The Evolving Role of System Integrators in the Era of Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence

Jun 8, 2018

Atul Babu
SVP and Head – International Business
PCCW Solutions

Technology is evolving fast across different dimensions addressing a number of problems, while creating room for new ones. Some technological theories that long existed are maturing to become mainstream and the onus is on every business, government, social organisation, and entrepreneurs to leverage them for a substantial outcome. System integrators have played a key role over the last few years to help enterprises and governments find the right systems, implement and run them. The dependence on system integrators has increased with time and they have continued to refine their value propositions to stay in the game.

With new technologies like Blockchain getting immense attention and artificial intelligence becoming mainstream, the traditional role of system integrators will start to evolve to address the changes.

The global market intelligence firm, IDC, sizes the Cognitive & AI market at USD 57.621 billion in 2021 and the Blockchain market at USD9.732 billion by 20213.

The global market intelligence firm, IDC, sizes the Cognitive & AI market at USD 57.621 billion in 2021 and the Blockchain market at USD9.732 billion by 20213. Another study showed that the number of patents filed on AI technologies in G20 countries have increased at more than a 26% compounded rate since 2010. The impact of these technologies can hardly be ignored.

New Players, New Game

Every industry is leveraging AI to enhance their services. Let’s take healthcare sector as an example.

World Health Organisation reports that the world needs 17 million more healthcare workers with developing regions like Africa and Southeast Asia alone needing 11 million4. With the rising ageing population and the tremendous lack of medical resources, there is an apparent gap. Training more people to join the healthcare workforce probably isn’t the easiest solution, leading many organisations to turn towards technology to minimise the gaps.

Robots are starting to replace personnel in hospitals and nursing homes in a variety of functions, from managing patient wait times to providing anaesthetics to patients. In addition, we have also seen robots serve as ‘care companions’ to the elderly, helping provide medication, and connection to smart appliances, loved ones and healthcare professionals. The accuracy of required care is improving with time using deep learning.

In a similar fashion, the healthcare industry has also been disrupted by Blockchain, with decentralised patient-provider functions which can get tedious and expensive.

We’ve only spoken about one industry so far, and already the value addition of AI and blockchain are undeniable. The benefits to sectors like banking, retail, manufacturing, telecom, governments and other Industries are of a different order of magnitude when compared to traditional technologies. There are plenty of use cases getting added across industries daily, as the awareness increases and as the technologies evolve. Consumers are jumping directly to some of these new technologies solving different problems, without the baggage of any legacy platforms.

The rise of new technologies has made startups the new ‘cool’, especially in this dynamic technology industry. While Ethereum, R3, Hyperledger and Ripple are some of the biggest names in the Blockchain ecosystem, the huge number of smaller players that are emerging across the globe have their own differentiation and value addition to the Blockchain eco system.

The number of players in the market, continues to increase multifold, with each player capable of delivering unique solutions, addressing evolving needs of enterprises and governments. With the speed at which these new companies are coming up, finding the right solution company is becoming a new challenge. There will be many cool companies but as historical data suggests, only a few will be successful. In the last decade, we have seen that the time it takes for any company to become irrelevant has shortened significantly.

Traditionally, enterprises and governments looking to transform their legacy systems turn to a system integrator to align with strategic vendors to manage their multidisciplinary needs. Now, with the increasing number of startups in the AI and Blockchain space alone, it would be difficult for enterprises to only align with the larger product vendors as a one-stop-shop. Instead, they are working with various startups to suit their changing business needs. This is particularly true for addressing New Age technologies and solving niche problems. The time to show results with any transformation has also gone down significantly. Typically, technology led business transformation takes a few years to implement, with huge amount of investment. Now, there is hesitation to go on such a journey, with the preference being to get results quickly - in weeks and months – as the macro environment around an organisation is changing swiftly. If solution implementation takes too long, by the time the solution is implemented, the market has already moved forward making the solution less relevant. Hence, the increasing motivation is to look for an effective niche solutions that can solve specific problems swiftly, cost effective, and easy to customise.

There will continue to be a need for a trusted partner, serving as a client advocate thinking about the buyer, and its drivers while executing what is appropriate for the business. This would mean changing the way SIs work, as they would need to gear up to take on the role of ‘Trusted Advisors & Solution Orchestrators’. While being an orchestrator, the SI will need to pick the appropriate solution components from the larger eco system, stitch them appropriately and continue to dynamically make changes as the business progresses. This orchestration is only going to become more complex with more solution providers and new set of problems requiring immediate attention. Even the best solution from a startup would need to work in the context of the client organisation with the existing landscape and newer areas which keep getting added with time.

Speed is of utmost importance while all of this is being done. This would mean becoming agile, changing fast, learning faster and making the eco-system of technology providers and consumers, smarter.

The game will be more challenging so system integrators will need to change dynamically to provide substantially more value and higher quality at a lesser cost, by leveraging new technological components, start-ups, cloud based solutions and boutique companies resolving niche problems. They will need to think more from a business perspective and eventual impact of the solution, rather than being a technology solution provider, in isolation.

In these exciting times, when technology becomes the reason for fourth Industrial revolution, only the paranoids who out-smart the rest, will survive.