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Data centre infrastructure will play a big role in the years to come as more and more stuff will be on the cloud. Customers no longer want a whole lot of building management system (BMS) operators sitting on their premises. They want more contactless and remote maintenance solutions. This is predictive maintenance, explains Sanjay Sudhakaran, Vice President Digital Energy Management, Schneider Electric. Excerpts of the interview...
How is technology deployment disrupting the infrastructure sector in India?
In the past, India was lagging the curve as far as infrastructure development is concerned. But there are a lot of positives in terms of affirmative actions that successive governments have taken in recent times. The most important thing is how do we make our infrastructure more sustainable? Most of the infrastructure that we have today is based on public-private partnerships (PPPs) and that's a welcome change. But that also means pumping in taxpayer's money into the infrastructure that is created. Here, I would focus on two critical aspects of infrastructure - transport and power. Under the transport segment, rail transport, especially mass rapid transport system (MRTS) that we are building across India as well as the airports, are included. The challenge is to make this whole stuff sustainable. At the end of the day, the mantra is electrification, electrification, electrification and more electrification!.
The other aspect is how to make this infrastructure safe and secure. Where security is concerned, we are using more and more IoT devices. The number of such devices has gone up by more than 40 times in the last couple of years. And there is a lot of data that is being generated. Now, this disruption is going to drive the infrastructure sector. The question is: How do you make your infrastructure more sustainable by using big data analytics..
What are the main factors that have triggered it?
It was primarily the way the government policies have changed. Rather than building all such infrastructure themselves, the government has encouraged foreign direct investment and PPPs. At the end of the day, sustainability, both in terms of environment and revenues, has undergone a significant change. For instance, look at the airport or metro rail systems that have been built in the recent past..
Will this also result in a reduction in headcount especially with labour shortages at major construction sites due to reverse migration?
We shouldn't be overly alarmed about it. Yes, we are putting in more and more automation and digital technologies into our buildings and infrastructure. But it is not going to eliminate jobs; it will lead to a shift in jobs. This is a classic debate that we have been having since the time of the Industrial Revolution: Whether industrialisation and automation are going to prevent people from getting employed? But that has not happened. In the centuries gone by we have seen more jobs being created. Where are these jobs going to come from? As the penetration of education in countries like India grows and technology adoption increases, we will find more meaningful employment for people. For instance, today, a carpenter's son needn't be a carpenter. Technology will provide avenues for talent to be utilised more meaningfully..
What are some of the segments in infrastructure that will see more use of technology going forward?
One area that is going to witness the highest impact is urbanisation. At the current rate of growth, we are probably building one London every month across the globe. .
Newer cities are getting developed. Cities are getting more and more modern. And all this requires a tremendous amount of infrastructure in terms of buildings. Buildings will consume more than 40 per cent of the world's electricity and will become one of its highest guzzlers! So, it is going to be an all-electric and all-digital world. Now, what will happen as a result is that the need for electrification will grow 40 times in the next century. That is the kind of intense level of electrification that will be required. And we all know that electricity is the most efficient kind of fuel. To consume lesser fossil fuels, we are incorporating IoT and analytics into products to make sure we consume less power. The other very significant shift that we will see is decarbonisation. For instance, we will need more solar and wind energy. The conventional sources of energy will start diminishing in the overall mix. The usage of power will be based on an open bid methodology. For instance, a large airport may decide to use conventional energy during the night. However, it might shift to solar or wind energy at particular times during the day to optimise its overall energy basket. This kind of switching will require a high level of analytics and cloud-based services. This kind of decision making will require artificial intelligence. And that is where we feel there is a big play for a company like Schneider Electric..
In the past few years, you have been talking a lot about your proprietary EcoStruxure platform. What role can such solutions play in addressing challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic?
Every crisis is an opportunity for human beings to reinvent themselves. This pandemic has triggered a huge amount of digital usage. Data centre infrastructure is another segment that will play a big role in the years to come as more and more stuff will be on the cloud. There are certain other elements on the infrastructure side such as buildings that we see as an organisation. Customers no longer want a whole lot of building management system (BMS) operators sitting on their premises. They want more contactless and remote maintenance solutions. In infrastructure, human interference is being replaced by cloud and data scientists who sit at the backend and advise the customer on preventive maintenance. On the other side, we are going to have more analytics-based maintenance to ensure that a system either never fails or is promptly rectified before failure. This is predictive maintenance. .
With the kind of push is being given to the MSME sector by the government under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, do you see the manufacturing sector also contributing to this growth?
Absolutely! It will also come from the manufacturing segment as with the social distancing norms in place the cost of maintaining a plant also goes up. You are not at the point where such costs can be passed on to the consumer. So, you will need to find ways that help build efficiencies. And that is going to come from the remote movement of machinery, EcosStruxure-based machines, analytics, etc. to ensure lesser manual intervention in factories, more productive processes and reduced downtime. .
Time to indulge in some crystal ball gazing! What are some of the surprises that might be in store as far as technology is concerned?
What will surprise you as far as technology is concerned is that nothing is completely predictable. The visibility is not there even for one year. That's how disruptive technology moves. What we can say is that with the enhanced adoption of 5G and analytics, things are going to get even more unpredictable. Especially in a country such as India, we might skip several technologies to leapfrog to the next level. And we are well-poised as a country for the revolution, as we started by exporting software to the globe as an off-shore hub and transformed ourselves over time to become a technology and analytics provider to the world. The coronavirus pandemic will drive more and more investments into India. Globally, as the operational costs go up, everyone will be looking at driving up efficiencies. Those efforts will translate into investments on the technology side. India should be well poised to take care of that from the perspective of Aatmanirbhar Bharat. It will be not only India making for India but also India making for the world as well!.
- MANISH PANT.