Power of visualisation technologies

Tags: Op-ed
Power of visualisation technologies
GOING DIGITAL: In this 2011 file photo, students work on the Aakash tablet. The power of visualisation technologies can bring about a revolution in our education system and lead to substantial teacher performance improvement and student learning
The era of digitisation has disrupted many traditional industries beyond recognition. Digitisation essentially means capturing, recording and converting information into bits and bytes. Once converted, this information becomes shareable, preservable, and editable on real-time basis, and can be delivered in customised formats directly to the consumer irrespective of her location.

Concurrently, some of the most fascinating developments, and yet unheralded, are happening in the realm of visualisation technologies (VTs). Without these technologies, the concept of digitisation would remain incomplete. Various applications in our smartphones and laptops are small indicators of the power of VTs. The ability to ‘see’ complex information displayed on the screen in condensed yet easily palatable forms such as colour bar-charts, graphs, and time-series curves, or icons, facilitate quick decision-making. In the process, the data management and computing technologies have gone into the background as ‘black boxes’. The most powerful demonstration of VTs has emerged in the diagnostic healthcare industry. Modern advanced medical and computing radiological machines such as for x-ray, ultra-sound, ECG, colonoscopy, MRI, CT-Scan, laparoscopy, to name a few, are essentially sensor-based robotic cameras, scanners, and tools for diagnosis through visualisation of inner body organs and systems which otherwise are inaccessible and therefore ‘unexaminable’ manually for the doctors.

The combination of digitisation and visualisation technologies has led to further confluences of technologies in wide variety of industries. For example, at a fully automated filling plant of a leading global industrial and healthcare gases company, empty cylinders are checked and sorted through a robot controlled by an SAP-based computer programme. At the same time, a camera built into the robot registers the visual condition of the container, while a scanner reads all the data from the barcode attached to every cylinder. The computer determines which gas or gas mixture the cylinder is supposed to contain, and then the robot places it in the pre-assigned position on the relevant pallet-rack. This kind of standardisation allows streamlining of processes resulting in global cost efficiencies for the company and foolproof quality for the partners.

Another example is from Merck — the German pharma and drugs manufacturer. Not known to many, Merck is also a global leader in the liquid crystals market and considers this business as essential for future growth. The company has built a strong position in manufacturing of display materials that are inputs for producing faster and sharper LCD images and lowering power consumption. The company spends heavily on research and development (R&D) in working on successor materials that can provide entry into new fields, including lighting and optics products based on LEDs and OLEDs, energy storage materials for the automotive sector, and photovoltaic solar cells industry.

It is interesting that Kodak Films, a long-time global leader in chemicals-based films business, went under Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings once the world of digital cameras took over. Effectively, Kodak case provides two powerful insights: one, a manufacturing business based on efficiency through mass-production and large-scale assembly lines, can quickly transform into a services and intangibles business when disrupted by digitisation; and two, the new dominant logic of the services business can allow mass-customisation resulting in personalised attention and services. This is happening in almost every industry now.

Siemens is one of world’s leading integrated technology solutions provider especially in the transportation, energy and healthcare industries. The company has developed a product lifecycle management (PLM) software making it possible to develop, simulate and test products in the virtual world and to model entire production processes before a single screw is manufactured in the real world. The same software has led to the development of liver fibrosis test that enables doctors to examine chronic liver disease patients without having to conduct time consuming, and potentially dangerous biopsies.

It is true that a picture can be worth a thousand words; however, in the 21st century context, one can tweak the phrase and say that a short, one-minute 3D video can be worth more than a full 60-minute of blackboard-based lecture. At the same time, it can be much more effective and interesting to the target audience. One does not have to explain in drab details the construction of human DNA when it can be seen by the audience in a few moving three dimensional colour frames.

Sportspersons and scientists know the power of mental visualisation and are trained to develop this faculty for getting to the top. The power of digitisation and visualisation technologies (bringing forth information in interesting, different and mnemonic formats) can bring about a revolution in our education system too and lead to substantial teacher performance improvement and student learning. However, for some weird reason, our higher education system has proven itself as too conservative, hence, slow to accept, adopt and adapt newer enabling technologies. Our educationists and academic administrators can learn from the specialists in the healthcare industry how to innovatively and creatively use digitisation ad visualisation technologies for the welfare of human race. To do this, however, requires a bit of pioneering spirit.


(The writer is a professor of strategy and corporate governance, IIM-Lucknow)


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