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BW Businessworld

Technology: The Smart Fusion

The collaboration of cloud with cognitive computing is IBM’s next big technology solution to growing computing needs

Photo Credit : Shutterstock

For companies, working with artificial intelligence (AI) is perhaps akin to running on the treadmill at high speed. If you don’t get on that treadmill, your company is not fit enough, and if you are on one, you need to keep running and work towards being on top of the game. Artificial intelligence seems to be the ultimate bet in solving customer problems today – be it in healthcare, recruitment or education.

Most technology majors have made significant strides towards AI – Google Assistant is among the newest to join the league of Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Microsoft Cortana. IBM clearly has realised the importance of AI much earlier than its competitors, thereby gaining a first mover advantage. Over the years, IBM’s AI-based technology Watson has gained both respect and mindshare, rising far beyond its initial fame in Jeopardy, an American quiz show. But with cloud as the foundation of how technology is delivered today, the winning streak lies in the ability to marry cloud with cognitive and IBM seems to have got the match right.

“Cloud is changing not just IT but business and society,” said Gini Rometty, chairperson, president and CEO, IBM, at the InterConnect 2017’s keynote address held in Las Vegas in March. Rometty who firmly bets on the future of cognitive computing said that the IBM cloud comprises three tenets that make it unique – enterprise strong, data first, and cognitive to the core. “Cognitive will separate the winners and losers… it will future proof you… To us, cognitive is not a feature; it is foundational to the IBM cloud.”

Going by technological advancement and how it is helping sectors such as healthcare, education, telecom, HR among other things, the marriage of cloud with cognitive is inevitable. And IBM’s Watson is the answer to the next generation computing – cognitive computing, where systems understand the world in a way similar to that of humans – through senses, learning, and experience.

In India, Manipal Hospitals has deployed Watson across six locations in its network to help physicians with personalised and evidence-based cancer care options. Manipal oncologists can access IBM Watson for oncology for patients with breast, colorectal and lung cancer, which are registered with a Manipal facility pan-India. “The introduction of Watson for oncology will be a game changer for cancer patients across the country,” says Dr Ajay Bakshi, MD & CEO, Manipal Hospitals. Now, in a move to further strengthen its cognitive capabilities, IBM signed a global strategic partnership with Salesforce in March to deliver joint solutions designed to leverage AI and help companies make faster and smarter decisions. Commenting on the partnership, Rometty, said, “Within a few years, every major decision – personal or business – will be made with the help of AI and cognitive technologies… Now, with today’s announcement, the power of Watson will serve millions of Salesforce and Einstein customers and developers to provide an unprecedented understanding of customers.”

The partnership with Salesforce is strategic and a win-win for both the companies involved, say experts. “The true value will be in the synergy of the two organisations working together to solve customer solutions using the scale and vision that is offered by Watson. Watson will benefit by being able to more rapidly achieve scale,” says Phil Hassey, CEO of technology advisory firm, capioIT.

Strategy For Growth
As part of IBM’s strategy to accelerate the growth of cognitive computing, Watson has been made open to the world, allowing a growing community of developers, students, entrepreneurs and technology enthusiasts to easily tap into the most advanced and diverse cognitive computing platform available today. Watson solutions are being built, used, and deployed in more than 45 countries and across 20 different industries.

Despite the first mover advantage, analysts believe IBM cannot be complacent about Watson but needs to work towards solving real-life problems. “There is a lot that IBM can do. Partnerships are critical. They need to add to the Salesforce partnership with other similar types of partnerships to more broadly distribute the Watson capabilities,” says Hassey. Hassey believes that democratising the platform will help make Watson more accessible, more readily usable and as a result, the leader in the market for a long period of time.

In a strategic move towards building the IBM cloud, IBM has been steadily growing its cloud data centres and today it arguably has the largest cloud data centre footprint globally. In October 2015, it opened its first public cloud data centre in India. Located in Chennai, this is part of IBM’s $1.2 billion investment to expand its global cloud footprint into every major financial market. Rometty said at the InterConnect 2017 event that cloud currently accounts for 17 per cent of IBM’s total revenue as it announced the opening of its 51st data centre in China through a partnership with Chinese property giant Dalian Wanda.

IBM is also working on the next level of computing, known as quantum computing. On 6 March, IBM announced ‘IBM Q’, an industry-first initiative to build commercially-available, universal quantum computing systems. IBM Q systems, delivered via its cloud platform, will be designed to tackle problems that are currently seen as too complex for classical computers to handle. In Rometty’s own words, “Quantum will solve problems and opportunities you never had.”

From every visible angle, IBM seems to be moving in the right direction as far as fusion of its cloud services and cognitive computing is concerned. “The fusion provides a powerful platform for enterprises for strategic insights from their data. It provides enterprises a proven computing engine with AI, machine learning, and predictive abilities. The four cornerstones of IBM’s new play, data, cloud, AI, and apps, will satisfy the enterprises’ insatiable computing requirements,” says analyst and cloud evangelist, L.S. Subramanian.

(The writer was in the US at IBM’s invitation)