Traversing the two-speed world
Digital modernization is currently one of the most competitive industries in the world. Any business unable to keep its technological processes up-to-date risks being left behind, but most companies – whether brand new or well-established – will require guidance. Few companies are blessed with enough IT know-how to facilitate their own digital transformations, and this is where companies like Syntel step in.
Syntel is a global leader in digital modernization services. The company was founded in 1980 in Troy, Michigan, and serves multinational clients from 17 global developments centers in the US and India, bringing technology and consulting services to many sectors including banking, healthcare, and manufacturing. It is a certified MBE – a fully minority-owned business – listed on NASDAQ and run since 2014 by CEO and President, Nitin Rakesh.
Rakesh took over from Prashant Ranade, going on to deploy Syntel’s autonomic computing platform, SyntBots. Having started in financial services and dipping into other industries, he has worked in the technology sector for the past 25 years, focusing on building new businesses with new innovations.
“I look at business models and work out how to help take advantage of the technologies and capabilities available,” says Rakesh. “Then it’s about improving them.”
Syntel places a heavy focus on enabling businesses to cope with the ‘two-speed world’; this term refers to the idea that some parts of the world – such as Europe, North America, and Japan – are developing more slowly than quickly-developing economies like Brazil, China, and India. Rakesh has written an article on the subject, as assisting companies with this global struggle is a particular passion of his.
“We can classify clients predominantly as banking, insurance, hospitals et cetera, but essentially they’re all enterprises with an existing business and a history spanning 30, 50, 200 years,” he says. “So when we say we help them deal with the two-speed world, what we’re really saying is a combination of two things: firstly that we know they have to adapt and embrace new technologies, and also they have to have the ability to speak to customers and find out what they want. A lot of them have been using the same technology platforms for the last 25-30 years, and between us we have to find a way to preserve those investments and make the most of them. There’s a lot of intelligence sitting in those systems.
“So how do you best help them manage existing IT applications? At the same time, you have to take them on the journey to becoming a digital enterprise: if you truly believe that every business is a digital business because of technology and disruption, you also have to believe every large enterprise in the domain will embrace technologies, turn them on their head, and become a digital company. We look at the best ways to help businesses manage through dynamics, lower the costs of existing platforms, then take that saved money and use it to transform itself. It’s a self-funding cycle, and building this useable automation is what we’ve been working on for the last few years.”
Of course, any big change in an established business will meet with some resistance. According to Rakesh, resistance comes from mid-level staff: “My view on change is that any change is positive,” he explains. “The people at the top know where they need to go, and the young millennials they hire know what the future is. The middle level is more resistant, but we’re seeing some major initiatives from the top. Everybody needs to get more efficient and embrace technology. Everyone needs to innovate.”
Syntel utilizes a variety of platforms to help its clients depending on the focus of their transformation. For a UK bank, for example, Syntel has spent the past 18 months helping to manage its existing platform whilst simultaneously launching a digital element to make it mobile-first. The idea, Rakesh says, is to reduce complexity.
“They had a branch service model which didn’t work with the digital service model, and the latter has the advantage of giving the bank the ability to accept customers from anywhere. With this new digital process in place, the client began to see the average age of customers drop because they were suddenly attracting millennials, which they didn’t previously because they were focused on the branch model.”
Syntel thrives on helping companies to bring in younger customers, also aiding a large credit card company to move from a plastic wallet to a digital one, and assisting an online payment business to almost move backwards and into the lending industry. Rakesh is more than aware that trends shift, and every company needs equal attention, meaning that Syntel too much keep ahead.
“Our business is a reflection of our clients,” he says. “We are having to keep up and stay ahead so we can deliver to our customers and ensure we’re able to invest in new areas, like developmental platforms and building skills more easily with better technology. We’re doing dynamic development and are empowering people with more and more abilities. There’s a number of moving parts in our business, and we have to constantly innovate to combat the digital disruption our clients are seeing.”
It is this individual dedication and attention to detail which helps Syntel to attain and retain its ‘customer for life strategy’, the system by which the company chooses and nurtures clients. Rakesh admits that he is careful with who he and his team pick, because the business wishes to show value to every patron, and that only comes if Syntel truly can help: “Sometimes we have to say ‘no’ if we know we won’t be able to deliver,” he says. For those who are chosen, Syntel’s work is all about keeping companies relevant to their own customers by assisting them in their transformative journeys.
“We invest in them; we spend a lot of our capital investing with our customers,” he says. “It’s a relationship-driven approach, aligning our goals and objectives to theirs and taking a long-term view. These are basic elements of a partnership.
“How do you align incentives and objectives with the customer? If someone comes in for a consultation and I say ‘I don’t care about the outcome, I just want to make the biggest number’, there’s no trust. If I say ‘this is my base rate and everything else is delivered flexibly to you’, that creates much more potential and heightens the relationship level. It builds trust; you invest in those relationships and bring in the right talent. This is how we align our incentives and objectives with theirs, and that goes a long way.”
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Dr Peng Wei: Designing the Future of Autonomous Aircraft
Air traffic is expected to double by 2037. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the world will need 37,000+ new passenger and freight aircraft, and more than half a million new pilots—unless we come up with another solution. Right now, a George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science professor, Dr Peng Wei, is starting to research autonomous electric aircraft design.
NASA will fund the research, which will study how to minimise risks for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL). As Airbus states: ‘Autonomous technologies also have the potential to improve air traffic management, enhance sustainability performance and further improve aircraft safety’.
Who is Dr Wei?
An assistant professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Dr Wei has researched aircraft control, optimisation, and AI and ML applications in aviation. Over the next three years, he’ll lead the US$2.5mn NASA grant project in collaboration with researchers from Vanderbilt, the University of Texas at Austin, and MIT’s Lincoln Lab.
Why is His Research Important?
Even though the wide adoption of self-piloting cars, much less aircraft, is still far down the road, technologies that Dr Wei and his colleagues are researching will form the commercial transport of the future. But aviation manufacturers, in order to produce autonomous aircraft, will have to meet extremely high safety standards.
‘The key challenge for self-piloting capabilities is how the system reacts to unforeseen events’, said Arne Stoschek, Wayfinder Project Executive at Acubed. ‘That’s the big jump from automated to autonomous’. In the air, AI-piloted aircraft will have to manoeuvre around adverse weather conditions, such as wind and storms, and other high-altitude risks, such as GPS hacking, cyberattacks, and aircraft degradation. And the stakes are high.
‘If a machine learning algorithm makes a mistake in Facebook, TikTok, Netflix —that doesn't matter too much because I was just recommended a video or movie I don't like’, Dr Wei said. ‘But if a machine learning algorithm mistake happens in a safety-critical application, such as aviation or in autonomous driving, people may have accidents. There may be fatal results’.
What Are His Other Projects?
In addition to the new NASA research, Dr Wei has been awarded three other grants to pursue AI-piloted aircraft:
- A 2-year grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in conjunction with West Virginia University and Honeywell Aerospace to investigate “learning-based” aviation systems
- A six-month SBIR Phase I NASA award with Intelligent Automation to mitigate airspace congestion at vertiports—the electric craft version of airports.
- A 1-year collaborative grant with the University of Virginia and George Mason University from the Virginia Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) to develop anti-cyber attack technologies and aviation video systems
Research like NASA and Dr Wei’s three-year programme will help improve how AI reacts and adapts to challenging air conditions. In coming years, autonomous aircraft will likely take off slowly, starting with small package delivery, then upgraded drones, and finally commercialised aircraft. But congestion issues will worsen until autonomous aircraft are the best alternative.
According to BBC Future, by 2030, commuters will spend nearly 100 hours a year in Los Angeles and Moscow traffic jams, and 43 cities will be home to more than 10 million people. The final verdict? Bring on the AI-operated transit.