India is buzzing with entrepreneurial energy, says IBM’s Chief Digital Officer

18th Feb 2018
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Evincing excitement about the ‘convergence of data science and software’ in India, Bob Lord, Chief Digital Officer of IBM, says the IT major is focusing on making India’s developer/startup community stronger.

It is an event when Gini Rometty, the CEO of IBM, visits India. Accompanying her is most of the C-suite brigade from IBM. Among them was Bob Lord, the Chief Digital Officer of IBM. Bob was responsible for the quick growth of AOL with programmatic buying and its eventual sale to Verizon. Before that, he was in the advertising world, churning out revenues from apps.

At IBM, Bob is focused on helping the developer community, from across the world, to use IBM hybrid cloud environments to go global. His premise is that organisations would work with startups only if the data is within the firewall and if IBM can help them do that. In an interaction, Bob says IBM is focused on making India’s developer/startup community stronger so they use the IBM platform to go global. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Bob Lord, Chief Digital Officer, IBM

YS: You maintain that the reason startups have not been able to scale at the enterprise level is that companies don’t want to share data outside their firewall. How has IBM fixed this?

BL: The developer community is coming up with so many ideas that they can become the next big business. But, when they are focused on enterprises, as a business model, they realise that moving from the private cloud to the public cloud throws up so many challenges.

I believe an enterprise will want to pull things into a hybrid cloud environment where the startup can use IBM’s tools to heavy lift and organise data within the secure environment of the firewall. By doing so there is an element of trust with all parties involved. I believe IBM is preparing these developers to scale up by using the best of the open source world and connecting to an enterprise environment where the workflow and data is not compromised.

I don’t see any other company in the public cloud space achieve or solve this for enterprises. I agree that the public cloud allowed so many developers to start their own companies, helping the startup revolution go global in this era of devices. But as startups scale with enterprises they need to figure out how to stitch the two worlds together; IBM can help them do that.

YS: People use the term digital for everything. What does it mean to you?

BL: Firstly you need to understand the kind of infrastructure you are going to set up. Is it a private cloud or public cloud environment? Then you look at the availability of data and how you structure it. Finally, you need to know what you are going to do with this data.

This is when things like AI and ML come into use. Deep learning is a fast-growing machine learning method that extracts information by crunching millions of processes and data to detect and rank the most important aspects of the data. You need several data scientists and engineers to build this for an enterprise. But, IBM provides AI frameworks to help data scientists accelerate and build data models faster and allow engineers to focus on the logic part.

A decade ago pulling data and organising it for meaningful outcomes took years. Now, it takes less than a day to crunch voluminous data. People often think there are technical complexities involved, but IBM removes the clutter from all parties involved. The corporate can run AI models by itself or work with a startup that has the expertise to build machine learning models.

YS: You seem to like the engineering buzz in India?

BL: The energy levels are very high and I see very interesting use cases of technology here. People are using voice bots to analyse sales in retail. There are machine learning models applied in every business vertical here. I am spending my time with the global system integrators (like Infosys and Wipro) and telling their developers that I am personally very excited about the convergence of data science and software.

India has a huge talent pool of engineers, and with the right amount of training these engineers can also become data scientists. This combination puts India in a very special place because it fosters an interest in entrepreneurship. IBM wants to focus on this community in India and we are already training developers and engineers in colleges to be prepared for the world of data science and machine learning.

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