obfuscation

Hackers step up obfuscation attacks to break into IT networks

by | Jan 7, 2021 | IT Security

Cybercriminals are introducing obfuscation-as-a-service to enable novice hackers on the dark web to make hard-to-break infiltration into corporate networks.
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In 2020, cyber-attacks reached a new scale, disrupting the business community and Information security professionals. Malware, phishing, denial of service attacks, DNS tunneling, SQL injection, and zero-day exploits have seen a massive explosion in every large organization. According to a report from antivirus, cloud, and endpoint security firm McAfee, since 2018, the cost of global cybercrime has reached over $1 trillion. If that wasn’t enough, the industry has noticed a new pattern of cybercriminals investing in plug-and-play obfuscation software-based toolkits to infect corporate networks for financial gains. (See: Top enterprise cybersecurity trends of 2020)

Obfuscation is a proven technology widely used by security professionals and coders to make the source code anonymous and incoherent. The technique helps businesses secure their critical data and prevent hackers from using reverse engineering techniques to discover an enterprise network’s vulnerability and launch attacks.

The recent cyber intrusion in the software  IT monitoring and management software company Solarwinds was executed by an obfuscated advanced persistent threat (APT) that mysteriously took nine months to discover. (See: SolarWinds hack: CISOs need to revisit cyber resilience?)

However, as usual, hackers appear to be a step ahead of network protectors. Call it money as a motive or an innovative mindset; cybercriminals always develop enterprising ways to infiltrate defenses. Obfuscation-as-a-service is one such recently exposed illegal business model developed by cybercriminals. Professional hackers try to make money from selling such techniques on subscription-based models to other hackers.

As-a-service model for orchestrating a hack

Those who trust that the as-a-service models are currently only transforming legitimate business models will probably live on a different planet. Over the past few years, cybercrime as a service model is swiftly making inroads into the dark-web. Professional fraudsters and cybercriminals use illegal platforms to sell cyberattack tools, procedures, services, and a host of software programs to evade detection and launch fully automated cyberattacks.

Obfuscation-as-a-service model is operating on similar lines. In 2020, many instances were discovered by cybersecurity monitoring agencies and solution providers where hackers provided automated obfuscation service and android pocket kits (APKs) on a subscription basis to fraudsters. In the wake of a growing remote workforce, most organizations are introducing workplace productivity apps that can be accessed quickly by employees through their mobile phones. As such cracking mobile applications, especially android, through obfuscation has become a prime focus area for cybercriminals.

The entire business of purchasing and selling obfuscation service happens through illegitimate darknet marketplaces, making it very challenging for governments and law-enforcement authorities to keep a consistent track. This new development of obfuscation-as-a-service is perturbing for enterprises with global footprints, which have a massive amount of data located on different clouds. This unlawful cybercrime service model can give a ready-to-launch platform to even newbie cybercriminals who regularly exploit weaker networks.

What’s the remedy?

To protect networks from obfuscation techniques or deobfuscate malicious codes launched by hackers, organizations need to ensure the uppermost security level that fills the unwanted gaps. Applying integrity controls, encrypting as much as possible, transforming program codes and making them unintelligible, inserting anti-debugging logic are some of the fields that should be strengthened.

While there is no perfect solution that can give full-proof code security, a host of commercial tools can be tested and implemented to make your security architectures robust.

Most importantly, in 2021, organizations and cybersecurity leaders should set-up quality budgets to train their in-house talents and develop innovative solutions to fortify their resilience levels and mitigate new-age obfuscation security threats.

MORE FROM BETTER WORLD

Apple strengthens India focus by enhancing local production

Apple strengthens India focus by enhancing local production

American multinational technology firm Apple has strengthened its India focus by announcing its 2020 flagship smartphone, iPhone 12, in India. “We are proud to be starting the production of the iPhone 12 in India for our local customers,” Apple said in a statement.

The move, which is a part of Apple’s larger strategy to strengthen its focus in India, will equip the company to cut the government import duties and pass-on the cost-benefit to the end consumers. Through its partners such as Foxconn and Wistron, Apple has already assembled several previous smartphone editions such as iPhone 11 and XR in India.

The move is also crucial for India in light of the growing trade war scenario between the US and China. Over the last two years, many American telecom companies have cut down their output in China and exploring countries like India, the Philippines, and Malaysia for manufacturing opportunities. (See: Will Apple bite India’s manufacturing bait?)

Strategic measures in India

The market share of Apple in India smartphone market share may still be less than 5%. However, it is steadily building focus in India through several tactical measures. The premium smartphone maker has successfully partnered with online majors such as Flipkart and Amazon to sell its previously launched iPhone editions, wearable, and accessories at a heavy discount in India.

Apple is also focusing on accelerating its reach through refurbished smartphones, a segment growing at a pace of well over 10% in India. The company’s refurbished phones in India are also highly sought after due to their low cost, helping many first-time buyers testing Apple’s capabilities without shelling out the exorbitant price.

Additionally, it has collaborated with several banks and financial institutions to offer its premium products at attractive price-points or through cashback offers. Another strategic decision that the company took last year was unveiling its exclusive online store in India. It has started offering nearly the entire line-up of its products and range of services in the country. India has become one of the 38 countries where Apple has launched its online store (See: Apple India debuts online store, eyes more market share).

These measures have helped Apple shipped a record 1.5 million+ iPhone units in India in the quarter that ended in December 2020. Despite that, Apple knows that they have only taken baby steps in the world’s second-largest smartphone market. “If you take India as an example, we doubled our growth last quarter compared to the year-ago quarter. But our absolute level of business, there is still quite low relative to the size of the opportunity,” said Timothy Donald Cook, Apple CEO in 2020.

Apple is also bolstering its online store capabilities by launching a few physical outlets in India, building more trust in its products and services locally.

Emerging markets a focus area

Overcoming the stalled growth due to the pandemic triggered an anxious economic environment. Apple has surprised many soothsayers by achieving a quarterly revenue of $91.8 bn in Dec 2020, a 9 percent increase from the quarter a year ago.

While developed markets like the US, Singapore, UK, France, among others, continue to be the flagbearers of much of this revenue, in terms of growth, there has been a massive upsurge in sales for Apple smartphones in emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India, Thailand, and Turkey.

While Apply may have overlooked India for a long due to its price-conscious structure, it has now understood strengthening focus in emerging economies to lift its market share and prepare for new growth opportunities.

The efforts of Apple to strengthen its focus in India are especially crucial for the company since most of its developed markets are now saturated. And on the contrary, India’s mushrooming digital economy and tech-savvy young generation offer tremendous opportunity for the innovative company Apple to sell its products and premium services albeit with a practical price-point.

 

Reinventing enterprise decision-making with AI

Reinventing enterprise decision-making with AI

The last few years have seen substantial interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies because of their massive potential to reinvent decision making, catalyze innovation, and unlock new opportunities.

The ambiguity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has further made it clear that organizations with robust data and insights are uniquely positioned to predict market behavior and navigate the disruptions with speed. For many organizations, AI has become a business necessity rather than an option. (See: How will AI impact enterprise ecosystems in 2021?)

According to a report by consulting major PwC, sectors that have faced the most disruption in the last year due to COVID-19 have embraced AI more definitively. According to the report, travel and hospitality (89%) have taken the lead in AI implementation, followed by TMT (86%), financial services (82%), and healthcare and pharma (73%).

Ushering into an AI-focused era

The fast-evolving digital-first environment has helped businesses and individuals generate tonnes of data. According to the industry estimates driven by the increasingly digitized culture, the world’s data could grow up to 180 zettabytes in the next five years. That’s gigantic! However, without any meaningful insights, this data is dumb and has no real value. Technologies like AI can turn these tonnes of data into a treasured trove and help enterprises tackle complex problems and reinvent decision-making processes.

Several companies have taken concrete steps to deploy AI-based frameworks in their organizational ecosystems. With robust analytical and algorithm capabilities, businesses are better equipped to identify market trends, discover anomalies, and focus on continuous improvement. With AI, enterprises can estimate a consumer’s historic purchase value, the specific challenges a user faces, and their preferences for a product or service.

Specific tasks hold mammoth value; however, accomplishing these tasks also requires heavy resources. In addition to providing valuable insights for better decision-making, AI-driven tools allow business leaders to automate critical processes and free-up the time of their resources, and utilize them more effectively.

Helping organizations manage disruptions

As we dwell in the future, the meaningful insights extracted by AI will empower many enterprises to make efficient and quick decisions, stay competitive and provide an exceptional customer experience.

For instance, Vodafone is one of the first telecom operators to implement AI in its entire business value-chain. Since 2016, Telco has been working meticulously to build a strong team of data analysts to leverage AI algorithms for obtaining relevant insights and data sets to deliver better network quality and effectively run their business.

In 2019, the UK-headquartered telco expanded the AI-scope. It launched an AI framework to deploy AI across its business ethically and safeguard its customers from inadvertent consequences of using ML techniques. With over 400 million customers worldwide, Vodafone’s AI-focus helps it take adequate measures and build strategies to understand its customers better and deliver superior network services. Ai-capabilities enable the telco to predict system failures/downtime proactively and provide quality insights on areas where it focuses more on network capabilities. Its AI-based TOB-i chatbot handles customer queries and ensures faster resolutions.

Across the world, the public sector and government bodies have also started to leverage AI’s potential. In 2021, these efforts are likely to gain further traction. Governments worldwide have been testing and deploying AI-based analytical solutions to track fraudulence in tax reporting, managing disasters, and monitoring borders. The insights offered by AI help governments predict possible threats and enable them to make the right decisions to secure their borders.

Another area where the potential of AI has been widely tested is Oil and Gas exploration. Last year, the scientists and experts of Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG) discovered a new AI technique to examine seismic wave data that could help government explore hydrocarbons such as oil and natural gas speedily and efficiently.

These are some of the examples where AI is helping reinvent enterprise decision-making and optimizing operations. The accelerated adoption of AI is likely to pick more pace in 2021 as businesses across all sectors would continue to focus on predicting the concerns and making informed decisions.

At Better World, we’ve covered AI and its impact on various industries and sectors. The links to some of the most insightful coverage around AI are shared below. We hope you’ll find it interesting.

Mahendra K Upadhyay, CIO, BARC

Mahendra K Upadhyay, CIO, BARC

In Focus

Mahendra Upadhyay, CIO

Broadcast Audience Research Council

We are skilled at using AI for analyzing troves of data efficiently

BARC India is a statistical and measurement science company which is ‘Of the Industry, By the Industry and For the Industry’.

The company is registered with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) as a self-regulated, not-for-profit Joint Industry Body that provides the most authentic audience estimates of What India Watches, to Broadcasters, Advertisers and Advertising Agencies. The Big Data driven insights generated by BARC India, is built upon a robust and future-ready technology backbone which powers efficient media spends and content decisions in a highly dynamic and growing broadcasting sector.

Commencing operations in 2015, today BARC India manages the world’s largest and most diverse TV measurement system covering approximately187000 individuals in 44,000 households, in 513 districts covering over 600 towns and 1300 villages, across India.

Jatinder Singh of Better World recently interacted with Mahendra K Upadhyay, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India to get in-depth understanding of how BARC has leveraged technologies such as AI, machine learning (ML) and robotics to analyze, predict and process various metrics for driving effective business and customer experience. Excerpts of the interview:

Better World: How have you leveraged the latest technologies and innovations to strengthen credibility, transparency and instill confidence in all stakeholders in the TRP measurement system?

Mahendra K Upadhyay: Our data serves as the trusted “currency” for the Indian broadcast industry. Through this “currency,” broadcasters and agencies make several vital decisions relating to programming, strategy, and audience targeting. Providing the data in usable forms in an unfailing and timely fashion, week on week is highly dependent on technology.

Collecting data from over 44,000 household television meters and 15,000+ individuals’ digital meters daily while integrating with massive databases and alternative data sources requires the data to be stored safely, scalably, efficiently, accessible, and cost-effectively. The kind of data BARC India collects, compiles, and provides insights for is a brilliant example of the 5Vs of big data – Volume, Velocity, Variety, Veracity, and Value. BARC India processes ten petabytes of data annually, larger than the Aadhar Card database’s data size and the US Census Bureau.

With this large and variable data, extensive use of the latest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies is required to minimize human intervention and extract and represent the information accurately as per the prescribed methodology.

We have set a strict standard for releasing our clients’ data, doing so diligently every Thursday at 11 am. Performance, improvements, quality, and consistency are few parameters we experience and implement each passing day – without a firm Information and technology framework, this would not be possible.

Besides, we have deployed and enriched Lambda (λ) architecture that utilizes cloud services (Native & Custom) and on-premises data center capacities. An in-house created Enterprise Data Lake (EDL) helps end-to-end Data Validation Processes (DVP), fully automated, removing any human intervention. In addition to this, the application framework learns system patterns to help us identify areas for improvement.

Better World: Can you please elaborate more on AI and ML technologies to strengthen business resiliency levels and navigate the disruptions?

Mahendra K Upadhyay: At BARC India, rather than serving as a replacement for human intelligence and ingenuity, we use AI as a supporting tool. We are skilled at processing and analyzing troves of data efficiently to generate the insights needed by our clients.  This way, we use AI to help get the best-required output and streamline the decision-making process.

BARC India has eliminated human intervention end-to-end in the data validation journey. All admin access on the system and the data is via Identity and Access Management and activity recording.

We prefer networks rather than hierarchies. BARC India has created cross-technology groups to share knowledge. To ensure that our systems/networks and applications are robust and mitigate process lapses, we regularly undertake third-party audits.

To generate authentic and accurate data of ‘What India Watches™’ is a responsibility we take with the highest sense of commitment and integrity. Also, we are implementing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to do the daily repetitive operational jobs, not only in the Tech stream, but we are experimenting with it across the organization.

Better World: How do you prevent data tampering in your business?

Mahendra K Upadhyay: To generate authentic and accurate data of ‘What India Watches™’ is a responsibility we take with the highest sense of commitment and integrity.

Mahendra K Upadhyay, CIO, BARC India

Mahendra Upadhyay is a senior management professional in digital, data and technology space; presently working with BARC India as Chief Information Officer. Mahendra comes with 20 years of rich experience in telecom, banking, retail, media, and advertising industries with expertise in the entire data/digital value chain, i.e., ingestion-insights-analytics-interventions-auto AI and digital transformation.

Mahendra Upadhyay has previously worked with multinationals such as Mindshare, Ericsson, SAS Institute, among others.

Expertise

  • Digital transformation and automation
  • Digital marketing, marketing automation and measurement
  • Consumer Insights, interventions and advance analytics
  • Big data analytics, business intelligence (AI/ML)
  • Data/process management, security and governance
  • Large scale program management

Education

  • Executive Management, Business Administration and Management, General, Harvard business publishing, 2018
  • MBA, Business Management, Institute of Technology and Management, 2011
  • MCA, Rajiv Gandhi Prodyogiki Vishwavidyalaya, 2001

To ensure that we have deployed enterprise-level security architecture with robust perimeter and access control measures with the entire data path, from source to delivery, being end-to-end encrypted and monitored while maintaining vigilance through privilege identity management.

To ensure that endpoint security controls are in place, we’ve implemented Mobile Device Management (MDM) on the devices used/accessed by employees and the field force for data collection.

Over a Virtual Private Network (VPN), a single sign-in option for all corporate applications (on-premises, SaaS, IaaS) and Privilege Identity Management (PIM) based access methods ensure we have control over the actions being taken at every logging.  Further to this, we have network/user-level access controls for information to ensure it never crosses the BARC boundaries.

We have multi-layer firewalls and encryption methods; most importantly, we ensure that our data resides within India for effective law enforcement. Excellence is continuous. We do audits/checks of our IT systems and general control policies periodically to ensure we have updated protocols in place to resolve digital/cybersecurity-related challenges effectively.

Better World: How have you navigated the transition to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Mahendra K Upadhyay: BARC India drafted a comprehensive work-from-home (WFH) framework for its internal and external users by focusing on its key pillars: Communication, Collaboration, and Checks (security, integrity, and authority).

Secure processes and information flow are keys for success, so ‘Checks’ are critical to ensure their integrity. We have implemented two additional security layers and encryption protocols to ensure information is secure and applications function smoothly in the new normal environment of WFH.

Better World: What, according to you, are the key technology trends that will likely have the most significant impact on the enterprise ecosystem in the post-COVID environment?

Mahendra K Upadhyay: The FOUR key trends I see are:

  1. ‘Security Frameworks’ for securing information, application, networks, and end-users.
  2. ‘Robotic Process Automation’ for 100% uptime and optimum process utilization.
  3. Data-driven use cases and auto-discovery/treatments using advanced AI.
  4. Edge computing.

Finally, while technology and innovations can help, it’s ultimately human intelligence that makes the outcome business-friendly. This requires continuous investment, not only in tech but also in PEOPLE.

Nasscom, Microsoft join hands to promote AI innovations in India

Nasscom, Microsoft join hands to promote AI innovations in India

To promote AI-led innovation in the country, the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has unveiled a new program, AI Gamechangers, in partnership with Microsoft. The program has been launched to recognize impactful and scalable AI-based innovation in the country.

According to the official release, NASSCOM and Microsoft will work jointly to develop and promote the AI Gamechangers program to spearhead AI’s adoption across all sectors.  As part of the program, NASSCOM will recognize the country’s top AI innovators at its Xperience AI Summit, one of India’s largest AI Summits.

The program will enable organizations, academia, and NGOs to demonstrate their AI-based products and solutions to give further fillip to AI-innovation in the country.

A selected panel of jury will evaluate the program entries on problem selection, solution innovation, and impact parameters. Participants can submit their entries between 4 March 2021 to 16 April 2021 here.

Boost to homegrown AI innovation

The role of AI innovations has grown across all industries in recent years. Most businesses rely heavily on the Cloud, having an opportunity to collect tons of structured and unstructured data. By leveraging this data, AI can make processes more intelligent and enable enterprises to perform increasingly complex tasks effortlessly.

“The past decades have seen a dramatic growth of innovation and talent in India. While the country continues to leap forward to become the global innovation hub, we expect AI to unlock $500 Bn of value to India’s GDP by 2025. Through this program, we aim to spotlight some of the leading AI-based innovations in the country, not only to recognize their efforts but to motivate the larger ecosystem to leverage this opportunity to help India become a global powerhouse in AI-led innovation,” said Debjani Ghosh, President, NASSCOM in an official release announcing AI Gamechangers launch. (See: Enterprises in India leading AI adoption globally)

The actionable intelligence provided by deep learning algorithms and metrics helps businesses and governments navigate the uncertainties, make more informed decisions and even anticipate customer preferences accurately. AI innovations have disrupted industries of all sectors – be it retail, manufacturing, IT, banking, or healthcare. (See: AI tools can drive significant efficiencies in oil and gas, AI in banking now geared for a takeoff and How artificial intelligence is transforming the Indian retail sector)

For instance, in healthcare, AI innovations have been leveraged to address patient’s queries, find prevention and early detection solutions to various human diseases, including the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recently deployed interactive AI-based chatbots to respond to the detailed queries of frontline staff and data operators of testing and diagnostic labs on COVID-19.  Many leading Indian medical practitioners are using AI to detect early signs of lethal diseases such as Cancer.

Requires collaborative approach

Today, there are several use-case studies where AI-based solutions have been leveraged to solve challenges such as water crisis, food shortage, flood relief, pest control. There are many more in the experimenting phase and are expected to make an impact in the future. With the inevitable launch of 5G, enterprises are expected to utilize AI-based innovations to make their processes more intelligent, launching voice-based solutions for real-time customer support and bettering their market behavior. (See: India gears up for AI leap in post-Covid-19 era)

“Cloud-led data and AI innovation offer a huge canvas for India to be the tech engine of the world and drive homegrown innovation. Data and AI are driving transformation at scale across industries and offer an incredible opportunity to transform public infrastructure and solve some of the most critical issues facing the country today,” said Anant Maheshwari, President – Microsoft India.

However, the homegrown innovations around AI can be accomplished only through a robust collaborative approach and all stakeholders’ participation. AI-innovations still need considerable research and efforts to mitigate challenges such as data quality, inexperienced staff, and limited prototypes locally.

Efforts like AI Gamechangers need to be supported with more funding opportunities from the central and state governments to promote and expand the local AI-related advancements.

How HR leaders used tech to beat the Covid blues

How HR leaders used tech to beat the Covid blues

The COVID-19 outbreak has turned the world upside down. Many people equated the situation with the great depression of 1929 when food was scarce, income went down, and millions of jobs were lost! From remote working with contingent staffing and transforming themselves digitally, organizations had to test and deploy new operating models to motivate their employees, remain operational and meet the expectations of their customers. HR tech came to the rescue for many and enterprises that accelerated digital transformation initiatives were better prepared to tackle the challenges. (See: How is digital transformation shaping the new future?).

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us new learnings and highlighted the significance of social interaction and humanity within almost every aspect of our lives.

Top HR and tech leaders, educationists, and talent stalwarts recently came together in a virtual-reality-based conference titled Lessons Learnt from Crisis to Design the Future’ to deliberate on the challenges posed by the pandemic and discuss leadership innovations that can ensure a more robust roadmap for the future. 

Vinay Ranjan, CCL

Vinay Ranjan, Director (Personnel), Central Coalfield Limited (CCL), a subsidiary of Coal India Limited.

“The pandemic has once again demonstrated the importance of adaption to survive. There will be a lot of changes during and after the pandemic. How you react to the situation will enable the best way to capitalize from the new realities”

Rohit Thakur, Paytm

Rohit Thakur, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Paytm.

“At an organizational level, we had started our preparations after hearing about the COVID-19 situation in the other parts of the world. We keenly followed government advisories and ensured we are taking proactive measures to safeguard the health and well-being of our people.”

Guramrita Oberoi, Just Be

Guramrita Oberoi, Founder, Just Be

Last year, buying behaviors of corporate L&D functions shifted dramatically. We realized Social distancing is making L&D leaders search for alternatives and rethink how they can develop and train people and create and strengthen organizational capabilities and culture when we simply cannot get together in person. We started to realize engaging a virtual audience is quite different from presenting in-person. And not only did we need to adapt and upscale ourselves, but we also needed to find a way to fill the gap in immersive experiential engagements online.”

Better World was the exclusive research and media partner for this virtual HR tech conclave.

The VR-based conference was organized by More Than HR Global (MTHR), a Mumbai-based pan-India Knowledge Community in association with Beyond Reality Events (BRE), a VR initiative of Just Be, an integrated people solutions provider. BRE’s core team comprises Guramrita Oberoi (Founder), Kanishk Malick (Co-Founder), and Kartik Sachdev (Advisor).

The discussion panel at the event included: Anil Dhanker, senior HR management professional;  Dr. Aquil Basrai, Independent HR Consultant and Former President of National HRD Network; Bhavesh Chandaria, Group Africa Head, Training, and Development, SAFAL;  Debi Prasad, CEO at Potential Infinity, a People Consulting & Research firm; Gyan Nagpal, Dean of AIA Leadership Center (ALC); Rohit Thakur, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Paytm; Sukumaran Mariappan, Vice President – Global Transformation & People Analytics, Trimble Inc; Tanaya Mishra, Head of Human Resources, Essar Projects Limited; Sunita Rao, Independent Senior Talent Leader; Prof. Vasanthi Srinivasan, Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and Vinay Ranjan, Director (Personnel), Central Coalfield Limited (CCL), a subsidiary of Coal India Limited.

New challenges in uncertain times

One of the most extensive tests that many HR and tech leaders faced during the outbreak was a lack of experience in dealing with such an unprecedented crisis. While leaders who were able to reinvent themselves through transformative strategies navigated their organizations through the disruption, others who failed to design a solid action plan could barely endure the crisis.

During the session, the panelists touched upon the numerous facets of how COVID-19 and unprecedented lockdowns impacted HR and related techs and processes. Intelligent enterprises took the route of digital transformation and emphasized making decisions that serve their people’s and businesses’ long-term interests while sidelining short-term lucrative steps.

Accelerating digital transformation helped many enterprises navigate the uncharted waters of COVID-19. “While the pandemic was quite dramatic and shocking, technology and variety of media enabled us to collaborate and kept our social capital alive with the people that mattered – professionally or personally. The pandemic compelled us to pause, contemplate, and appreciate the little things we often take for granted.” Gyan Nagpal, Dean of AIA Leadership Center (ALC).

In the social distancing age, technology is playing a crucial role in connecting and engaging people. The event itself was hosted on an innovative VR based platform, bridging the digital and physical worlds.

Echoing similar sentiments, Sukumaran Mariappan, Vice President – Global Transformation & People Analytics, Trimble Inc, said, “We often accuse technology as a reason to separate us and make us less social, but during the outbreak, technology brought us together. It even enabled us to learn something new and collaborate effectively in the times of crisis.”

At a personal level, the crises posed an unprecedented challenge for individuals. Many participants shared that the months of uncertainty and fear amplified the importance of the human connect’ aspect like never before. Companies like Paytm started preparing for the crisis timely after keeping a closer tab on international developments.

“At an organizational level, we had started our preparations after hearing about the COVID-19 situation in the other parts of the world. We keenly followed government advisories and ensured we are taking proactive measures to safeguard our people’s health and well-being. Nevertheless, we learned many new things while coping up with the pandemic. Following protocols as they were announced, then 100% of employees working from home consistently and trying to do that, engaging them, reducing panic, motivating them was a completely new challenge,” said Rohit Thakur, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Paytm.

A winning strategy

The panelists at the event discussed the importance of adaptability to survive in a crisis. While adaptability was a crucial attribute even before the pandemic, Covid-19 made it a must-have skillset to survive. Within the months of the pandemic, we adjusted to living our lives very differently. Those organizations who adapted well (using HR tech) during the crisis not only survived but also made a substantial leap.

“Coal comes under essential services and is important for the energy security of India. So, for us, lockdown had never implemented. Like several other companies in our sector, we were poorly prepared to tackle sudden technological changes, such as moving from physical to virtual meetings. Nevertheless, our people exhibited great resilience and adjusted to the new normal very fast. The leadership at Coal India also set strong examples and took actions that reflect wider care and empathy,” said Vinay Ranjan, Director (Personnel), Central Coalfield Limited (CCL), a subsidiary of Coal India Limited.

Not surprisingly, the emphatic and caring policies of CCL did wonders for its production capabilities as its workforce responded to the pandemic bravely.

Gyan Nagpal, ALC

Gyan Nagpal, Dean of AIA Leadership Center (ALC).

“The pandemic compelled us to pause, contemplate, and appreciate the little things we often take for granted.”

Prof. Vasanthi Srinivasan

Prof. Vasanthi Srinivasan, Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

“We all must remember it’s the collaboration, whether, in terms of vaccines or humanity coming together, that has made it possible for us to where we are today. We all need to think about making a better world by leveraging our capabilities and using technology wisely. We need to ensure such crisis doesn’t happen again or be better managed.”

Bhavesh Chandaria

Bhavesh Chandaria, Group Africa Head, Training, and Development, SAFAL.

“We need to be ready for the future uncertainty by taking a break from things that we take for granted.”

About MTHR Global

Mumbai-based MTHR Global (More Than HR Global), a leading Knowledge Community Pan India since 2002, is a not-for-profit body that continues to bring the best in Learning and Networking! MTHR Global is a community that grew to over 15000 members within ten years across India and in a few other countries across the world.

About Beyond Reality Events

BR Events is a virtual reality offering by Just Be. Under BRE, the company provides immersive and interactive experiences for its clients — from layout to branding, bringing the real world into 3D.

During the COVID-19, the coal stock at its thermal power plant rose to the highest ever inventory of about 46 days compared to the average supply of 20-22 days, demonstrating exceptional results for companies who made their employees feel heard and included the COVID-19 crisis.

The session panelists also delved deeper into the hard-earned lessons for the future from the current crisis. The senior HR and tech leaders shared the importance of acting fast, cross-training employees, and eliminating overdependencies.

“I think we need to detox from overdependence. The new crisis response cannot be designed from the viewpoint of COVID. It could be an internet or electricity outage. We need to be ready for the future uncertainty by taking a break from things that we take for granted,” said Bhavesh Chandaria, Group Africa Head, Training, and Development, SAFAL.

“For instance, many countries keep a car-free day in a month. Why can’t we plan things and embed such things into our design, say an electricity and internet free half-day a month? This is essential so that our today’s generation does not assume and completely dependent upon such things. We need to learn to live without the obvious,” Chandaria explicated.

Final thoughts

The industry experts also outlined the importance of collaboration and using technological innovations wisely to create a better and sustainable future. At various levels, everyone emphasized the importance of empathy toward those who surround us, developing hyper skills, exploring multiple ways to approach a particular challenge at an individual and organizational level.

Tech startups in India building resilience amid disruption

Tech startups in India building resilience amid disruption

Indian tech startups are setting a perfect example of building resilience amidst the crisis. Even though the havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented and resulting in severe pain, it is also true that the outbreak profoundly influenced indigenous innovations, new tech startup ideas, and digital transformation roadmaps in India. (See: Digital transformation deals put IT sector back on track)

When businesses were scrambling to find the best ways to deal with the crisis, Indian tech startups emerged as a force to reckon with. According to a recent Nasscom report, India added a whopping 1600 plus tech startups in 2020 and has become the third-largest tech startup ecosystem in the world after the US and China. 

Ravindra Kumar, IT Delhi Alumni AssociationRavindra Kumar, President, IIT Delhi
Alumni Association

“Fostering entrepreneurship and nurturing tech startups has always been a key priority area for IIT Delhi. We utilize technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI),
blockchain, and cloud to get all our students and alumni together and build a global outreach.”

Rajesh Kumar, Founder CEO of Sabzibhazi.com

“The last few months have been good for our business. As people moved to digital channels for their grocery shopping needs, we got thousands of new customer registrations, and there is substantial revenue flowing in now. We are planning to expand our operations and upgrade our app interface for better positioning.”

Akhilesh Shukla, TechshotsAkhilesh Shukla, Co-Founder and Editor TechShots.

“We saw a significant gap in the Indian news industry, lacking a common tech-news platform for enterprise decision-makers. And that’s how the idea of Techshots was born. Leveraging technology, we are delivering technology news and enabling technology decision-makers to make informed decisions.”

The number of unicorns (those who have a valuation of over $1 billion) is also growing steadily in India. In 2020 alone, 11 startups from India joined the unicorn club, which boasts of Paytm, Ola, Zomato, Cars 24, and 34 others.

The above figures are intriguing and contrary to the early fears raised by several industry observers. The Indian startup ecosystem was projected for a steep decline by many in March 2020 due to the Covid-induced bedbound economic environment. Technology interventions and innovative ideas played a pivotal role in resuscitating the growth path. (See: How is digital transformation shaping the new future?)

Turning the crisis into opportunity

When millions of citizens were confined to their homes, the rise of digital technologies created fresh opportunities. These technologies enabled people to do things efficiently and in a cost-effective way. Had it not been for the role of IT and tech startups in India, the impact of the crisis could have been more upsetting!

Amidst the widespread uncertainty and social distancing measures, the dependencies on digital solutions grew enormously. Whether it is healthcare consultation, retail, astrology, education, grocery supply, or entertainment, technology kept the economy running and helped us adapt to the new normal.

If Indian tech startups such as Byju, UpGrad, and Unacademy excelled in transforming the education and learning delivery, location surveillance apps such as Unmaze, Aarogya Setu, and Sahyog kept the COVID-19 virus in check. India also witnessed a massive surge in fintech and health startups as the demand for their services, such as contactless payments and telemedicine, grew much faster.

News aggregators such as InShorts, Dailyhunt, and TechShots have gained significant traction as people continue to switch to their personal mobile devices for real-time information and news.

Some of the new habits that people learned during the pandemic are likely to remain permanent, and this compelled many entrepreneurs to launch niche and specialized services. “Media consumption habits are changing quickly. Most consumers now prefer to receive their daily dose of news bulletin digitally in a crisp format. During the COVID-19 crisis, this demand reached a record level. We saw a significant gap in the Indian news industry, lacking a common tech-news platform for enterprise decision-makers. And that’s how the idea of TechShots was born. Leveraging technology, we are delivering technology news and enabling technology decision-makers to make informed decisions,” said Akhilesh Shukla, Co-Founder and Editor TechShots.

With quarantine and lockdown rules forced consumers to stay indoors, online grocery delivery demand witnessed a massive rise throughout 2020. Along with established online grocery suppliers such as Big Basket, Grofers, and Amazon, agritech startups such as Otipy, Sabzibhazi, Freshokartz, Agrowave, among others, also made their presence felt.

“I started Sabzibhazi in 2019. When I first launched this company with my meager savings in 2019, it didn’t do well. The idea was to provide the freshest produce at a reasonable price using a new-age tech platform. Even though we did much research, but there were still no customers. It was a tough time. We didn’t go for fundraising as we didn’t want to be answerable to anyone. Moreover, we were not sure if we would get that much attention from venture capitalists,” says Rajesh Kumar Pandit, Founder CEO of Sabzibhazi.com, a South Delhi-based digital farm-to kitchen service provider.

Things changed quickly for Rajesh when India announced nationwide lockdowns. Many established players failed to meet the unprecedented surge in demand for online fresh produce. “The last few months have been good for our business. As people moved to digital channels for their grocery shopping needs, we got thousands of new customer registrations, and there is substantial revenue flowing in now. We are planning to expand our operations and upgrade our app interface,” an enthusiastic Kumar adds.

In the healthcare space, startups like Pharmeasy, CureFit, and EyeNetra attracted massive investors’ interest.

Innovative ideas fueling startups

Besides the above, innovative virtual event platforms Airmeet also garnered significant attention from enterprises. Businesses took their services for hosting various internal workshops, panel discussions, and customer events in a setting where physical events are restricted.

There are also pure-play data analytics firms such as Mu Sigma, which are growing exponentially. 

The tech startup culture in India is equally supported by the government and premier institutes like IIT. The Indian government has taken several initiatives recently to help the local startup ecosystem grow. Under the AatmaNirbhar Bharat vision, the government has eased regulations, announced tax exemptions, and set up a Rs 10,000 crore fund exclusively for startups.

“Fostering entrepreneurship and nurturing tech startups has always been a key priority area for IIT Delhi. We utilize technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and cloud to get all our students and alumni together and build a global outreach,” said Ravindra Kumar, President, IIT Delhi Alumni Association, in an earlier interaction with Better World. (See: IIT Delhi can help develop an Indian equivalent of Google or Facebook).

The year also saw spectacular ideas such as anti-viral t-shirts and COVID-19 protective lotions unveiled by E-TEX and Clensta, two startups incubated at IIT Delhi.

Another startup that caught our attention was ATAI Labs; an applied AI company launched recently. The startup provides AI-based digital transformation solutions for the supply chain and logistics industry, which bring the data center capabilities closer to the source of data and enable AI inferencing, decision making, and analytics at the EDGE.  The 70-employee young Indian startup offers innovative solutions to augment maritime, retail, locomotive, and surveillance capabilities. (See: AI is a must now to speed up digital transformation)

Factors.ai is also an AI-based startup that focuses on providing marketing analytics for entrepreneurs and small-medium businesses. The startup was chosen as one of the 20 firms for the fourth cohort of the Google for Startups (GFS) Accelerator program in India last year.

An equally exciting tech-startup, The Water App, was launched to solve the water crisis in Hyderabad. The company leverages advanced technologies and intelligence to monitor supply chain management of water and deliver clean water at the doorstep.

Final thoughts

Before the pandemic, many enterprises were reluctant to go online entirely. But things changed quite dramatically. Across all sectors, there was no option but to accelerate the digital transformation.

Indian tech startups and IT companies proved that integrating innovations with adaptability models led to new pathways and behavioral models, bringing together enormous resilience and resolve.

At Better World, we believe that this is just the beginning. Indian tech startups not only took risks and found new innovative models but were also instrumental in adding thousands of new jobs at a time when people were losing hopes. In 2021, according to Nasscom, the Indian IT industry (along with the tech startups) is expected to add over 1,38,000 new hires, taking the total employee base in this sector to 4.47 million.

By leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence, analytics, and cloud-based collaboration tools, these young tech companies will continue to bring the best of the ideas and tools to revive the economy and develop life-enabling solutions.

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