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Our Strategy Is Focused On Hybrid Cloud & AI

IBM is on a growth path and sees hybrid cloud and AI as a $1 trillion market opportunity, informs Sandip Patel, MD, IBM India in this conversation with BW Businessworld. Excerpts:

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IT and software services have been the weathervane of the pandemic times, how has IBM stepped up to meet the new and emerging needs of digital transformation with its product offerings

You are right! Technology has emerged as the ‘sutradhar’ of every industry and business overall. The IT landscape in India has also leapfrogged with accelerated digital transformation and emerging technologies helping clients take advantage of the data paradigm and reshape standard business models.

Today, these digital transformations are enabled by a hybrid cloud environment. The technology and services we provide to our clients enable their business growth, improve productivity, and enhance customer experiences. This is why our strategy is focused on hybrid cloud and AI.

We have worked closely with clients throughout the pandemic as they reset, recovered, and revived in a dynamic environment. Our market-leading open hybrid cloud platform built on Red Hat and AI solutions create value for our clients, our ecosystem partners and the markets we operate in. We are fast becoming a technology transformation company. We offer a complete, open-source platform that brings together our market-leading software portfolio, data and AI solutions, application modernisation and cloud transformation services, enterprise systems, and security solutions, powered by IBM’s unmatched expertise in industry verticals.

Further, we are successfully leveraging Red Hat as a unique platform to address what our clients need: a hybrid cloud platform that is open by design, flexible, and secure. Today, many of our offerings are built on the foundation of RedHat OpenShift. For example, IBM Cloud Satellite acts as a unifying layer of connectivity across any location where the client data resides – whether it’s on-prem, in any cloud or at the edge. With technologies like Watson Anywhere, IBM Cloud Pak for Data and Watson AIOps, we have democratised the way AI is consumed to help clients accelerate their business opportunities

With the imperative use of hybrid cloud and AI that has been a sign of the times, what is your vision of the future of business operations where AI is infused into software and systems in the 21st century? And how big a role will open-source technology influence this future in your opinion?

Today, the cloud democratises AI. In the journey from AI experimentation to wide-scale deployment and industry transformation, IBM has made Watson portable across any cloud, empowering businesses to prevent vendor lock-in and start deploying AI wherever their data resides in a secure manner. Most of the organisations in India are looking to deploy AI as part of their enterprise-wide functions.

A case in point is financial services (banks, insurances) are heavily investing in AI for automating processes. Telcos that are witnessing heavy customer care volumes are looking at AI to triage and auto-respond to voice calls. Industries where customer influx is high: Digitalisation/Touchless interaction with their customers - pushing them to look at ways to reduce manual intervention to a minimum to enable employees to focus on higher-value work. AI is used to interact with customers and observe and understand the trends and patterns thereby helping in business planning.

Further, we believe open-source technology is the future. Open source is in the DNA of IBM. IBM has helped establish The Linux Foundation, The Apache Software Foundation and Eclipse Foundation. We have been engaged with enterprises over the years to help them embrace open source. We have many AI open-source toolkits that provide true multi-vendor open governance to our customers: The AI Fairness 360 Toolkit helps data scientists easily detect and mitigate bias in machine learning models and datasets. The Adversarial Robustness 360 Toolbox allows researchers and developers to secure AI systems by detecting and simulating adversarial attacks on deep neural networks. The AI Explainability 360 Toolkit provides diverse explainability algorithms for machine learning models. AI FactSheets provide transparency into AI, much like nutrition labels that summarise useful information on packaged foods.

IBM Research Labs in India have played a critical role in the development of these toolkits and continue to be at the forefront of working with the open-source community through our initiatives like IBM-IISc Hybrid Cloud lab.

The changing times often modify the seats of power. On that note, how is IBM helping India take advantage and dominate the new business ecosystem and digital economy?

The accelerated pace of digital adoption coupled with the country’s vision of Digital India has clearly defined the role of technologies like hybrid cloud, AI, security, blockchain, IoT – as key enablers in helping businesses carve a differentiated edge.

We are on a path to growth and see hybrid cloud and AI as a $1 trillion market opportunity. We understand that businesses need a clear and credible path to modernise their mission-critical systems.

As an organisation, we are aligned with the country’s vision and our strategic focus on hybrid cloud powered by Red Hat, Data & AI, underpinned by trust and security, therefore, is not incidental. Fueled by our robust partner ecosystem, IBM’s strategic imperatives stem from the changing market dynamics and ever-evolving client needs. One example is bringing to the fore a model of engagement that enables us to create highly-experiential journeys through value selling for our clients – both digitally and through IBM Client Engineering teams sessions. We have our cloud developers and data scientists engage with clients early on, to show the solution’s capabilities through rapid prototyping. Similarly, co-opetition, co-creation, co-innovation and co-existence will be key to our growth strategy. In addition, we have committed a $1 billion investment for our ‘One Ecosystem’ mission, with an aim to build multi-billion-dollar joint portfolios with our key GSI and other eco-system partners over the next three years.

Looking to the future we are working towards accelerating the innovation culture in India with skilling, expansion and collaboration with leading educational institutes forming the core of our strategy. Few examples of IBM India investing in people, skills, and market expansion:

Expansion: IBM is expanding capabilities across key cities (beyond the metros) in India for the benefit of our customers. We recently announced the expansion of IBM Software Labs through state-of-the-art product engineering, design and development centres in Kochi,

Kerala and Ahmedabad, Gujarat will further advance the development of hybrid cloud and Artificial Intelligence technologies in line with IBM’s strategy.

Quantum roadmap: Our commitment is to grow a quantum ready workforce and build an ecosystem to nurture the quantum community in India. We recently announced a collaboration with top-tier institutions of India to accelerate advanced training and research in quantum computing.

Commitment to open source agenda through hybrid cloud: To advance hybrid cloud research in India, we have launched IBM-IISc lab for Hybrid Cloud that will take an open-access approach to conduct cutting-edge research that can help organisations leverage the true power of the hybrid cloud by enabling faster, seamless, and more secure adoption of hybrid cloud and AI.

With IBM’s long presence and influence in the software services and technology landscape, how is the company adding value to the social fabric of the ecosystem in India? What are some of the initiatives IBM has taken up in this space?

One thing that has emerged very clearly with the current pandemic situation is the importance of skilling for the future that can help society and the industry to grow. The workforce landscape in India has been changing drastically to meet the growing demands of modern industrialisation through digitisation. The pandemic revealed the increasing dependency on technology in every sector. We are making concerted efforts to enhance the social fabric of our country with skilling initiatives designed to support the Skill India Mission of the country.

In India, IBM is incorporating technical and professional skills training as part of curriculums and provides free digital education through initiatives like STEM for Girls, and SkillsBuild that can enhance employability. Today, we reach over 10 million learners in India through our good tech initiatives, skilling engagements, collaborations with clients and partners. Some of our initiatives include:

STEM for Girls is one of IBM's largest initiatives launched in India in 2019 to improve education and career pathways for girls in government high schools. IBM India’s vision is to prepare over 200,000 high school girls, across multiple states, through a 3-year program to pursue and understand their potential in New Collar careers. IBM is working across 10 states in India and has reached 147000 girls and 74000 boys so far through the program. Our approach is not just to help students get skilled but also to ‘Teach the Teacher’, we have trained 7000 + teachers till now.

Our expansion in Kochi and Ahmedabad with the setting up of our IBM Software Labs will also accelerate the building of skills and digital innovation — providing a strong foundation for the IT/ITeS sector in both states.

Further to accelerate quantum skilling, our collaboration with top-tier institutions will help students access IBM quantum systems, quantum learning resources and, quantum tools over IBM Cloud for education purposes. This will allow them to work on actual quantum computers (vs. simulators) and program them using the Qiskit open-source framework.

The IBM-IISc Hybrid Cloud lab will help IISc students get exposure to industry-driven problem statements and mentorship from IBM researchers on research and open source. The lab will serve as a hub for fostering the exchange of ideas, not just for the members of the two institutions, but for the research and industry community in the region.

What would you say are IBM’s focus areas in terms of new and emerging technologies in India?

Our focus areas are in-line with our client’s requirements. Hybrid Cloud is foremost. Hybrid cloud has become one of the common architectural patterns, in the cloud world, primarily driven by the need to flexibly scale while not compromising on the resiliency characteristic. Clients find that choosing a hybrid cloud approach is 2.5 times more valuable than relying on the public cloud alone.

The second would be AI in core business functions, NLP, trust and automation. Organisations are looking to infuse AI in the form of NLP, Automation with Trust & Security as a key foundation across various processes and business functions. Some of the use case scenarios that are prevalent include embedding AI in digital journeys, acceleration of intelligent automation and AI in IT operations.

Then AI for accelerating hybrid cloud adoption. AI can play a very critical role in this. Today, organisations are looking to use automation to migrate their mission-critical workloads to cloud environments. This will significantly accelerate moving applications to the cloud as well as their subsequent manageability.

Blockchain — in today’s digitally connected world, blockchain increases trust, security, transparency, and the traceability of data shared across a business network — and delivers cost savings with new efficiencies. Hence, organisations are adopting an open, interoperable, and available anywhere Blockchain platform.

Quantum computing is another focus area. Quantum computing is nearing a phase of commercialisation that will change our world. From the field of drug discovery to complex financial modelling — the potential applications of this technology are huge in a country like India. IBM has been driving numerous initiatives to build and grow the quantum ecosystem/community in India.

Confidential computing as well. Organisations will leverage confidential computing in their hybrid cloud environments to protect data during processing and at rest. Confidential computing has the potential to accelerate the adoption of hybrid cloud computing for highly sensitive industries like finance, healthcare, insurance, or any business concerned with the migration of data and workloads to the public cloud.

With the IBM-Kyndryl split, how is Kyndryl globally positioning itself and what is in the cards for the India operations of both companies?

As an independent company, Kyndryl designs, runs and manages the most modern, efficient, and reliable technology infrastructure that the world depends on every day. We believe the market for both IBM and Kyndryl is huge in India.

While IBM and Kyndryl will be independent and distinct entities, at launch we will both be each other’s biggest client and one of each other’s key strategic partners. Kyndryl will continue to include IBM hardware and software among its offerings.

We are confident that the joint business of IBM and Kyndryl will continue to grow in India as the client benefits from the added degree of focus that each company will bring. We are committed to redoubling our efforts toward customer responsiveness and attentiveness and expect those enhancements to be carried forward by both IBM and Kyndryl. We are already seeing that happen. For instance, our work with Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) -- operator of Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru (KIAB/BLR Airport) – as part of a ten-year partnership under which IBM and Kyndryl will provide best of breed IT solutions to create a new ‘Airport in a Box’ platform that will support transforming the end-to-end travel experience for passengers at BLR Airport.

How are IBM’s innovation labs ushering the new digital reality?

Today, individuals and businesses alike are embracing the digital revolution. The accelerated pace of digital transformation is making our clients create new business models to cater to their customers and society at large. Hence, the problems the world is facing today require us to work faster than ever before and IBM’s culture of scientific research is integral to the company’s history of innovation that matters to our clients and the world.

We’re currently focused on advancing the state of the art in AI and hybrid cloud and defining the future of quantum computing. To that extent, India labs are closely aligned to IBM strategy and pioneering work from these labs is integrated into IBM products, solutions, and services. Our labs are at the forefront of innovation that can exponentially alter the speed and scale at which we can uncover solutions to complex problems that are accelerated further with digitalisation. Our lab’s cutting-edge technologies are making the vision of Make in India, for India and the world a reality.

For instance, a lot of the core innovation and technology work for the IBM POWER10 processor, which plays a critical role in our hybrid cloud strategy, was designed in India by our IBM Systems Development Labs. IBM Research Labs in India is advancing Watson’s ability to understand native Indian languages (NLP), building trust and transparency and confidence in business predictions as well as helping businesses automate and scale AI. IBM Software Labs transforms IBM's innovations into offerings for businesses - whether its Cloud Paks or AI Apps or Security solutions, which eventually enable clients in their digital journeys. Our software labs also collaborate with our technology ecosystem to co-create solutions for clients and industry. India labs are helping organisations accelerate their competitive advantage with best-in-class innovation.