Telecom industry being redefined with advent of AI, automation and analytics

As telecom industry is gearing up for the interplay between AI, automation and analytics to drive businesses and new revenue streams, it becomes crucial to have a look at the digital technologies that are changing the landscape for telcos

As telecom industry is gearing up for the interplay between AI, automation and analytics to drive businesses and new revenue streams, it becomes crucial to have a look at the digital technologies that are changing the landscape for the telcos. In an interaction with ET’s Tina Gurnaney, Nishikant Nigam, EVP & Chief Delivery Officer at CSS CORP discusses AI’s role among other technologies in revolutionizing telecom networks.

What role are AI, analytics and automation playing in revolutionizing telecom networks?

The rapid transition to digital has changed the world including telcos. Traditional voice and text businesses are declining as the data business grows exponentially. The competition has broadened to include new kinds of companies. Also, the customers’ expectations are very different. Organizations need to renovate, innovate and evolve much faster than ever before to stay relevant.

AI, analytics and automation are powerful technologies in that quest, we call them “lever technologies”. These technologies, especially when used together, have a similar effect.

Just like the lever, these technologies are a means to an end, not an end by themselves. They not only enable more efficiency and optimization but also open up new possibilities in the telcos’ strategies that just weren’t there in the past. But really embracing these tools allows telcos to catapult into new frontiers – implementing high-density urban 5G deployments, predicting system failures and prompting preventive action, and humanizing customer service chatbots.

Can AI help telcos in creating new revenue streams?

Absolutely. This industry, like many others, is being redefined. The traditional services and competitors are being challenged by companies from other industries who are “blurring the lines” on what it means to be a telco. Similarly, telcos are able to cross over into adjacent or tangentially related industries. The companies who can do that successfully are ones that provide a superior customer experience. It gives companies the brand permissions they need to branch out into new areas and build new revenue models.

What are the trends we’re seeing in the telecom space with regards to AI?

We are really in the golden age of the consumer, and telecom companies are using more and more AI to give customers more choices and personalized services than ever before. This continued evolution in consumer demand, coupled with proliferated smartphone usage, will continue to drive fundamental changes in the way consumers react to services and have taken the consumer-brand collaboration to the whole new level. Tools like conversational interfaces are on the rise. The blend of voice recognition, natural language processing, and artificial intelligence can understand not only the user’s words but their intent and context which help telecos to establish customer trust. Telecom companies are also using AI to drive efficiencies and better manage increasingly complex operations, systems, and networks.

What can be telcos’ digital strategy going forward?

Legacy digital strategies focused more on running digital as an isolated area of the business, with a dedicated “digital team”. Newer strategies recognize that the majority of customers’ interactions will occur through digital channels, so they can be used as a way to create value throughout the customer’s journey. Hence digital plays on the front office side as a means to enhance revenue, provide better customer experience and value for customers, which is critical given customer’s high expectations and lower switching costs.

Some of the key strategies that telecom organizations can use to embrace the ever-changing digital technologies include predictive analytics for customer behavior and journey mapping, self-help and DIY, innovative pricing models, robotic process automation (RPA), omni-channel support and mobile based customer support. These strategies can help to improve customers’ experience and solve problems of the telecom industry through multimedia and online support; helping businesses to build customer relationships, customer loyalty and increase revenues.

How can AI help in automating the networks?

With the growing use of cloud and the rise of the Internet of Things, not to mention consumer data, the networks need to handle higher volumes of data than ever before, making automation an imperative for better network planning and connectivity. AI helps networks to identify the best course of actions, to build self- healing capabilities, and to emulate human-like behavior of adapting.

How can AI help with smooth integration of technologies including virtualization, SDN-NFV, orchestration?

Software-defined networks (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) are major advances in the industry, creating more agile and flexible communications infrastructure – but to be useful we must be able to manage them efficiently. They must be highly reliable and scalable, easily set up, with efficient ways to monitoring, maintain, and repair them. AI is uniquely suited to analyzing large volumes of information, extracting information and identifying insights – even more than traditional analytics – because it can learn from itself. So with a technology that’s still emerging, the AI-based systems that manage them can learn along with them. We don’t have to constantly reprogram or recalibrate. These systems can take on provisioning of SDN for network managers, for instance, or virtualization of NFV to realize an on-demand dynamic network configuration.

Are there any telcos in India working on AI related solutions?

Yes, absolutely. Most of the major telcos have adopted the AI wave and are working on related solutions. For example, Vodafone launched its chatbot in 2017, named TOBi. It’s a virtual service agent powered by AI through IBM Watson and integrated with Facebook Messenger. It helps customers seeking answers to basic questions over web chat. Many others are working on similar projects or not far behind.

Are there any projections you can share for the same?

You can expect to read about more AI-based projects in the next 12-18 months as AI becomes truly an integral part of telecommunications industry.

One of the successful use cases could be managing customer support operations and IT operations in the telecom industry where AI enables convergence of human and machine intelligence. This results in improved business agility, operational excellence, and resilience, and brings about better customer experience. The ability to respond instantaneously and accurately to customers’ questions and helping them in decision making processes have made AI an integral part of telecom customer experience ecosystem.

What role are analytics, intelligent automation playing in revolutionizing telecom networks?

These technologies have created a lot of changes to telecom operators. The advent of 5G is likely to lead to high-density urban deployments, which would create multitudes of patterns that’d be practically impossible for humans to manage but would be easily handled by self-learning AI. AI is also likely to impact the telecom industry in areas like traffic classification, anomaly detection, network optimization and orchestration. The ways to use AI in networks are still emerging but these are some that have a lot of focus now.

What revenue streams can telcos explore while leveraging emerging technologies?

Cross-platform consumption of media and content is one area that is opening up further growth opportunities for telcos with AI-led solutions. Once companies have competencies with implementing and using AI, the revenue possibilities are very broad. Specific opportunities depend on each company’s strengths and opportunities. The other option is for the telcos to also co-innovate with niche service providers that bring these emerging technologies across a variety of use cases to the table.

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CSS Corp Wins ‘Outsource Partner of the Year 2020’ at Excellence in Customer Service Awards

CSS Corp, a new-age IT services and technology support company, today announced that it has won the Outsource Partner of the year 2020 award by the Business Intelligence Group at their Excellence in Customer Service Awards. The company was named as the winner at Philadelphia on April 20, 2020.

CSS Corp was awarded for emerging as the premier outsourcing partner of the year. Over the last few years, CSS Corp has significantly enhanced its capabilities in the customer service and technical support landscape through differentiated business models and customer support transformation from an effort-led to an intelligence-led ecosystem. The company’s prowess in leveraging new age solutions has enabled it to consistently deliver business outcomes for its customers. Its digitally infused operations have enabled the company to stay nimble and adapt itself to the fast-evolving industry landscape. In the current Covid19 crisis, CSS Corp has been one of the first service providers to transition to a 100% productive Work-From-Home model with zero impact to SLAs, by leveraging its RESILIENCE framework

Speaking on the occasion, Manish Tandon, Chief Executive Officer, CSS Corp said, “We are delighted to be recognized as the outsource partner of the year 2020 by the Business Intelligence Group. Over the past few years, CSS Corp has positioned itself as a leader in driving outcome focused CX transformation for our clients. We have been investing heavily in strengthening our capabilities as an end-to-end managed CX services provider and have emerged as a strategic partner of choice for global brands with our business transformation-themed services. In the services landscape, we understand that one size doesn’t fit all, hence we strive to engineer customized, but scalable solutions that fit within our clients’ business environments. This award is a testament to our continued pursuit of service excellence driven by our values of customer centricity, deep tech innovation and spirit of partnership with our customers.”

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Intelligent Automation Systems: The Birth of a New Era

By Phanikishore Burre, Vice President & Global Head – Cloud, Infrastructure & Security Services, CSS Corp

Intelligent automation is the use of artificial intelligence technologies (including natural language processing, machine learning, and other technologies) to automate tasks otherwise performed by humans, including both physical tasks and decision making. They may range from the regular to the disruptive: from simply collecting, analyzing, and making decisions based on available information, to guiding robots and driverless vehicles.

Intelligent automation (IA) system differ significantly from traditional automation in their ability to constantly evolve and learn. IA systems sense and synthesize huge amounts of information and develop insights about the processes they are performing. They can use these insights to predict the outcomes of potential actions, such as changes made to the underlying enterprise infrastructure or application updates to business processes.

There are numerous examples of the commercial use of intelligent automation. Credit card processing systems can identify and block fraudulent transactions. Marketing systems can make offers to clients depending on the analyses of their profile and market demands. E-discovery systems that can identify document meaning for litigation purposes.

Demand for Intelligent Automation

The range of business problems to which intelligent automation can be applied is expanding as advanced technologies improve and become usable by non-specialists. Demand continues to be driven by:

• Tight Labor Markets:A shortage of workers in sectors like retail, customer support, manufacturing, and insurance have led companies to seek out alternatives. By automating routine tasks, available human resources are freed up.

• Exponential Growth of Data and Information: On an average, human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. IBM estimates that the build out of the Internet of Things will lead to the doubling of information every 12 hours. IA, like power tools, enables knowledge workers—from plant supervisors to investment analysts to physicians—to process, understand, and effectively use huge volumes of information.

• Prebuild IA Solutions: Software firms, technology firms, and private equity are all betting big on all things AI. One result is the growth of industry-specific IA solutions and IA-as-a-service. These pre-built tools decrease costs, mitigate risks, and increase ease-of-use. From tech companies like EdTech Foundry’s chatbots that assist students in higher education to software firms like Lytic’s IA-based personalized marketing solutions for healthcare companies, niche IA solutions are being developed for every conceivable use.

Use of Intelligent Automation to Automate Decision Making
A potent use of IA involves automation of analysis and decision making. The complete workflow often includes humans for reviewing and approving decisions made by machines but removing most of the analysis work can produce better decisions more efficiently.

Tech manufacturers use IA for monitoring customer infrastructure and application for risks and enabling service agility. IA can extract key metrics from IT operations, and dynamically set thresholds and drive operational excellence.

In the public sector, a network of sensors, cameras, and data feeds linked to an AI-powered system can automatically flag images for a human analyst watching for potential threats. Londonhas deployed a large citywide network of video cameras and leverages intelligent technologies for identifying crime suspects.

Automation of Physical Tasks through Collaborative Robots
The new generation of intelligent robots can perform much more sophisticated physical tasks than their traditional counterparts and can even learn from human coworkers.

Kiva Systems’ famous “mobile-robotic fulfillment system” automates retail distribution centers for organizations. Robots travel around a distribution center to automatically transport shelving units loaded with products to workers who are preparing customer orders for shipment. Amazon acquired Kiva Systems last year for nearly $800 million.

Volkswagen implemented “collaborative robots” in an engine production plant in Germany that work side by side with humans. Volkswagen’s motivation for implementing the robot was to prevent “long-term burdens” on its employees by having machines take over tasks that are “ergonomically unfavorable.”

Given the breakneck pace of automation technology, there is no tried and true path for organizations to follow. It will not be a natural act, and will require effort from each one of us. But that should not stop today’s leaders. To benefit from intelligent automation, organizations need to ensure that their teams are fully equipped to take the advantage of the changes that lie ahead. It also means investing in innovation and new skills, and creating an environment of experimentation, opportunity and growth. But first, it requires a shift to a digital mindset and culture where the relationship between people and machines can fulfill its potential as essential co-workers for the digital age.

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What one year of remote work has taught IT and energy sectors

On March 23, 2020, the Government of India ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days, limiting the movement of the nearly 138 crore population of India as a preventive measure against the emerging Covid-19 pandemic in India.

Subsequently, the corporate world scrambled to ensure its business and employees remained safe. The idea gave way to the rolling out of the work from home (WFH) policy across sectors. Following the same, ETHRWorld tried to assess India’s two prominent sectors that are responsible for the nation’s economic bulk on how they have fared in the remote work culture: IT and Energy.

IT making its way

Speaking of the initial challenges faced while managing various HR operations remotely, Satyanarayanan Visvanathan, SVP and Head – HR (Global) & Corporate Quality, CSS Corp, said the uncertainties caused by the pandemic, coupled with isolated working, had been difficult for many employees.

Accepting the change gracefully was the only effective way to move forward and IT service management company CSS Corp was able to transmit this equipoise across the organisation with its CHEER framework.

“Our CHEER framework (Communication, High-lighting accomplishments, Energising teams, Engagement with employees and Recognition of achievements), developed specifically for the Covid times, has been instrumental in driving high employee morale and positivity,” Visvanathan said.

For Chirag Doshi, Head of People, ThoughtWorks India, the initial challenge was figuring out how to make sound hiring decisions bereft of any in-person interactions.

“While remote interviews have been commonplace at ThoughtWorks for a few years already, before the pandemic, we usually ensured at least one in-person interaction for every candidate,” he said.

However, in 2020 the software company adapted to assessing candidates’ culture-fitment during the remote interviews.

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Contextualization is the new personalization: Sunil Mittal, CSS Corp

By Srikanth RP – Editor, Express Computer

The IT services ecosystem is changing rapidly with automation being the norm than the exception. In this era of digital disruption, every IT services firm is reinventing itself to adapt itself to the new era. Sunil Mittal, EVP, and Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, CSS Corp, tells EC, on how his firm is integrating capabilities of AI, machine learning and deep learning to predict network related issues and proactively manage complex ecosystems effortlessly


How has your firm adapted to the digital era where automation has become the norm?

Today’s digital age has enabled increased collaboration within the business ecosystem. Businesses are focused on creating a larger ecosystem by building synergistic relationships with partners, suppliers, and vendors to drive better accountability and deliver seamless customer experience.

Let’s take an example of the telecom industry that impacts end-consumers, enterprises, and industries. Telcos of the 90s largely operated in silos. With the advent of digital, today telcos have created an integrated ecosystem that involves various stakeholders like news agencies, content aggregators, payment gateways, over the top (OTT) media services and record labels. This model significantly increases service consumption and average revenue per customer (ARPC) through a single platform.

Organizations are rethinking their customer value chain to adapt to the new realities and demands in a collaborative business model. In this context, lever technologies like AI and automation play a larger role in driving predictability, faster time-to-market and new revenue models. So, today automation is not a technology decision but a business decision.

Also, businesses are re-looking into ways to engage with millennial customers, bringing in greater personalization, and embracing digital to manage customer expectations and growth. Today, the success of any transformative initiative in organizations across industries is largely dependent on the contextual applicability of digital and automation in business processes. Generalized adoption of automation does not yield business outcomes.

At CSS Corp, we strongly believe contextualization is the new personalization and that’s our way forward. Reimagining customer engagements through contextualization are the core of CSS Corp’s services vision. AI-based automation is an integral part of our service delivery organization supporting global customers in various strategic and modernization initiatives.

CSS Corp’s intelligent automation framework brings together two different platforms that drives modularity and nimbleness to meet the evolving customer expectations: Contelli (Intelligent automation for IT operations (automation of back-office operations in cloud, data centers, telecom networks and security) and Cognitive Customer Experience Platform, which is a smart agent solution (front-office solution for customer support, customer interactions and customer analytics))

Our approach in intelligent automation solutions for business and IT operations are largely based on customers’ business critical metrics and more closely aligned with factors impacting business outcomes. Our automation strategy did not develop out of labor arbitrage but rather as a driver to deliver superior customer experience, provide instant gratification and delight customers.

In that last 18 months, we have invested heavily in our ‘Innovation Labs’. CSS Corp’s Innovation Labs act as an entry point for clients to access the new age capabilities that augment customers’ existing capabilities, find solutions to crucial business problems, and drive new growth streams.

Today it’s a 70-member team with expertise in various technologies like TensorFlow, big data, BigTable, Hadoop. Across our teams, you will find UX designers, extreme programmers, big data engineers, AI & NLP experts, data scientists and as well as professionals from diverse fields like linguists, behavioral researchers, and domain specialists. We expect to double the capacity in the next 12 months.


Can you give us specific examples where Artificial Intelligence has made a big impact on the services deployed?

We live in very exciting times. The AI debate is intensifying. There is a constant commentary on it from some of the finest thought leaders of our times. Some are for it with gusto and some asking for caution. One thing is certain that advances in AI have accelerated in recent times like no other in the past few decades. Artificial intelligence is pushing the envelope on what machines are capable of doing in all facets of life. It is very clear that AI will become much more pervasive and intertwined in our day to day life. It will change the way we live in fundamental ways.

AI is the ultimate frontier in technology. Organizations are investing significantly in AI and it will continue to happen with AI becoming more of an edge than an enabler for businesses. However, we often see organizations struggle to effectively leverage and implement AI capabilities to drive customer experience, efficiency, and productivity improvements. It is about finding the right use-case and reimagine it with AI support.

One of the successful use cases could be the customer support industry where AI based virtual agents enable the convergence of human and machine intelligence. This results in improved business agility, operational excellence, and resilience, and brings about better customer experience. According to Gartner, non-voice interactions in customer support are likely to rise from 55% in 2015 to 85% by 2020. Virtual agents offer personalized and context-driven support, with a human-like interaction. The ability to respond instantaneously and accurately to customers’ questions and helping them in decision-making processes has made AI an integral part of brands’ customer experience ecosystem.

For instance, our AI platform for front-office modernization, Cognitive Customer Experience Platform, integrates with all customer channels like voice, email, chat, and website, and provides a seamless and consistent omnichannel experience. It offers predictive intelligence, automated queuing, routing and channel allocation. Cognitive Customer Experience Platform can offer personalized recommendations based on customer analytics. It can indicate customer emotions, intentions, and relevant signals during real-time conversations, thus improving customer satisfaction levels.

Today, Cognitive Customer Experience Platform is the nerve center of CSS Corp’s customer experience (CX) engagements driving customer-centricity. Cognitive Customer Experience Platform recently won the 2017 Silver Stevie International Awards and has been chosen as the Best New Product/Service of the Year – Platform as a Service. Our platform has garnered rave reviews from reputed industry analysts for its novel usage of AI in simplifying customer engagements.


How has the focus on automation helped your firm? Can you give us some measurable statistics?

Demand for intelligent and contextualized services across industries is fueling the need for convergence of artificial intelligence (AI), analytics and automation. Forward-looking enterprises are willing to plug in AI in their strategic roadmaps to harmonize customer experience, automate IT operations and modernize support workflows.

In this context, CSS Corp’s Contelli, our intelligent automation platform helps realize the fullest value of hybrid IT infrastructure investments. Contelli is a context-driven automation platform that promotes proactive customer engagement by transforming the core of IT operations. Contelli can detect and analyze the vast volume of data and automate IT processes or workflows while learning and adapting to the processes. The platform can surface probabilistic failure patterns, map dependencies, identify uncharacteristic system behavior and resolve issues ahead of the impact.

For instance, today we manage 4 million networking devices across 85,000 stores for a large retailer through Contelli. We integrate capabilities of AI, machine learning and deep learning to predict network related issues and proactively manage complex ecosystems effortlessly resulting in 40% reduction in total cost of ownership (TCO), 30% productivity improvements, 97% availability of network connectivity and 98% resolution rate.

Our existing customers and prospects have shown utmost interest and enthusiasm to implement Contelli to modernize IT operations. Our customers feel Contelli is far superior compared to any AI solution offered by other leading players in the IT Industry. Contelli today supports 36 million events with over 2500 inbuilt automation solutions achieving 50%-85% automated resolution based on the maturity of customers’ IT ecosystem. We also use Contelli internally to manage our organizational IT infrastructure. Hence, our focus on intelligent automation has helped us build our client base significantly besides helping smoother internal IT operations.


Opportunities for your firm in emerging areas such as Artificial Intelligence?

We are moving towards a conversational economy where the voice is the new frontier. A few spoken words to a smart virtual assistant can help accomplish a seemingly complex business transaction. As AI technology is maturing, businesses are plugging in conversational AI in their strategic investment roadmaps to leverage it for their customer service function.

At CSS Corp, we have embarked on a new journey in AI to disrupt the customer experience ecosystem with a new model called ‘Conversational X’. Conversational X aims at simplifying and personalizing customer engagements through AI based voice platforms. We offer AI-based solutions that enable customers to have powerful, impactful conversations with brands and helps them with insights and a new radical vision to solve a challenge.

Our focus and investments in AI are helping enterprises adopt the right customer engagement and support strategy and move from traditional models to outcome-based service models that help them identify new revenue streams.

Let’s better understand the key tenets of Conversational [X] that can help enterprises and even SMBs to personalize customer interactions. A new era of customer experience has dawned upon us. Voice assistants and social messaging have given birth to the intelligent experience economy and made the customer experience more conversational than transactional. You can ask Apple’s voice assistant – Siri – to get you weather updates, find out and help you buy specific movies, play your favorite songs and a gamut of other specific activities.

For example, Amazon’s Alexa can help you perform several tasks like booking a doctor’s appointment; sports scores and game times; important event dates, hear the latest news; tracking traffic; manage calendars, to-do lists and shopping lists, set alarms and timers; read Kindle books and play audio books; make purchases; control smart home devices, etc. Many B2C businesses are using conversational intelligence with bots as a platform for offering customer support. We offer tech support services with this new conversational model that would field customers’ questions and get more real-time access to resolutions. This boosts overall business efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Conversational commerce refers to real-time customer communication through different messaging applications and chatbots. It fits into each of the distinct steps in the customer purchase journey. These platforms empower businesses to generate a sense of need for their products to potential customers. The chatbots also act as personal shopping assistants to customers as well as provide recommendations.


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Demystifying the future of digital commerce

Digital commerce involves a combination of positioning and selling, and hence different from e-commerce.

The changing landscape of digital consumption is driving new services and experiences delivered in seconds, leading to digital commerce’s growth. The potential of digital commerce has been realised and enterprises and organisations will recognize that staying away from digital commerce is fatal for fortunes.

What does Digital Commerce entail, and how is it different from e-commerce?

Digital commerce involves a combination of positioning and selling, and hence different from e-commerce. It attempts to bring both parts together, resulting in a much more fulfilling and transparent experience for consumers, while tying everything between people, processes, technologies to deliver consistent and reliable user journeys.

With the pandemic accelerating the need to go digital, businesses that never had a website are digital today. This shift from a traditional experience to an online front means service providers need to rethink their strategies accordingly and scale up fast. This inflection point is where service providers can bank on digital commerce and drive success in the future.

Digital commerce helps businesses and enterprises integrate all their functions onto a digital platform, provides accessibility and interoperability through APIs, and enables customers to purchase goods themselves through interactive touchpoints and self-service experiences. The takeaway from such engagements is two-fold: one, high customer satisfaction as the buying experience is streamlined — two, a digital-first ecosystem that is agile and nimble enough to make transformational changes.

Digital commerce is the new normal

McKinsey reports that US e-commerce penetration made a 10-year growth leap in 90 days. This shows how the retailer game is changing – and changing fast. The 2020 pandemic put our best efforts at business continuity and disaster management to the test. Since then, the demand to go digital has only skyrocketed. Today, businesses have aligned to a digital-first model across every sector. With several countries still under clampdown and with a possible resurgence of yet another wave, digital is the only logical option to connect, collaborate, and move forward in these pressing times.

Due to the pandemic’s pervasive effect, almost all businesses and organizations have reduced spending and are on a cost conservancy model, spending only “mission-critical” requirements.

It is predicted that most organisations’ recovery may extend to two or three years to reach pre-2019 spending levels and requires a mindset change. This makes the case more potent for the B2B segment to invest in digital commerce platforms and drive business benefits.

What are the trends driving digital commerce?

Digital interactions, unlike the traditional ones, create consistent, reliable, and promising experiences that are rich in interactivity, information, and transparency. These attributes have exponentially spawned next-generation e-commerce activities that signalled the move from physical store experiences to more engaging, personalised, and contextual ones. Few key trends that will continue to fuel this growth into the future include:

1. Social commerce

Social media users are projected to reach 3.1 billion by 2021. More social media providers are expected to enable shopping directly on their platforms like Facebook Marketplace.

2. Mobile apps

Today, up to 70% of traffic happens over mobile phones. Thanks to integrated payment systems and biosecurity features, shopping in mobile apps have become seamless both in physical and virtual spaces driving its adoption and acceptance.

3. Omnichannel selling will become the norm

Customers like to see and interact with content across multiple channels. Service providers are already integrating their business platforms with applications like Amazon Personalize and Pinpoint that help them drive CX and communicate with customers across multiple channels.

4. Personalisation will go beyond purchases and forge bonds

97% of leaders agree that customer experience management is an essential business strategy for creating loyal and long-lasting customer relationships. Customers engage more often with the same brand when they personalise messaging.

5. Subscription commerce

The ability to provide repeat business by subscribing to service has swelled in popularity, making it a promising business model within industries. The global subscription e-commerce market is expected to attain a $ 478.2 billion market size by 2025, growing exponentially at an exponential CAGR of 68.0% during 2019-2025.

6. PWAs (Progressive Web Apps)

A nifty way to deliver bite-sized content helps enterprises connect with their customers through device and technology agnostic means. PWAs rank high on the experience quotient and blurs the lines between web and mobile applications by providing seamless accessibility services across both worlds.

7. Immersive experiences (VR/AR/XR)

Immersive technologies like virtual and augmented reality have transformed the way users shop and interact with products. XR or Extended Reality is a new concept where the experience is made up of virtual and physical interactions. Unlike in-store VR experiences, these interactions and their outcomes can be dynamically updated. The retail sector has the maximum potential for XR, topping out at 80%.

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The clearer the CSO role, the easier to get budget approved: Mushtaq Ahmed, CSS Corp CSO Online

By Vaishnavi J Desai – Correspondent IDG Media
Indian enterprises aren’t new to the threat landscapes; but still seem to struggle with cyberattacks. The common knowledge would be to increase security budgets, increase the efficiency of infrastructure, etc. But the one role in the organization that can help navigate threat is that of a CISO/ CSO.

In an exclusive interaction with CSOonline.in, Mushtaq Ahmed, CIO and CSO, CSS Corp, talks about CISO’s biggest challenges in the IT industry, the role of a CISO in determining security budget and how to correct the IT strategy to combat increased threats.

What are a CISO’s biggest challenges in the IT industry today?

A recent IT security report shows that, only 38 percent global organizations affirm that they are ready to handle a sophisticated cyberattack. With teams lacking specialized cybersecurity professionals, and the ever-increasing landscape that cyber terrorists are covering under their belt every year – it has become a tough challenge for CISOs to keep their organizations safe.

To top that, the economies of cyber threat are becoming attractive for hackers who are increasingly finding newer ways and means for causing damage. Using sophisticated technologies, they are now shifting from volume-based to more target-specific attacks. Hackers use the weak points of a system (that they identify while performing reconnaissance), and exploit these areas to gain access, plant malware, launch remote attack, and cause disruption to the organizational security.

The boom of IoT devices today poses great security challenges as these devices are poorly managed and offer easy opening for attackers. Additionally, the attackers are using techniques such as sandboxing to be more successful and to evade detection by behavior analysis tools. A big challenge for the CISOs is thus to guide in the development of strong processes and mechanisms that can thwart such attacks.

Phishing, DDoS, and botnet are the most common attacks that do not spare even big brands like Netflix. The latest addition to the list of threats last year were Ransomware and WannaCry that targeted systems that were using outdated software and equipment. These threats make patches and regular updates a critical activity that CISOs need to track, apart from implementing practices such as regular training about procedures that employees need to follow to safeguard against the threats.

What is your organization’s cybersecurity challenge?

In today’s rapidly evolving landscape, at times one wonders if security is only a problem of IT alone, as it spans across the entire organization. However, at CSS Corp, we have aligned ourselves to lead and implement safeguards and tool-based protection against targeted phishing attacks (CXO fraud scams), SPAM, ransomware, and data leaks.

Another challenge (and focus) for us is to safeguard our data. There are multiple copies of data backups at off-site (datacenter, cloud) that if not checked, may prove vulnerable. For the same, we have to ensure protection against every access and entry point. To overcome the challenge of keeping our staff updated about the latest threats, we need to keep working on spreading periodic awareness by means of posters, wallpapers and through internal mailers.

What role should a CISO play while determining the security budget of an organization?

The earlier an attack is controlled (the kill phase), the easier it is to prevent an attack. Traditional signature-based defense mechanisms are not enough to defend against AI-powered attacks.

To ensure that the organization has the right technology and tools, as well as agility to thwart attack chains at every stage, CISOs need to regularly audit and update the investments being made in the security-related tools and processes. Organizations having a clearly defined role for CISOs make it easy for them to get approvals for the budget increases. For an organization to be secure from any cyber threats, investments are required to be made in technology, people, and policy and finally must have a process of enforcement.

In today’s scenario, investments need to be made in security analytics platforms and technologies with AI and ML capability that can detect evolving threats and prevent zero-day attacks. Some organizations may even plan for a contingency fund to handle potential financial loss due to cyber-attack.

Despite increased security budgets, the threats are on the rise. Where is the correction necessary?

For having the necessary curbs and controls on the rising threats, a continual risk assessment must be in place instead of a point-in-time assessment. There must be regular awareness campaigns regarding cybersecurity across the organizations, and identification of insider threats. The board members and senior management must be actively engaged in all activities pertaining to cybersecurity, and there must be a 360-degree visibility to infrastructure and supporting security framework. Having a robust and comprehensive access management and use of AI and ML tools strengthens an organization’s ability to detect a threat early in the attack chain.


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Tech Firms Gearing up to Improve Workplace safety, Mental Health

It’s been more than a year since the pandemic upended the business universe. As companies plan to re-emerge in 2021 and beyond, CXOs will have to build on the lessons learned so far by revolutionizing business models and workforce strategy. One of the key concerns for companies is to ensure adequate safety and wellness of its employees. Leaders in the tech industry believe, it is their responsibility to make workplaces safer, maintain every possible safety protocols, streamline work through digital tools and automation and most importantly address the mental health issues of their workforce.

Digital tech makes work smooth
There has been a surge in the popularity of workforce collaboration tools focusing on team communication and efficient project management today. High-quality video conferencing tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Google Meet, and Skype are the most popular daily communication channels between remote team members spread across the world.

“The access to high-speed internet in remote centres in India has helped individuals relocate to their home towns in tier 2 and 3 cities to continue business as usual,” believes Smitha Hemmigae · Head of Marketing at ANSR.

According to him, several organizations have upgraded their email etiquette and procedures to ensure data protection while still communicating effectively with external stakeholders.
Sankalp Saxena, SVP and MD-Operations, India, Nutanix states that technologies such as virtual desktop infrastructure and desktop as a service can maintain business continuity over the past year.

“These solutions enable organizations to have virtual workspaces running within an hour so that employees can immediately and securely access their work systems from the safety of their homes. Businesses in India will continue relying on end user computing and cloud solutions to support the decentralization of teams, even as offices open up and they adopt hybrid work models,” says Saxena.

By investing in cloud infrastructure, organizations have ensured that their remote teams have access to data or information available seamlessly across the organisation in a secure manner. As Vikram Ahuja, Co-founder of Talent500, says, “Remote work has accelerated the adoption of cloud services and along with it renewed the emphasis on cybersecurity.”

Organizations are strategically thinking about cybersecurity investments to protect their workers, data, and their infrastructures, as Ahuja states, a data breach can lead to loss in reputation as well as customer and employee data. Sudeep Ralhan, Vice President – People, Walmart Global Tech India, says, “Safe remote working is important irrespective of the size and scale of an enterprise and the core principles one could adopt has moved from a traditional “trust but verify” to a “never trust but always verify” space.”

While zero trust in security is preferred in a remote work setup, from a preventative front, he stressed on multi factor authentication as an important aspect with principle of least privileges. Ralhan says, “As we mature in the remote working models; protecting data will remain as the prime requirement.”

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AI in Security: Powerful Hacks for Dealing with Security Threats

In an increasingly digitally connected world, enterprise IT systems are more vulnerable than ever to security threats like viruses, application-specific hacks, phishing attacks, etc.

In an increasingly digitally connected world, enterprise IT systems are more vulnerable than ever to security threats like viruses, application-specific hacks, phishing attacks, etc. With the prolific use of the Internet and other interactive mobile technologies, many small to medium-sized organizations are facing gargantuan challenges of addressing security threats to their IT systems.
Cybercriminals are discreetly finding new ways to invade the most sensitive networks. Safeguarding business data is a huge challenge for businesses today. Here are some of the top threats to information systems:

  • Phishing
  • Virus back doors
  • Blended attacks
  • Spyware
  • Spam
  • Privilege Escalation
  • Key loggers
  • Adware
  • Trojans
  • Worms

How the Hacker Ecosystem is Blooming?
As AI advanced in terms of self-driving cars, big data, etc., in 2016, so did the number of botnets, ransomware, malware attacks and cyber criminals across the world [Source: Malware Byte’s State of Malware report]. Similarly, the year 2017 witnessed many destructive cyber attacks and hacks such as myriad of WordPress sites hacked, spread of malware through cell phone towers, and many other such instances.

It’s important to cite here one of the largest and most intrusive breaches in history – the big cyberattack on the Equifax credit reporting agency that took place last year. This incident led to the theft of Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and other data of about 143 million U.S. customers. The hackers found a soft target in this Atlanta-based consumer credit reporting agency and leveraged the vulnerability of this US website application to access certain files including dispute documents. One of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies in the U.S. – Equifax – is home to data of over 820 million customer and more than 91 million businesses across the world.

As per the latest WEF Global Risks Report, cyber attacks are one of the biggest threats to the world in 2018. This clearly implies that organizations need to address this issue and secure their systems so as to combat these likely-to-happen cyber attacks. It’s also predicted by many experts that the coordinated “botnets” will become more prevalent, especially with unsecured IoT devices.

ML and AI Transforming the Cyber Security Industry
We are at a turning point in this information age. Machines seemingly have far superior computational abilities than human beings today since those can sift through massive piles of data and leverage it to make better informed decisions.

Many cyber security experts see similar value in the predictive technologies such as machine learning
applications and AI. According to ESG research, 12% of enterprise organizations have already deployed
AI-based security analytics extensively, and 27% have deployed AI-based security analytics on a limited basis.

The important question that arises here is that why is AI and machine learning being perceived as the future of cyber security. This increasing technology adoption is being driven since this:

• Accelerates incident detection
• Triggers incident responses
• Enables organizations to better detect and communicate risks to the business
• Sifts through multiple software vulnerabilities, configuration errors, and threat intelligence
• Helps enterprises gain an improved understanding of cybersecurity situational awareness

Use Cases of AI and ML in Security Today
ML solutions supplement existing technologies with incremental analytics for driving enhanced efficiency and value, and act as helper applications. Some AI-based solutions function as standalone solutions as well as operate in synergy with different other technologies of security operations and analytics platform architecture (SOAPA).

According to ABI Research estimates, machine learning in cyber security will increase spending in big data, AI and analytics to $96 billion by 2021. Enterprise security vendors are plugging-in machine learning into new and existing products to improve malware detection. Google has already been leveraging machine learning to identify and assess potential threats against mobile endpoints on Android. The technology giant is also using machine learning to eliminate malware from the already infected handsets.

In 2017, Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched data security service – Macie – with machine learning, to identify, sort and safeguard sensitive data across the cloud service. The idea behind this cloud infrastructure giant using machine learning is to protect and analyze the increasing amount of sensitive data using a picture of historical patterns of positive and negative behaviors, as it grows within an organization.

Predictive technologies such as AI and machine learning are notably useful in filtering the sensitive data on high priority security incidents. The online payment platform – PayPal – uses machine learning algorithms to battle fraud. By leveraging deep learning techniques, PayPal analyzes humongous customer data and assesses risk accordingly. AI is a powerful technology stack that enables enterprises identify and eliminate bottlenecks in their cyber security roadmap to combat ever-increasing cyber attacks in this digital age. California-based Cylance is the first company to leverage AI and machine learning to cyber security for understanding the root cause of attacks and their prevention.

Drivers and Benefits of AI and ML Adoption
Cyber security organizations are increasingly adopting AI and ML tools to ward off the rising number of attacks on networks. As the world turns toward the proliferate use of IoT and connected devices, overlooking AI cannot be afforded by cyber security companies since this predictive technology helps them sift through and analyze enormous amounts of data for preventing networks from getting infiltrated.

Another huge benefit of adopting AI and ML is that it can be used to study files or their behavior and detect potential threats such as anti-malware, dynamic risk analysis and anomaly detection.

Can these key drivers of AI and ML adoption make people’s jobs in cyber security redundant? The answer is a plain “No”. Since humans only design malwares and hacks to bypass automated security solutions, enterprises would need humans, who can think fresh and find out innovative ways to defend networks from hackers and cyber criminals.

Thinking about the Future
Let’s take a look at an interesting angle. According to the Verizon Data Breach Report, over 70% of attacks exploit known vulnerabilities that already have available patches. The ever-rising number of cyber attacks and the unpreparedness of many enterprises to tackle those threats have posed a gargantuan risk on the business level. In addition to this, the cyber security workforce is hard pressed to keep pace with the pressure of addressing these potential threats.

According to ‘The Cybersecurity Jobs Report’, by 2021, it is estimated that there will be 3.5 million vacant cyber security positions worldwide. This means that the cyber security professionals would have two options – either to work real hard or work longer hours. With this current state of the cyber security industry, the implementation of machine learning and AI-based solutions into the mix can revolutionize the landscape. These systems can free up significant amount of time for your tech workforce.


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AI for MSPs

Artificial intelligence, the next frontier of automation, will be a business imperative for channel pros who want to become more agile, innovative, and competitive. By Esther Shein

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE is cutting a wide swath across nearly every industry, and managed services is no different. AI-embedded tools are being touted for their ability to help MSPs automate repetitive functions and boost productivity. For many MSPs, though, AI is still a nascent and abstract concept. Nevertheless, it is a business imperative if they want to become more agile, innovative, and competitive.

While MSPs broadly understand the value of AI, “there is still a good amount of unknown and probably some more hype than reality,” says David Tan, CTO of Syosset, N.Y.-based CrushBank, which developed an AI-based IT help desk application. There needs to be more education on how to harness and leverage the tools, he says.

Some MSPs have dipped their toes in to take advantage of automation. Georg Dauterman, president of New York-based Valiant Technology, is partnering with an MSSP that has built some AI technology “to allow us to offer more powerful security services to our clients.”

The MSSP is helping Valiant build a SOC SIEM and integrate it with the firm’s PSA tools to provide a single view of the network. That way, when alerts come in that the system indicates should be investigated, they can be remediated more quickly, Dauterman says.

Advanced cybersecurity is an area where AI can be very beneficial to MSPs by proactively identifying and neutralizing threats, agrees Rahul Joshi, CTO of CSS Corp, a customer experience and technology services provider with U.S. headquarters in San Jose, Calif.

The emerging category of AIOps uses AI and automation to enhance IT operations. For instance, AIOps can help MSPs with alert and incident correlation by combing through large amounts of data to determine what alerts are false and which ones need attention, Tan says.

And in the case of one CSS customer, “we have achieved a 60% reduction in TCO … [and] 99.999% availability across web-hosting platforms through enhanced observability and controllability” enabled by their AIOps platform, Joshi says.


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