of industries, often with the help of partners and the right ecosystem.