Like each year, Exhibit CEO Ramesh Somani sat in an exclusive conversation with the main-man Gary Shapiro, CEO- CTA and Kaushal Nevrekar, CMO- Reliance Digital to ponder over the massive and enthralling world of tech and dissect CES 2018. What came out of the blend of the two worlds were some great insights and future predictions.
RS: It’s truly amazing to see the graph of CES. Can you tell us how CES has progressed from 2017 to 2018?
GS: The vision of CES is to get together the most important people in the world focussed on innovation. Everyone from around the world converges and they get to see the future and get to think of things they would never otherwise think of and meet people they would never otherwise meet; this is called serendipity. We also know where things are going; we know that self-driving cars were coming, we know that robotics were coming, we know that drones were going to make a difference, we know that 3D is already making a difference, there are major developments in healthcare and transportation. We bring all of this together in one week of the year and business flows from here, ideas flow from here, partnerships flow; one thing we all know now is that in this world we can’t do business without doing partnerships, no one can go alone and every company is affected by technology.
RS: Kaushal, you return to CES each year, too. Tell us your relationship with Technology and CES.
KN: Here is where the entire tech world gets together for a week and we get a peek into what’s coming next and we get to meet like-minded people. From a retailers perspective, if I had to travel to meet all the partners that I have to meet, it would take me insane amount of time, so right now all of them getting together and sharing their thoughts on technology is great. I’ve seen CES for many, many years now and it just keeps getting better every and better. Great work for the entire organisation!
RS: Tech is becoming more personalised everyday in every walk of life. What do you think of the impact of AI and development of personalized tech?
GS: So AI is at a primitive stage but we know it’s going to get better. Last year we talked about smart speakers with Alexa but now that smartness will be embedded in other products, in automobiles, around the home; there will be smart homes. It’ll start knowing about you, it’ll be personalised and start learning about you. I love the nav device in my car but it never learns, I always go certain ways and it always tells me to go other ways. I want that it knows me and knows what I like and things I like to do that would benefit in other scenarios as well. These massive amounts of intelligence that are being gathered are being used into so many new services, for curing diseases and developing medicine. There are jobs that no one can do, people can’t manage to do jobs for 24 hours perfectly but you make use of AI and put everything together and you get a much safer, secure environment.
RS: Kaushal, Reliance digital thrives on the motto of personalising technology. So what are your views on that?
KN: It’s very close to out heart. As a retailer, our objective is to simplify technology. Even the customers are far more involved in the purchase of technology, because each individual has a need for the device but the ultimate use is very different. I believe that individualisation in the most basic need right now. So our objective is to hand-hold the consumer right from deciding what products to buy and help them fulfil their technology dreams by enabling the end use which is so individual. So it’s very close to our hearts.
RS: Gary, any personal favourites from this year that we can save time on?
GS: It’s like asking which are my favourite kids (laughs). There are so many different things that are exciting! It’s a lot about the their future and taking major problems we have around the world and solving them, whether it’s food production, clean water or mobile communication. It’s also exciting because we have over 1000 companies in Eureka park; these are startups coming from all over the world. They have an idea and they get to meet important journalists, important buyers, and you decide whether they are good ideas or not. I always tell them that you’ve probably never even been to a trade show before so what you should do is listen; listen to the inputs you get from these important people because they’ll tell you and you’ll leave with a different business plan and you can start a great business if you wish to.
RS: I’m yet to come across a man who has walked the show completely!
GS: There are 4000 exhibitors, so many conferences- we have expanded by over a 100,000 sq. ft., there are over a 1000 people speaking, so no human can do it even in a year!
RS: Absolutely! I had to pick between two important keynotes this time!
GS: Yes, I know it’s frustrating but on the other hand, we’re trying to make our app better and better so you can plan ahead of time. We also encourage people to be smart in their planning and set their appointments out.
RS: Exhibit and Reliance have been walking the show together for quite some years now. You’ve seen so much new tech here. But where do you see the tech scene heading back home in India?
KN: Things are evolving way too fast. I think voice is the future. We see things move with voice recognition, AI and Machine learning. I think devices are getting more and more connected and personalised and we are extremely excited about that. As a country, we are at a unique position right now; Jio had about 140 M subscribers over the last many months. We’re 155th in Mobile broadband usage worldwide to be number one in a matter of 1 year. I think as a country, with this whole digital redirection, we’re seeing a significant paradigm shift. With all these products and data available, I’m very excited. The whole objective is to see what’s coming and being the largest retailer, it’s our responsibility to bring the latest technology to all our consumers at the earliest. It’s more about meeting like minded people and shaping- A) technology being evolved and B) how do you bring it to the consumers- these are the two primary objectives. I’m really excited because I always thought that whatever I could come and learn at CES, how do I take it to a larger audience, I increased the number of people coming from my office here but it’s still not good enough.
RS: Last year I saw two unusual brands that I wouldn’t expect to see at a tech show Under Armour and Carnival. That’s when I learnt that there is so much of tech in every company. So which are the unusual companies this year?
GS: It’s interesting to see some of the Chinese companies coming in like Baidu, Alibaba and they’re expanding what they’re doing. With over 4000 companies it’s tough to say now but certainly there are companies in the sports area, health area, etc. We’re getting into stadiums now in terms of sports; esports is big and growing so we’re in many new areas but I also pay attention to companies with no names. All of the big companies we know today started off as no name companies.
RS: One another unusual thing I noticed is that many companies are using CES as a hotbed to cash on their events. Does it help or take away the limelight from you?
GS: I love the fact we’ve become the centre of innovations, certainly we can’t control or do everything, we control the environment. I do have a very serious complaint from someone who attended a conference; someone was using our name and they’re very upset because we maintain a certain quality in everything we do and are very careful of how we use our name. So if someone wants to have a conference here they’re welcome to just don’t use our name, don’t confuse people.
RS: The past year has been booming with VR and AR. Do you think VR is going to be revolutionary?
GS: If we see 20 years from now, we’ll be able to say that VR has changed the environment of entertainment, education. AR too; there’s a lot of focus on the retail experience using AR. Smart retail will start happening more and more. It’s to see how you as a brick and mortar retailer can get consumers into your stores and they learn what’s there and you learn how to serve them.
KN: When you talk about Reliance Digital, everything that the consumer demands is what you’ll find in the stores. Some of them may not be high-sellers but the whole idea is to walk in the right direction of revolution. Of course AR and VR are coming but the question is when.
RS: India is a booming and growing tech hub- any impressions?
GS: What’s really great right now is that it’s an incredible time in history where almost every economy is doing well and there is a lot of optimism around the world. But at the same time there is such a steep curve in technology in so many different categories; they’re changing people’s lives and they’re also generating different economic activities, jobs and income. Anyone can become a global entrepreneur with just a broadband connection so what a phenomenal time it is! So that’s why there’s so much activity we’re a part of and we see it around the show. In India, it’s clearly doing phenomenally well; it’s a large population with destroying economy and growth.