We cannot be left behind like the proverbial horsewhip manufacturers

MY fondest memory of Durga Puja in Ko­lkata was the annual trip we would make to the local darji or tailor, to stitch our puja clothes, a pair of silk shirts and pleated shorts.

Our tailor Barkat Ali, would solemnly go through the labourious process to take our measurements. We would then visit him for a trial and finally after a few weeks, we would get our manually-tailored clothes.

Even in our juvenile mi­nds, we knew that the pro­cess could have been expedited. But we could never im­agine that tailoring could be automated.

And then I visited Gerber Scientific. The founder of Gerber Scientific was an Austrian-born Jewish Holocaust survivor. Gerber immigrated to New York City and then Hartford, CT, in 1940. Gerber was a prolific inventor. In the 1950s and 1960s American apparel manufacturing was labour-intensive and completely without automation.

Gerber developed a numerically controlled ma­c­h­ine for cutting large qu­antities of tall stacks of cloth accurately — 3,500 pieces for 50 men’s suits in less than three minutes.

The Gerbercutter itself, which Gerber introduced in 1969, has been widely cited as the most important technological advancement of the century because it offered apparel factories significant savings in wasted cloth, which was the greatest cost factor in producing a garment and because it enabled a computer-automated manufacturing system. Gerber came to be known as “the father of apparel automation.”

Today, in Kolkata most Puja clothes are off-the-rack at a departmental store.

Our prime minister Narendra Modi is banking on IT to lead in the “make in India” initiative. It is a very legitimate concern within the IT community, as to how this automation, predictive analytics and autonomous operations will impact IT employment wit­hin India.

But as Gerber had engendered change in Barkat Ali’s trade, it is our prognosis that the onset of automation will bring major cha­nges in IT development in the future.

Today, we see automation as the key in all IT projects. The Everest group in 2013 predicted that 40 per cent of existing business process services were likely to get impacted by robotic process automation. It is being projected that almost 6,00,000 ITES jobs will be affected through automation.

All major IT companies have been talking about their automation and predictive analytics tools like Amelia, Holmes and Ignio.

Boutique companies like GAVS see this as an opportunity to create some disruption and bring in genuine automation in IT infrastructure, through the predictive analytics tool, GAVEL. It is promoting the concept of zero incident enterprise in infrastructure man­agement through social me­dia like Facebo­ok@­Wo­rk, au­t­omated ticket resolution, real user monitoring and automation, among others.

Automation of computing infrastructure ensures that infrastructure reso­urces will always be allocated according to business needs. This will apply to all the computer infrastructure items, i.e., servers, virtual machines, software, network bandwidth, storage capacity, or any databases.

The idea is to have these computing resources “on tap”, and it could be turned on or off based on the business’ needs. Automation in infrastructure space will definitely reduce the large number of resources required to provision and configure the systems based on needs and the turnaround time is also greatly reduced.

Then there is the whole new paradigm of internet of things (IoT). It is about machines and humans connected to each other and the subsequent management of the collected information and the intelligent insights of telemetric generated by them. We are seeing that human intervention is being replaced by automation.

According to Gartner, by 2018, 2 million employees will be required to wear health and fitness tracking devices as a condition of employment. By year-end 2018, customer digital assistants will recognise individuals by face and voice across channels and partners. By 2018, 45 per cent of the fastest-growing companies will have fewer employees than instances of smart machines.

So automation is defini­tely something that we have to brace ourselves with and it would help if India could take advantage of its position and experience in IT and move towards more IP-centric services and welcome and celebrate automation.

There could be some immediate impact on labour- centric programming, help desk support and infrastructure support operations, but we do need to focus on re-skilling a large number of our IT folks to be more conversant with “sm­art delivery”.

We have to be cautious and not be left behind like the proverbial “horsewhip manufacturers” who did not foresee the demise of the horse drawn carriages and the advent of the motorised automobiles.

And yeah, during my recent visit to Kolkata, I got to know that Barkat Ali’s sons’ have established a fine leather goods company and are exporting hand stitched luxury leather ba­gs to Europe.