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March, 2018

With recent initiatives by the government on improving ease of doing business, do you see more foreign investments coming in?

Definitely. India continues to be among the top ten countries globally and fourth in Asia, in terms of FDI inflows. Key reforms undertaken by the Government to fuel the vision of Digital India, including ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’ and ‘Startup India’ campaigns – appear to be showing results. In addition, the implementation of GST, allowing 100% FDI in limited liability partnership, liberalization of FDI across many sectors, jobs - need to compliment FDI to make the India growth story a formidable one.

How do you see the recent geo-political developments impacting the Indian IT industry?

We live in extremely volatile times and this requires that the industry responds with agility. Protectionist sentiments are sweeping across markets, global economic volatility continues added to this is the looming threat of terrorism. These multifaceted developments demand the industry reinvents itself. The Indian IT industry is not insulated from these developments. Rise of technologies such as AI, Cloud, IoT, Mobility etc. have challenged the industry to rethink the traditional cost-arbitrage models, increase focus on the domestic market and collaborate with the ecosystem to co-create and co-innovate. Having said that, as the world looks at technology breakthroughs to enhance growth, there is a huge opportunity for this sector to make this a reality and technologies like Cognitive, IoT, Cloud, Security, Blockchain will play a key role. The Indian IT industry will also need to play a key role in collaborating with the government in policy formation and skilling the next-gen workforce for the new-collar jobs of tomorrow.

What are the key sectors across which India Inc. is looking to build capabilities in technology? Are these companies building competitive advantage through developing internal capabilities or is there potential for strategic acquisitions?

We are seeing three technological shifts happening at the same time and that’s what makes these times intense:

  • Big Data & Analytics: Transforming industries (like healthcare)

  • Cloud: Enterprise first, Cognitive to the core

  • Mobility /engagement: Reimagining work

The above underpinned by security and data privacy. In our analysis of leading companies and our work with clients and partners, we have found that companies with a cohesive strategy for integrating digital and physical elements can successfully transform their business models – and set new directions for entire industries. Hence, businesses across industries will continue to adopt technology to fuel their digital transformation journey, while a few industries like Banking, Telco, eCommerce/Retail, will continue to be slightly ahead of the adoption curve. Businesses will continue to look at both organic and inorganic routes to grow.Whether it is a ‘build or buy’ decision planning and execution to ensure a ‘culture fit’ and that the result creates real business value and growth is quintessential, technology will play a key role in both the ‘buy and build’ decisions. For example, IBM’s M&A Accelerator is a unique solution that was built and fine-tuned to the task of tracking and managing all activities, actions and execution for mergers, acquisitions and divestments.

How can India Inc. better leverage new and emerging technologies for economic growth? What are the investments required for this?

The combination of data explosion and exponential computation growth over the past few years has opened a whole new set of challenges and opportunities. It is estimated that there will be 160 zettabytes of data by 2025. The real opportunity lies in the fact that 80% of the data generated is unstructured and majority of it is underutilized. Enterprises that manage to collect and process data for meaningful results will have a competitive edge. A strategic asset today, data will soon become a key measure of a company’s relevance and success in the future. Enterprises need cognitive solutions that turn vast amounts of data into insights and competitive advantage. They need access to a cloud platform not only for IT capability, but for speed and agility. Its architecture must be hybrid, spanning both public and private clouds, because businesses will want to leverage their existing investments in applications, IT infrastructure and, most of all, their data. Cloud solutions fused with disruptive technologies – like Blockchain, Cognitive, IoT, big data and predictive analytics, can revolutionize businesses and industries. It is also becoming clear that as IT moves to the cloud, transactions must be trusted by all parties involved. That is why we will see an increase in the adoption of security and technologies like blockchain. To make this happen right, they need a partner they trust, who understands their industry and process flows, and whose platform is secure, scalable, global in scope and local in presence. We will see Digital transformation reshaping IT budgets as investments in Cloud, Cognitive/AI create a definitive shift from Capex to Opex revenue models. While the early adopters will focus on IT spending on more core technologies like Cloud and Analytics, the others who are already seeing the benefits of their tech investments will look at investing in IoT, AI, Cognitive and Blockchain.

What do you think are going to be the key growth areas for IBM India going forward?

IBM provides a powerful AI cloud platform, and we are using it to build industry-based solutions to solve real-world problems. We are creating domain-specific datasets that we either own or partner to access, and we’re applying our deep industry expertise to build vertical, industry specific solutions and to train Watson in specific professional fields like Healthcare, Telco etc. In short, to win in the cognitive era, data matters. Client control of their data and insights matters. Enterprise-strength cloud, that is data first, cognitive at its core matters. Industry expertise matters. Trust and security matter. That is what sets apart IBM. Watson on IBM Cloud, underpinned by Data and Security will continue to be a key growth areas for IBM going forward. Also, as a company with 24 consecutive years of patent leadership, innovation is a core IBM value. Our lab teams in India will continue to work on not just global research missions, but on technologies that have India relevance. For example, The Weather Company, an IBM Business, recently launched the Mesh Network Alerts technology in India. This first mobile alerting platform will deliver weather alerts without Internet. The technology uses peer-to-peer connections on a mesh network to send critical weather alerts to people in areas with lower connectivity and data availability.

What is your outlook on the future of Blockchain and cognitive technology for businesses in the Indian market?

Blockchain started in 2009 as a distributed ledger used by bitcoin to record the financial transactions of its members. Today, blockchain has evolved beyond bitcoin. At IBM, we started taking part in that evolution early by working with clients to write applications built from bitcoin’s proprietary blockchain implementations. We donated code to Linux Foundation’s open source Hyperledger Project with a mission to create an enterprise-grade, open source blockchain platform As a result of IBM’s work with the Linux Foundation, the Hyperledger platform now enables users to optionally configure their blockchain to: encrypt blockchain data, database, configure access control policies for all the data and ensure that every record is signed. Cognitive computing on the other hand refers to systems that learn at scale, reason with purpose and interact with humans naturally. Rather than being explicitly programmed, they learn and reason from their interactions with us and from their experiences with their environment. Here at IBM, we have been working on the foundations of cognitive computing technology for decades, combining more than a dozen disciplines of advanced computer science with 100 + years of business expertise. Now we are seeing its potential to transform businesses, governments and society. Today, blockchain and cognitive technologies are helping reshape industries in domains as varied as finance, healthcare, government and retail across the globe and we are seeing early adopters emerge in India. These technologies will continue to evolve and be used in more innovative ways, but they are so different from what people are traditionally used to and due to which many business and governments are adopting a wait-and watch approach. We believe that organizations and institutions that don’t quickly assess the potential of cognitive and blockchain and begin implementing it (even as a POC and in a phased manner); risk falling behind as the world undergoes a tectonic shift. In addition, skilling in these new technology areas will be key to ensure the workforce of tomorrow are prepared for new collar jobs.

Your recommendation as the Managing Director: what are the three things that a corporate should consider while making an investment in technology?

Today, Digital transformation has become a reality across industries, businesses and society at large. The challenge for businesses is how fast and how far to go on this journey. Organizations must understand that Digital transformation isn’t only about technology, it’s about marrying the power of technology with the right organizational mindset – one that is willing to embrace the change to drive organizational excellence. Secondly, as we enter the Cognitive era, IBM has outlined three key tenets that serve as guiding principles for this era:

a. Purpose:

The purpose of AI and cognitive systems developed and applied by the IBM is to augment human intelligence. Our technology, products, services and policies will be designed to enhance and extend human capability, expertise and potential. Our position is based not only on principle but also on science. Hence, Cognitive systems will not realistically attain consciousness or independent agency. Rather, they will increasingly be embedded in the processes, systems, products and services by which business and society function -- all of which will and should remain within human control.

b. Transparency:

For cognitive systems to fulfill their world-changing potential, it is vital that people have confidence in their recommendations, judgments and uses. Therefore, the IBM company will make clear:

  • When and for what purposes AI is being applied in the cognitive solutions we develop and deploy.

  • The major sources of data and expertise that inform the insights of cognitive solutions, as well as the methods used to train those systems and solutions.

  • The principle that clients own their own business models and intellectual property and that they can use AI and cognitive systems to enhance the advantages they have built, often through years of experience. We will work with our clients to protect their data and insights, and will encourage our clients, partners and industry colleagues to adopt similar practices.

c. Skills:

The economic and societal benefits of this new era will not be realized if the human side of the equation is not supported. This is uniquely important with cognitive technology, which augments human intelligence and expertise and works collaboratively with humans. Therefore, the IBM company will work to help students, workers and citizens acquire the skills and knowledge to engage safely, securely and effectively in a relationship with cognitive systems, and to perform the new kinds of work and jobs that will emerge in a cognitive economy.

IBM cannot be alone in thinking about this. We believe that organizations that collect, store, manage or process data have an obligation to handle it responsibly. It important that our clients and businesses keep these tenets in mind in their digital transformation journey. Finally, security cannot be an afterthought any more. They should adopt a holistic, process oriented, security solution that enables end-to-end management, rather than a piece-meal implementation.

Opinions expressed in the article are the author’s own.