Category Archives: COVID

Panel Discussion: Reshaping Technology Priorities in the wake of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered on us the new normals. Critical among those is the need to be more connected than ever, to take care of our health priorities. In a panel discussion organised by the Indian School of Business’s Srini Raju Centre for Information Technology and the Networked Economy (SRITNE) and NASSCOM, three technology leaders from different business areas shed light on answering some of the critical questions related to this new normal.

The session was moderated by Deepa Mani, Professor of Information Systems at ISB and Executive Director of SRITNE. In the panel with her were Prakash Bodla, VP-Engineering and Head of Carrier Corporation’s two global research centres. Joining him were Vidya Laxman, Technology Director of Tesco and Mohit Kapoor, Head – Technology Capability & Optimisation with Singapore-based global bank DBS.

Professor Mani welcomed and introduced the panel and then threw open the discussion with the question, how digital technology has enabled business continuity keeping in mind the changing consumer preferences through this pandemic. She wanted to understand how the technology arms of these firms addressed survival, competitiveness and the underlying mechanisms that allowed them to enable it.

Responding to her queries, one of India’s bright woman tech leaders, Vidya Laxman jestfully acknowledged that COVID was more effective than any CTO or CEO in driving digital transformation within most organisations. She said that the UK is a major market for Tesco, where procurements are done mostly from brick and mortar establishments.

However, with recent usage of enterprise services, APIs and cloud computing, the number of transactions of the UK-based retailer has surged through the three months of lockdown surpassed levels witnessed in the holiday season of Christmas.

“We have 700,000 to 800,000 transactions per week during Christmas. This time the number of transactions doubled to 1.3 million. Our e-commerce business went up by 46%. This is something we could not even envision earlier,” said Laxman, highlighting how digital technology has allowed the traditional large-format retailer to break new ground.

She also highlighted how more than 450,000 Tesco partners and employees communicated, collaborated using cloud and online tools which everyone was reluctant to use. “Thanks to these tools distances between us did not matter while providing a great experience for our customers,” said Laxman.

Professor Mani supporting Laxman’s observations remarked that the latest research on digitally savvy companies are showing that these firms are witnessing less decline in activities despite lockdown. Their employees were enabled to work and reduce distances between them with the use of technology and managed businesses better despite the demand shocks witnessed through the pandemic.

At the DBS Bank, technology came to the aid in three stages, says Mohit Kapoor. “First was responding to the pandemic, next was digital acceleration, and now in the last phase we are restoring customer functions,” he said.

Giving a picture of the future of banking, Kapoor said: cashless, contactless, telecommuting is here to stay. “Biometric, facial recognition, gesture controls are some of the mature technologies that are not yet being used yet and will become big from now on.” He said that DBS is coming up with technology innovations like face-based account opening in Singapore or contactless ATMs, which will go a long way in ensuring health safety for their customers.

Detailing on how technology aided his organisation through the present pandemic, Prakash Bodla said, that organisations must highlight on making employees adaptable. “Companies need to teach adaptability to unlearn and learn new things. Because of COVID, existing markets will evaporate, new markets will be created or rather, companies will need to create these markets.”

Bodla remarked that WFH and many of these new normals would remain to be part of our lives. At this point, Professor Mani wanted to understand from the panellists if WFH had different repercussions for people and their cultural attachment to a company. In response, Bodla shared that his organisation and most others have provided training for soft skills as well as psychological counselling for their employees.

On the question of challenges faced by organisations with this increased reliance on technology, Kapoor said that businesses using these new and mature technologies could pose a skill set challenge and new opportunities for younger people. He bestowed faith that these changes will better the diversity and inclusion index of any organisations and would be even better for the planet.

The panellists responded to some questions from the audience expressing their optimism for technology-driven changes in organisation and for the fact that most of these changes are here to stay. Professor Mani thanked the panellists and the participants for this panel discussion and expressed that more questions were raised in her mind from these conversations, answers to which she may be exploring in her research or during her next conversation with more technology leaders.

Using High Frequency Electricity Data to look at Economic Activity Impact of Coronavirus Lockdown

Following a national address by PM Narendra Modi on 24th March 2020, a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus was initiated. This lockdown involved halting of all economic activities barring those that were need to maintain essential supplies. Due to earlier confusion as to the details, even essential supplies took a hit. People were confined to their residences, and movement were restricted. All major service organizations shifted to a work from home mode of carrying out business.

Following the first round of lockdown, between 24th March to 14th April, a second continuation was declared starting 15th April to last till 3rd May with conditional relaxations in some regions where spread had till then been contained. The last round of lockdowns with further easing were continued from 3rd May till 17th May first and then later from 17th to 31st May by the National Disaster Management Authority. Following the lapsing of lockdown on 31st May, an Unlock 1.0 phase was declared starting 1st June with phase wise opening of all major industrial and retail activity.

Our data of daily consumption of electricity comes from the National Load Despatch Centre of the Power System Operation Corporation Limited which optimum scheduling and despatch of electricity through the national grid. They release daily, weekly and monthly reports of power consumed, energy supplied being reported in million units of energy supplied to each state grid. Using this data, we can then track the change in consumption of electricity nationwide which becomes a proxy for economic activity following from Cicala (2020) and Benedikt and Radulescu (2020). The fall in consumption of electricity can be a predictor of total output contraction in the period and the recovery in consumption can be a harbinger of the expected speed of recovery.

We remove seasonal components from the data that can distort our results, these seasonal aspects come from whether a time period is the harvesting period or are summer months which can impact electricity consumption. [i]

Overview of Power Consumption in India

India has been seeing a steady increase in Electricity consumed with a trend year on year growth rate of 3.5% with significant heterogeneity amongst state wise consumption growth rates. Bihar leads the electricity consumption growth rate with growth rate around 13% with North East states following close with rates ranging from 7% to about 10%. Amongst larger states, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh show higher rates of growth.

Figure 1 represents the per capita[ii] mean annual power consumption.

Figure 2 presents the overall trendline for India till 2019.

Impact of Coronavirus Lockdown

To estimate the impact of the lockdown we use data from financial year 2014 onwards to estimate the expected consumption during the lockdown period, accounting for the seasonality and trend. Using those trends and seasonality, we find that beginning the lockdown period there was a significant deviation between the actual and the predicted consumption of electricity. The actual consumption of electricity nationwide was consistently lower than the predicted one across all phases of the lockdown. This fall from the predicted value was the most for the 1st period of lockdown with an average fall of 12.25%. This shortfall in electricity consumption decreased across the phases with the 2nd period of lockdown witnessing only an 8% decrease while the further phases had no statistically significant difference from similar periods in previous years.

Table 1

Phase of Lockdown Change in Consumption compared to same period in previous years
Phase 1 (25th March – 14th April) -12.25%
Phase 2 (15th April – 3rd May) -8.07%
Phase 3 (4th May- 17th May) No statistically significant difference
Phase 4 (17th May – 31st May) No statistically significant difference
Unlock 1.0 (1st June onwards) No statistically significant difference

Further, as we can see from Figure 3 since the beginning of lockdown 3.0, we have seen an increase in actual consumption of electricity which is consistent with the increasing economic activity as restrictions were eased across rounds of lockdown.

Figure 3 The Actual and Predicted Consumption across the various phases of Lockdown

We also note an increase in consumption of electricity across the phases with phase 2 seeing a 5.4% increase in consumption. Table 2 provides the average increase in electricity consumption over the previous phase of lockdown. We see that each round sees an increase over the previous round till we come to Unlock 1.0 which saw no significant difference as compared to phase 4 (at 5% level).

Table 2

Phase of Lockdown Change in Consumption compared to the previous period of lockdown
Phase 2 (15th April – 3rd May) 5.38%
Phase 3 (4th May- 17th May) 8.60%
Phase 4 (17th May – 31st May) 10.55%
Unlock 1.0 (1st June onwards) No statistically significant difference

We thus see the data showing up the kind of trends we expect to see. The national level statistics do hide considerable heterogeneity in state level consumption of electricity with certain states exhibiting above average decreases while some states surprisingly see an increase in consumption. For more on this, stay tuned for the 2nd part in this series.

References

  • Cicala, Steve. Early Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Europe: A View from the Grid. Tech. rep. Online, last accessed: May 6, 2020. University of Chicago, 2020.
  • Janzen, Benedikt, and Doina Radulescu. “Electricity Use as a Real Time Indicator of the Economic Burden of the COVID-19-Related Lockdown: Evidence from Switzerland.” (2020).

[i] Our analysis excludes Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep islands as they are not connected to the National Grid

[ii] Per 2011 population census

About the Author:

Ashutosh Dwivedi is a Research Associate at SRITNE.

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