From creating microchips that never fail to ships that navigate themselves, diverse businesses are collaborating to deliver innovative solutions for their customers. These networks – or ecosystems – are driving change in the era of Business 4.0.

Day two of the TCS Summit Europe heard from three firms that have all leveraged Tata Consultancy Services’ Co-Innovation Network (COIN) to work with innovative startups, and even competitors, to transform their businesses.

First, delegates learned how TCS applies its ideas to its own business. The TCS recruitment ecosystem, including more than 2,500 universities, was built to help the company find the best talent globally. Now it is shared with TCS’ clients to help them access the best talent too.

Dutch shipbuilder Damen Shipyards has created new business models by connecting and collaborating with its broader ecosystem. Founded in 1927 and pioneering with modularization and standardization since the late sixties, the family-owned firm has now embarked on an ambitious journey digitalizing its business and working towards autonomous vessels.

Aart Rupert, Damen’s Chief Information Officer, described how the company took advantage of the on average 10,000 sensors that are installed on each of its vessels and connected them via the Internet of Things (IoT) to its newly built ‘Connected Vessel Platform’.

“We can make our ships smarter and safer. We can give customers more services and create new business models for Damen. In the past, we were maybe just a shipbuilder. But we have moved more and more towards being a maritime solution provider,” he said

Chips in the paint

Damen ran a hackathon run within its ecosystem, which led to a significant breakthrough when a team from an international chemicals company created an algorithm for its paint that could monitor and predict the erosion of hull coatings. Paint breakdown causes drag, which increases fuel consumption – so knowing when to repaint saves money.

Damen’s Connected Vessel app, meanwhile, allows customers to monitor everything from fuel consumption and other relevant information about performance of the vessel to the weather and a ship’s GPS position in real time. “One-third of the operational cost of a vessel is fuel. As you can imagine, when we provide our customers with this information, we see some nice benefits,” said Rupert.

The company’s ecosystem is helping it with solutions for the future, too. The next big thing in shipping is autonomous vessels and Damen is working with several companies from their ecosystem. 

Of its ecosystem, Rupert said: “It’s a relationship based on trust, leadership, and ownership. With the help of our trusted partners, we will continue this journey, and we will transform the shipbuilding industry again and again.”

Retail survival

Change was very much on the agenda of Carl Dawson, Chief Information Officer at Marks & Spencer, too. One of the largest clothes retailers in the UK and a major player in the food market, M&S, he said, has embarked on a transformation programme to continue to innovate in a fast-changing world.

“Three years ago, we consciously decided to change” said Dawson. “As our chairman said last year, we don’t have a God-given right to exist. And unless we change, in decades to come, there will be no M&S.”

For M&S that has meant creating an ecosystem to leverage partners such as TCS and Microsoft. Last year, the company moved all its cloud applications to Microsoft Azure. “We’re one of a handful of retailers worldwide that are working with them to investigate how to use data and artificial intelligence to improve the operations and efficiencies of our stores,” said Dawson.

In its flagship London store, 56 cameras are streaming five terabytes of data every day to work out how to efficiently manage data and improve its offering to customers. “We don’t know where that’ll lead but we’re excited about it,” he said.

Working with TCS allowed M&S to move away from its legacy mainframes and halve the number of systems in its food business. “As a result, we’re much faster. We’ve shifted to agile,” said Dawson. “They have injected external innovation to help our internal team.”

The M&S ecosystem now includes an investment firm specializing in retail startups, giving the company access to pipeline of fresh ideas. It has also taken bold commercial steps such as buying a 50% stake in UK internet retailer Ocado to jump-start the M&S online food business.

“I’m absolutely clear that by using the right set of partners, the right ecosystem, carefully targeted at the right outcomes for our business, we’re doing the right things to make sure that M&S not only survives for the future but for the next 50 or 100 years,” said Dawson.

Carl Dawson, Chief Information Officer at Marks & Spencer at the TCS Summit Europe

A data centre on wheels

Survival was very much on the mind of Olli Hyyppä, Chief Information Officer & SVP at NXP Semiconductors. The Finnish company makes microchips for the automotive industry – and the nature of the business means their customers have exacting standards.

Hyyppä recalled how in the early days of computing, customers were willing to tolerate a failure rate of one in a million. That then became one in a billion. But today it’s zero, and it’s easy to see why it matters. A failed chip might mean, for example, that a car’s windows won’t open in an emergency.

“Or the quality fail could mean your self-driving car doesn’t detect another car and it’s going to be involved in a crash,” said Hyyppä. “So clearly there is real need for quality improvement.”

Describing a modern car as “a data centre on wheels”, he said the number and value of microchips in a vehicle is growing all the time. The driver’s seat of a Mercedes now has 20 embedded within it.

Eliminating failures means creating multiple sensors to monitor all aspects of the production process. Working with TCS, NXP built an ecosystem of partners to help it understand the data it was gathering and identify the source of problems.

“What’s the secret sauce of our collaboration and operating in this kind of pretty complex technical ecosystem?” asked Hyyppä. “I would say the technology itself is clearly intricate. But the real thing is about certainty. It’s about getting and processing the data and it’s about doing that 24/7. For this, TCS is my friend in this journey to find the needle from the haystack.”