AI in banking

AI in banking now geared for a takeoff

by | Aug 3, 2020 | Artificial Intelligence

Having tasted initial successes with chatbots and other virtual assistants, Indian banks are now geared to get bolder with AI.
Share to lead the transformation

Digital disruption is impacting every industry and transforming the ways of working. The traditional models are slowly waning, and trailblazing technologies are emerging. In the age of cloud computing and internet applications, services like telegram and postcards are things of the past. Banking too has endured many changes over time while implementing several new technologies to facilitate faster transactions and on-the-move banking with just a few clicks. AI in banking is taking transformation to a new level.

The unprecedented Covid-19 scenario, which has compelled many to stay at home, has further pushed the banks to explore innovative banking solutions and create a differentiation strategy for the convenience of their customers. Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most powerful technologies that has been helping the banking sector to drive several of these new-age innovations.

Driven by the benefits of predictive analytics, voice recognition, and advance human learning capabilities, AI technology enables banks to provide a customized experience to their customers, strengthens compliance, and delivers a secure digital payment ecosystem across a plethora of channels. It helps manage an enormous amount of data at a rapid speed, and empowers them to comprehend detailed insights from it, providing a better understanding of their customers and behaviors.

Globally, tools such as conversational chatbots, virtual security assistants, fraud detection, and face recognition are being widely used to drive meaningful customer engagement. If we look at the Indian market scenario, banks are waking up to the benefits of AI tools for both back-office and customer interfacing functions.

Let’s look at the AI journeys of some of the leading banks.

HDFC Bank

In 2017, India’s leading private-sector bank deployed an AI-based conversational chatbot called Electronic Virtual Assistant (EVA). In less than three years of its deployment, EVA, designed by Bengaluru-based Senseforth AI Research has claimed to have helped HDFC respond to over 5 million customer queries with more than 85% accuracy. The tool uses natural language processing and is now also available on the Google Assistant platform. It provides the relevant answers to users by scanning thousands of HDFC website sources in just a few seconds.

Chatbots like EVA help fetch relevant information very easily without letting users navigate the entire website or getting into a painstaking effort of waiting on a call. In addition to EVA, the bank has also deployed several AI-enabled tools in risk management, credit scoring, employee engagement, and onboarding in the last few years. It uses OnChat, which works on Facebook, to help with all kind of bill-payments. HDFC is also testing various in-store robotic applications.

State Bank of India

Despite being a public-sector bank, SBI is known to be aggressive in terms of leveraging the latest technologies. The company’s banking dashboards are considered to be one of the best in the industry. In terms of AI-enabled solutions, the bank’s facial recognition solution, developed by Chapdex, the winning team from its first hackathon Code for Bank, helps it analyze and understand the feedback of its customers through their facial expressions. The solution is installed in the branch cameras and collects impressions of customers to identify if they are delighted from their bank visits or not.

The Fortune Global 500 bank has been also leveraging the benefits of SBI Intelligent Assistant (SIA), an AI-powered chat and voice assistant, to answer the customer queries promptly. Developed by Payjo, a startup based in Silicon Valley and Bengaluru, the solution has helped SBI reduce a considerable amount of operational costs since its launch in 2017. The solution interacts with customers to address queries and tasks related to everyday banking just like a bank representative.

The company has also recently entered into a pact with Microsoft to develop an AI-powered marketplace aimed at helping the banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) industry to connect people living with disabilities for upskilling and employment.

Axis Bank

Mumbai-based country’s third-largest bank, Axis Bank, has built two AI solutions that have made life easier for its customers. Its bot, ‘Simply Ask Axis Aha’ aims to bridge the gap between customers and the bank. Users can access the tool through Axis bank mobile app and use a conversational approach to transfer funds, pay bills, recharge, generate banking statements, or enquire about the latest Axis products and services. The bot acts as a conversational assistant to resolve queries of all kinds.

Very recently, Axis has deployed a voice-based conversational bot or automated voice assistant AXAA. The solution operates like a humanoid and claims to deliver far better results than a conventional interactive voice response (IVR) system. According to the company, the solution will assist customers to traverse through the IVR and address their queries and requests, without the need for any human intervention in most cases. Interestingly, the solution can converse in English, Hindi, and Hinglish, and has the potential to address about one lakh customer queries per day.

ICICI Bank

ICICI has been heavily focusing on AI-enabled robotic process automation (RPA) technology for process improvement. The RPA technology enables businesses to automate high-volume, tedious, and time-taking tasks that doesn’t require much human intervention. It has already deployed RPA technology on over 1,200 business processes such as customer onboarding, loan processing, and reconciliation, among others.

The bank also has and AI-powered Chatbot, iPal, that has recently been integrated with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The solution provides an array of retail banking information such as account details, account balance, transaction queries, and credit card details among others through a simple voice command.

Though still at a nascent stage, and mostly restricted to chatbots, Indian banks are now experimenting with several new AI ideas to transform the traditional banking experience. In the next few years, the role of AI is expected to be evolved significantly. A special focus will be on developing customized solutions for customers and designing software based on cognitive fraud analytics. Punjab National Bank (PNB), for instance, has already deployed AI for reconciliation of accounts and to strengthen its internal audit control mechanisms. A number of banks are likely to use AI to detect suspicious activity. Through real-time behavior profiling, distrustful activities of banking users will be immediately reported and blocked for fraud prevention.

MORE FROM BETTER WORLD

Airtel beefs up cybersecurity portfolio, eyes new business

Airtel beefs up cybersecurity portfolio, eyes new business

Global telecommunication company Bharti Airtel launches several new offerings to fortify its enterprise business. The company has announced two strategic alliances to bring new-age cybersecurity solutions and has unveiled a Security Intelligence Center (SIC) to enhance enterprise network monitoring capabilities.

All the new offerings are introduced under the umbrella of Airtel Secure.

The Telco has reportedly spent about Rs. 100 crores for the launch of the new SIC. Situated in the National Capital Region, the center will provide remote network monitoring and tracking services through artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to mitigate potential threats.

Airtel has also signed strategic pacts with Cisco and Radware to develop enterprise customers’ security solutions and capabilities. With its collaboration with Cisco, a networking giant, Airtel will offer innovative monitoring, analysis, and investigation of malicious code services to its customers. It will also develop new cybersecurity solutions for businesses to secure networks, endpoints, applications, and the cloud.

Another strategic deal involves Radware, a leading provider of cybersecurity, and application delivery solutions. Through this partnership, the company has been able to set-up India’s first global scrubbing center. This will ensure that all cyber threats to data and information are attacked and eliminated at the country’s source. Airtel’s Nxtra Data will host this advanced facility in Chennai.

The company informed that it has already signed Flipkart, Havell’s, Fidelity India, R-Systems, among others as its customers for the service.

“At Airtel, we constantly ask our customers what more can we do to help them in their digital transformation journeys. Through these conversations, we have heard that cybersecurity is a critical requirement. Airtel Secure has been built to serve this need. It combines Airtel’s robust network security with cutting-edge solutions delivered through global partnerships to deliver end-to-end managed security services,” said Gopal Vittal, MD & CEO (India and South Asia), Bharti Airtel.

Need for proactive cybersecurity solutions gain currency

The cybersecurity market is developing at a fast rate. According to a recent report by Nasscom-DSCI, the Indian cybersecurity services industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 21 percent to touch USD 13.6 billion by 2025.

The opportunity has been further grown because of the pandemic induced remote work scenario. There has been a massive upsurge in bandwidth consumption from various home networks, which may not be as secure as office networks. This new normal creates an enormous scope for threat actors to hack systems and negatively impacts job performance and employee productivity.

Enterprises face mounting pressure to address the rising security threats and need proactive solutions and support to track their network. In a bid to increase their security solutions canvas, most Indian telcos are collaborating with IT majors to establish digital trust and provide a robust connectivity experience to their customers.

Early this year, Vodafone Idea’s enterprise arm, Vodafone Idea Business Services (VIBS), also entered into a partnership with IBM to establish a data security device management solution for enterprises.

Mukesh Ambani-owned Jio is also concentrating on catering to small and medium businesses’ information security needs and has big plans lined up for the next year.

Among all telcos, Airtel is leading the B2B connectivity space and serves over 2500 large and one million-plus SMEs and startups with its integrated product portfolio that includes data centers, cloud, security, and collaboration.

 

Twitter hires Rinki Sethi as CISO to keep hackers at bay

Twitter hires Rinki Sethi as CISO to keep hackers at bay

Micro-blogging giant, Twitter, hires Rinki Sethi, an ex-IBM executive, as its new Chief Information Security Officer (CISO).  The San Francisco-based executive has last worked with Rubrik, a cloud data management company in the capacity of VP and CISO.

Sethi has extensive experience in leading and developing online infrastructure for tech majors such as IBM and Palo Alto Networks. Sethi will manage enterprise risk, security risk, application security, and detection & response efforts in her new office.

Sethi has also served on the advisory council for SecureWorld, one of North America’s major cybersecurity conferences, for over six years.

What makes this announcement significant?

The announcement of Twitter’s new CISO has come at a time when most of the social media platforms are facing substantial scrutiny because of the amplified security breaches and user abuse.

In July this year, the micro-blogging major received severe criticism from many countries because of its inability to preclude a major cyber hack. The company reported a breach when cyber criminals gained unauthorized access to its systems to hack the high-profile Twitter accounts of many famous people, leaders, and influential personalities.

The hacked accounts were used to trap many naïve followers who were tricked into transferring Bitcoins to specific wallets by offering massive returns.

The list of compromised accounts included former US President Barack Obama, media personality Kim Kardashian, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Early this month, a similar incident repeated when cybercriminals hacked the twitter account of Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India.

Skills shortage a big concern

The IT industry has unanimous concerns about the scarcity of trained cybersecurity professionals in the marketplace.

A recent report commissioned by the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), and the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) professionals, reveals that over 70% of governing bodies are putting their operations at risk due to lack of robust cybersecurity talent at the administration. 

The severe shortage in cybersecurity talent is a global problem. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have taken Twitter over nine months to fill the position of CISO leadership role, which had been lying vacant after Mike Convertino, who left the high-profile job in December 2019 to begin his venture.

In the growing work-from-home environment scenario, enterprises need to take speedy steps to beef-up their security policies and infrastructure to fit the growing work-from-home environment. However, if the shortage of trained information security professionals continues to persist for a longer time, it can derail enterprises’ digital transformation efforts, eventually blocking agility and business resiliency. 

CIOs to focus on network transformation for business continuity

CIOs to focus on network transformation for business continuity

The COVID-19 outbreak has dramatically shattered many perceptions. Focus on network transformation for business has suddenly become crucial for many companies to mitigate the impact of the epidemic and stay relevant.

The lockdowns and stay-at-home advisories have further stressed the importance of agile and secure information networks. With a massive uptake of collaboration solutions and burgeoning remote workforce, there has been a pressing need to provide a seamless connectivity experience to every stakeholder and employee.

The digital-first approach has given severe headaches to many CIOs, and IT heads who are consistently evaluating customized solutions to track their extensive network ecosystem.

In the absence of the right network monitoring metrics, IT may feel confronted with identifying the network problem and offer a solution. It ultimately hampers the positive experiences of clients and users. In such a scenario, many technology leaders emphasize deploying tools and technologies to monitor potential vulnerabilities or deficiencies in an organizational network and accelerate their digital network transformation initiatives.

Enabling a more effective remote monitoring

With 5G deployments at the doorway, there’s an exceptional opportunity for enterprises to drive digital innovations at an unprecedented scale. Nevertheless, many of them still struggle to obtain total visibility into varied applications, networks, devices, cloud platforms, and other elements of their IT ecosystem.

Collaboration tools, cloud storage, messaging, and web-conferencing are just a few examples of technologies that enable remote work. Soon, there will be several technologies, such as the internet of things (IoT) and robotic process automation (RPA), which will take on a pivotal part in the enterprise ecosystem and consume additional bandwidth and network capability. These new-age network transformation technologies will also open the pandora box of increased cybersecurity attacks.

Through effective automation enabled network monitoring solutions, organizations can identify demand-supply gaps and vulnerability gaps at regular intervals, thereby getting continuous end-to-end performance visibility across their networks. It will give organizations much-needed speed and nimbleness to augment their value creation flows.

 

Sunit Vakharia : Enterprises are swiftly turning to automation and analytics to make smarter decisions

“In the current scenario, technology leaders will continue to evaluate infrastructure, applications, and security for supporting their employees, partners, and customers. Many technology spending priorities are being rationalized from the perspective of the new normal. Focus on digital transformation has been amplified, and enterprises are swiftly turning to automation and analytics to make smarter decisions,” said Sunit Vakharia, Chief Technology Officer, U GRO Capital in an earlier interaction with Better World (See: Sunit Vakharia, Chief Technology Officer, U GRO Capital).

Future scenario

The network monitoring market is witnessing a massive growth worldwide due to the sudden acceleration of digital transformation initiatives by many organizations. Players such as Accedian, Ixia, Juniper Networks, and LiveAction are among the top players ruling the market.

Chandresh Dedhia : Much focus will soon be on combining detection tools with machine-based cyber threat intelligence

Several industry reports project the market to grow at 12% year-on-year to reach over US $3bn by 2022. The decisive element that will ride the growth stays on business continuity and exceptional customer experience.

“Much focus will soon be on combining detection tools with machine-based cyber threat intelligence. Organizations will strengthen their capabilities to monitor behaviors and applications accessed by employees. Enterprises will continue to revisit their security policies and solutions to reduce risks to IT infrastructure. It is the need of the hour for businesses to consistently evaluate their readiness for supporting remote working as they scale up,” says Chandresh Dedhia, Head of Information Technology, Ascent Health.

The complex and rapidly evolving IT landscape will drive businesses to track network discrepancies and the unique workflow of their scattered workforce. They will be testing and building several network monitoring capabilities to ensure employees can perform their tasks effectively and meet rapidly changing customer expectations.

Anshuman Tiwari, Global Head of Delivery Excellence, DXC Technology

Anshuman Tiwari, Global Head of Delivery Excellence, DXC Technology

In Focus

Anshuman Tiwari

Global Head of Delivery Excellence
DXC Technology

A process-excellence lens could enable businesses to get better every day and come back faster in the game.

Globally, the last few months have been tough for most of the organizations and their employees. During the lockdown, people’s movements were limited by various governments, and many were confined to their homes. Even though the stay-at-home guidelines are no longer active, many people are still apprehensive about venturing out. Age-old habits and operating models are getting changed because of measures such as social distancing that are in place to contain the spread of the crisis.

Today, enterprises are faced with the task to navigate the business challenges in the wake of the crisis and stay put in the market marred with subdued economic sentiments.

Technology and business leaders are in search for the best ways to address issues such as sluggish customer demand, changing behavioral patterns of consumers, and raw material supply challenges.

One such way is to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies, amidst a rising focus on reimagining the business models and adopting a multi-pronged approach.

In a recent interaction with Jatinder Singh of Better World, Anshuman Tiwari, Global Head of Delivery Excellence, DXC Technology, elucidates the critical role of process excellence services in helping enterprises fast-track their digital transformation journey, improve customer experiences, and achieve better returns on investment.

Excerpts of the interview:

Better World: As economies try to get back to normal, many businesses are gasping for survival. In such a scenario, how critical is the role of process improvement to outsmart the uncertainty?

Anshuman Tiwari: Before we go into the criticality of process excellence for the industry, let’s take a step backward and examine how continuous improvement works out in our daily lives.  For over six months, we have been living with stay-at-home guidelines. Many habits and operating models have been transformed because of social distancing measures that are in place to contain the spread of the crisis. We call it the new normal where businesses are often functioning by enabling every part of their process digitally.

Despite disruption during the lockdown, most of us were able to receive essential services such as groceries, milk, and fruits, mainly because of a set of processes. There may have been delays or interruptions initially, but digital services helped us collaborate and get all the necessities delivered at our doorsteps. This success is a prime example of process refinement or process excellence. Processes are nothing but a set of activities repeated multiple times for an excellent outcome. So, the process techniques are essentially developed to operate better every week and every month, leveraging whatever opportunity we get from time to time.

Processes are integral to every industry and even more to an IT industry where most customers are global and have already been exposed to robust techniques. Moreover, in the IT industry, margins are always under pressure, and end-users want to get the same thing at a cheaper cost. However, one cannot compromise with quality to reduce the cost. It would be best to discover a way to operate efficiently to save costs. Process excellence techniques such as Lean, Six Sigma, and automation come handy to enable businesses to improve cash flows without impacting the customer experience.

The current economic environment has compelled organizations to revisit their business models and include the digitization aspect in every part of their business. Enhancing processes is a critical aspect of digital transformation. Due to slow market demand and wafer-thin margins, organizations require massive efforts to strengthen their operations, improve supply chains, and reach out to their customers in new ways.

There have been growing technological advances in helping enterprises automate specific parts of their operations. An in-depth process lens can enable businesses to get better every day. It allows companies to break down and analyze processes that can be automated to deliver the same or better quality at a lesser cost. For instance, process improvement techniques can help an organization to take the robotic process automation (RPA) route to accomplish the same job with fewer people.

Across industries, efforts are being made to eliminate inadequacies and deliver exceptional services to clients.

Better World: You mentioned that process excellence is a stepping stone to digital transformation. Could you please elaborate how these two are correlated?

Anshuman Tiwari: I would like to answer this question in two parts. First, digital transformation is a fancy name. Many organizations have already stopped using the word digital transformation because they feel that every organizational shift is in some or the other way connected with digital technologies. Digital transformation is all about bringing new and advanced technologies to help you perform better, faster, and more effectively. Second, it’s not a new concept; technological change is happening all the time. For instance, fifteen to twenty years ago, we were not ready for full-scale web conferencing. Most of the collaboration tools were still emerging or were primarily limited to text chat. Internet speed was limited. Today, we are getting high-quality education and medical consulting through various web meeting and conferencing tools.

Thus, you are bringing technologies to improve a process, which is resulting in rendering the earlier process primitive. The erstwhile snail mail or even telegram services, for example, may look archaic to various instant communication services such as WhatsApp.

Anshuman Tiwari

Global Head of Delivery Excellence, DXC Technology

Anshuman is a process transformation professional with experience across multiple industries, including banking, professional services, information technology, manufacturing, and consulting. He specializes in setting up and scaling world-class operations excellence programs. In the last few years, he has also managed large RPA and digital initiatives.

Before DXC Technology, he had worked for global multinationals such as EY, HSBC, and Infosys. He is also a fellow member of American Society for Quality (ASQ), formerly the American Society for Quality Control, a knowledge-based global community of quality professionals.

Besides work, Anshuman is a fitness fanatic and has participated in several marathons across India.

Top skills

  • Process improvement
  • Digital transformation initiatives
  • Six Sigma, Lean, automation, robotics process automation (RPA) and maturity frameworks
  • Agile project management

Education

  • Post Graduate Diploma in Management (MBA) in Operations Management, K.J. Somaiya Institute Of Management Studies and Research
  • B.E. Industrial Engineering, Nagpur University

Now, let’s understand how a process or service excellence enables organizations to drive continuous change. It is imperative to know what we want to improve and why we wish to invest in making that improvement? Is it service delivery, resource optimization, customer experience, or all three? Any process enhancement may involve some investment or technology implementation. However, for any organization or entity, financial resources are limited. Process excellence teams help businesses determine the problem, suggest a solution, and showcase how the solution will help. Through process enhancement initiatives, organizations identify an opportunity and attain the final state of operational excellence through continuous improvement. This entire effort makes a process more effective and intelligent to deliver positive outcomes consistently, with minimal waste.

While there may be several ways to transform operations digitally, process testing can help accomplish which method is best and more suited to achieve a definitive outcome. Many transformation journeys end in suboptimal benefits, i.e., they don’t give the results they promise. That’s why you need a ‘method’ to transformation. Process excellence efforts give you a holistic outlook for your transformation efforts.

Better World: How do you engage with different business leaders for a service-excellence initiative? What are some of the best practices that you adhere to while proposing a given solution?

Anshuman Tiwari: There are two parts of the spectrum. On one end, nobody wants to improve. Some leaders wish for a status quo. They don’t desire to change or iterate a set of technological processes for getting satisfactory results. On the other extreme, some executives look to continuously change everything. Both approaches are detrimental.

If you don’t want to change and respond to the transitions happening around you, you will not grow or begin losing market share. Many erstwhile leaders failed because they did not respond to market needs or transformed their products and processes to improve their market positions. In the end, it resulted in their ruin.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are executives who wish to change everything all the time. It can be very costly and confusing for people. By the time people get to know about the new process, it would have already got changed. The probabilities are high that in such a condition, there will be a lot of unhappy employees and dissatisfied customers.

Then some people and executives who are in the middle of the spectrum. I believe that most of them are either in this category or are slowly moving toward it. There is a growing awareness around the worth of testing different processes that can impact the end customer. But it would be best if you demonstrate the inefficiency and merits of enhancing a process.

Let me give you an example. A few years ago, in an insurance process review meeting in Hong Kong, we discovered that one of our insurance-sector clients was taking one to two weeks in delivering an insurance policy. In that market, we found several other leading insurance players were taking a maximum of one week in issuing insurance policies. We examined their case and gave them an overview of how this delay could hamper their prospects. They were initially reluctant to accept, but when we explicated that their process was broken and had too much inefficiency compared to three other banks and insurance providers, they bought our idea and immediately sanctioned the process enhancement project.

So, even if your processes are working all right but failing to give you market competitive results, it’s time to evaluate. It may happen that your customers do not see it because of your past success or goodwill, but you should invest in it for long-term market advantage to scale down your error rates. Continuous improvement of a process improves not only the lives of employees but also customers. On top of that, organizations get the benefits of cost savings. You would not want to utilize the efficiency of your quality employees by giving them a task to reconcile and match data. This kind of job can be performed with the help of some software programs quite quickly.

So, in a nutshell, evaluating a process is critical to ensure that a company performs well. And all process-efficiency projects are either related to customer benefits or your people’s benefits or both.

Better World: Given the growing focus of enterprises on digital transformation, how do you see the year 2021 evolving from a process-excellence lens?

Anshuman Tiwari: Nobody knows for how long the current situation will last. The impact of the current crisis is likely to be felt for a long time, according to many experts. If there is any evidence, the last similar event (Spanish flu) occurred in 1918, which was more than a hundred years ago. It lasted for three to five years in different geographies. Of course, the situation is different in that the medical science has progressed and there are various forms of connectivity today. However, it is also true that there were no large cities back then, and population density was not that high. So, while there has been progress on some fronts, there also are counterbalancing factors that tend to neutralize those improvements. Today, we are transforming and changing fast due to this sudden disruption. Like every other practice, process excellence will also change. Priorities for large businesses will be very different for some time. Enterprises will look for rebuilding businesses. There will be a strategic focus on renewing processes in such a way that companies can come back faster.

While it is difficult to predict things, given the unprecedented nature of change, I believe there will be a reasonable investment in technologies such as RPA and internet of things (IoT). Customer centricity will continue to push organizations to innovate and develop new products and services. That’s where most of the processes will be built.

Organizations that follow a smart approach to transformation by leveraging their people, diverse processes, and technologies will be way ahead. Like any other area, process excellence will need to adapt to newer developments and focus on innovation so that as the opportunities arise, we can take advantage of those.

Vodafone wins tax battle against India

Vodafone wins tax battle against India

British Telecom giant Vodafone Group Plc has won an international arbitration case against the Indian government in Rs. 22,100 crore tax dispute.

An international arbitration tribunal ordered that India’s penalty of tax liability on Vodafone was a breach of fair treatment under a bilateral investment protection treaty.

The telecom company entered a tax controversy in India over Hutchison Essar Telecom services buy in April 2007. The Indian government levied a Rs 7,990 crore in capital gains taxes (Rs 22,100 crore post interest and penalty) on Vodafone, citing that the transaction involved purchasing assets in an Indian company, which Vodafone contested.

It is worth recalling that the Supreme Court, India’s apex court body, had also quelled the government’s tax demand from Vodafone in 2012. Later, the Indian government made amendments in the law, making Vodafone liable again for the taxes.

Post the center’s decision to impose a tax liability on it, Vodafone filed an International Arbitration in Singapore. In India, Vodafone amalgamated its operations with Idea Cellular a couple of years back, but the joint entity VI is fronting a $7.8 billion bill in past statutory dues.

At this juncture, this ruling ended the decade-long tax clash between India and the Vodafone Group. The details of the arbitral award are yet to be made public.

What is the matter?

The issue goes back to February 2007, when the Dutch associate of the Vodafone Group, Vodafone International Holdings (VIH) B.V, acquired a controlling 67% stake in the Indian telecom firm Hutchison Essar Limited (HEL) for $11 bn. The transaction transpired through CGP Investments (Holding) Ltd (CGP Ltd.), a Cayman Islands Company, whose 100% shares were purchased by VIH.

At that time,  the Indian authorities slapped a capital gains tax on Vodafone, including a penalty, saying that the indirect transfer of HEL shares, an Indian company, was a fixed arrangement to evade taxes. Vodafone, on the other hand, contested the demand by replying that the transaction between HTIL and VIH did not include the transfer of any capital asset. 

The matter arrived at the Supreme Court of India, which ruled in favor of Vodafone. Quite surprisingly, soon after the verdict, the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee proposed an amendment bill in India’s upper house, introducing retrospective revisions that went back to 1962.

It would be exciting to see if the Indian government accepts the ruling or avail the options of approaching the High Court of Singapore to contest the judgment. The Singapore tribunal, though, has not accepted Vodafone’s claim of award of damages.

A big boost to VI India ambitions

The arbitration win has strengthened Vodafone-Idea’s( VI) India growth plans. Soon after the win, the shares of VI saw a nearly 15 percent jump at National Stock Exchange (NSE).

The joint entity has recently refreshed its brand identity to invigorate its prospects in the domestic market. (Vodafone Idea Ltd: Could rebranding change the future?)

It appears like 2020 has been quite blessed for VI as far as its India’s ambitions are concerned. Many industry onlookers projected VI’s downfall in India at the beginning of this year due to cutthroat competition with Airtel and RJIO and Vodafone’s growing debt. However, Vodafone-Idea rejuvenated itself after getting a respite from India’s Supreme Court, which provided Vodafone a stretched time frame of 10 years to pay Rs.25000 crores AGR dues it owes to the Indian government.

The company is now looking forward to beef-up its 4G technology and strengthen network coverage and capacity to improve its market share in India.

 

AT&T and Microsoft join forces to develop secure IoT solutions

AT&T and Microsoft join forces to develop secure IoT solutions

AT&T, the world’s largest telecommunication company, and tech major Microsoft have extended the scope of their partnership to enable enterprises to deliver secure and seamless connectivity of IoT devices. As AT&T and Microsoft join forces, the technology convergence of both these companies is likely to spearhead futuristic IoT deployments for organizations of diverse nature.

As part of the partnership, AT&T will continue to use Microsoft’s Azure infrastructure and work together to launch integrated IoT solutions with Azure Sphere. Unveiled in 2018, Azure Sphere is a secured, high-level application platform with built-in communication and tailored design to support internet-connected device and edge applications. Azure is the first fully open source-based product designed by Microsoft.

This announcement is part of the AT&T-Microsoft multi-year pact signed by the two companies last year. The deal was reportedly valued at $2 billion and gave exclusive rights to Microsoft as AT&T’s non-network applications preferred cloud provider. The agreement also encompasses collaboration on developing new 5G, cloud, and edge computing solutions to drive enterprise capabilities for diverse companies worldwide.

Addressing IoT security issues with the new solution

Leveraging each other’s capabilities, AT&T has unveiled a cellular technology-based enterprise device, branded as a guardian device. Guardian will run on Microsoft’s Azure Sphere and AT&T’s multi-layered secure core network to deliver a secure cloud connection that evades the public internet.

“The solution provides fast and highly secure activation right out of the box. It enables enterprises to easily connect existing equipment to the cloud and Azure IoT Central. With this, a wide variety of industries can rapidly deploy IoT applications relying on the combined security benefits of the AT&T cellular network with Azure Sphere device security,” says the joint company statement.

The device, designed to be self-installed and self-provisioned, aims to help businesses scale internet of things (IoT) deployments to transform their operations quickly.

Focus on digital transformation capabilities

In the wake of COVID-19 and the new work environment, organizations worldwide have accelerated their digital transformation initiatives. Most of the telecom service providers and tech majors are taking M&A or the partnership route to develop edge computing capabilities. (See: Infosys buys GuideVision to boost Dx capabilities)

With the coming of 5G mobile connectivity, a whole new set of possibilities have emerged, allowing businesses to deliver live, immersive, and real-time experiences from a remote location.

As such, the fight for gaining a competitive edge over others for rising new-age technologies such as IoT and automation is getting more fierce.

Microsoft and AT&T, too, have set their sights on the growing digital transformation solutions market. In April this year, both these companies also announced that they were partnering to bring ultra-low-latency edge computing for many enterprise customers.

 

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