Catch Vanitha Narayanan, MD, IBM India in a conversation with Sanchit Vir Gogia, Chief Analyst & Group CEO, Greyhound Research on Greyhound Research’s knowledge sharing series ONTrigger.
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Sanchit Vir Gogia: You know what I was thinking the other day was that overtime businesses have grown these software assets over which they put these business processes so we already have business assets that we can go after and if we put some automation and put some smart API we will be able to seriously fulfill knowledge economy in a huge way.
Vanitha Narayanan: Absolutely! And the key is the knowledge economy. Recently, I was at a panel on the knowledge economy and it is really about what is knowledge coming back and looking at how you are applying tools, technologies to really drive a level of innovation, drive a level of capability and I think we have the ingredients for that. It’s about scaling it.
You see it happen because some of the innovative companies, start-ups are coming out of India.
SVG: Yes, I would agree. So let’s switch some gears. We are in agreement first of all that the industry is changing. There are brand new programs by the government. The government is doing a decent job at pushing Make in India, Digital India program.
Now as an IBM’er and someone who really leads this by the horns; how do you think it is impacting IBM and of course this in the light of the fact that the last twelve quarters haven’t been the best quarters for the company. Is the situation as worse in the country (India)?
VN: Anybody who knows me knows that I am a glass half full person always or three fourth. Yes and we have seen the transition, we have seen the transformation and this is about the industry as well as with IBM. If I look at India in some ways it couldn’t have happened at a better time because the last three –four years in India, specially the couple of years leading after the election and immediately after, there was a level of policy paralysis in the country. So you didn’t see a lot of decision making, government or non-government.
That was a great time to redo; re-assess your strategy and your approach and re skill because when we look at advancing our portfolio, changing our portfolio, adding to our portfolio in so many different ways. The portfolio changes can be made faster and then you will have to get the entire workforce. Also, adding skills and capabilities and transforming takes time.
When you talk to anybody in IBM in any part of the world we will say its work in progress.
SVG: Whenever I speak to an IBM’er, they would tell me the same thing that’s its work in progress. Let’s break it down for people who are seeing this video right now. What are those key pillars for work in progress for IBM?
VN: Yes, two or three things. We talked about decision makers changing. For years, IBM has built a very strong set of consultants and salesforce and product and technologists, who by a large address the CIO or the CTO office.
Now we have got a fantastic group of business consulting part of IBM that has always dealt with that line of business and looked at it. When we look at the portfolio we need to add a lot more people, train our people, not just on the technology but on the taxonomy of the CFO, the CMO, the CHRO and sometimes changing language takes a little longer than learning feature function.
This one I think is significant because if you see the new business units reformed as well earlier this year- commerce and analytics. Analytics is an area where you got to have very good insights and the insights come about when you understand an industry, when you add a domain.
You can’t take technology without the context of an industry and a domain. It’s very much about what can I talk to the head of manufacturing in either a process industry or in a particular Consumer Packaged Goods industry and the issues that they have and what can analytics do for them.
SVG: If I am hearing this correct it’s a marriage between IBM Global Business Services and the Software Division.
VN: Yes, very much.
SVG: And even Global Technology Services and software as well?
SVG: And you come from a GBS background?
SVG: I remember talking to you years ago about the industry so I like the fact. Having said that this reskilling, while it’s important, it does have a gestation period. Do you have a specific plan in mind that you are going after?
VN: It is to some extent and if you speak to anyone at IBM, I don’t think we’ve stopped transforming for the last two decades.
In that sense particularly pace and rate at which technology and things change today. I think this is going to be a hyper-continuous effort. But when I look at structures, globally we have got the right structures in terms of how we address the market. In India, I did a lot of the same here which marries allows us to take a portfolio but tailor it from an Indian market base point of view. We did a lot of that early this year.
SVG: Let’s double click on that. What do you mean?
VN: When I look at India and the big market segments we have got the private large enterprises, which, in many ways are invested well in technology and are doing some very interesting things. Now, these companies will continue to transform their own technology landscape and business landscape, both responding to the environment around them with a lot of global players entering the market and also the changes and really brought about the hyper customer centricity driven if you will win your social mobile world.
With these clients, our transformation is in a way, also a reflection of their transformation.
It’s moving the needle and moving the business with them. This is about the marriage of the system of records and the systems of engagements.
All the work whether it is around analytics – external, internal, it’s about cloud, private, hybrid, work load moving back and forth etc and coming. This is the core group of clients we work with and we continue to work with.
Then you have the new opportunities presented by the government segment. Now these will come in different shapes and sizes or with different time frames, from central, states. Each of the states will have their own plans. You take something like smart cities.
IBM has done work in the area of smarter cities for over half a dozen years, over 2000 engagements around the world. We have done a lot of work in India with private parts of building structures, building smart cities, blueprints, capabilities from our labs. Again, the government is now looking at how do they establish a smart cities challenge so that they can pick the cities that are most ready.
SVG: Smart cities is a very interesting topic but the fact that this year Modi government decided to give more autonomy to the state governments. Do you think that’s going to add a bit of impetus to the entire wave of smart cities?
VN: It will. I think they are going to get state governments to give them more autonomy as they will all move at different places, different spaces.
But the other thing which they are doing and I am really looking forward to the execution of this. They are looking at setting up a smart cities challenge which is on a set of KPI’s which will assess the readiness of these cities. They are going to pick the top 40 and the funding and the allocation will be based on who wins this, which I think is a very sensible way to approach it because you never going to have enough money to do everything, everywhere at one time.
SVG: Yes, I figured because the Modi government said INR 7060 cr for 100 cities and I thought that’s unreal because every smart city would be a few INR1000 cr for sure.
Now the other thing that comes to my head is that when we speak of smart cities we only speak of new cities, grounds up. We don’t really speak of the existing cities and how to make them smarter. Do you have any perspective on that?
VN: Absolutely! I am glad you brought it up versus me saying it. We at IBM always call that smarter cities, smarter planet. I don’t think you ever get to a destination. It’s always relative and you continue to improve it. Just make it smarter every day. We have done a lot of work. There are some really good people on the team, who look at city by city. It’s is not a one size fits all.
In fact, last year when the President of the United States and the Prime Minister met, they decided that the US and India will collaborate three cities – Vizag, Allahabad and Ajmer.
We had our team go to each one of these cities and look at those cities for what is the most important thing that will move the needle. When you look at Vizag, it was an emergency management system. When you look at the storm systems and how it affects the economy, and how it affects the citizens. Having something like that and being able to reduce the impact of storm systems in a negative way actually helps that city in terms of its economy.
In case of Allahabad, which is a historical city, can attract a lot of tourism and if you want to make Allahabad more attractive first thing you need to look at is how you put in place a system that manages solid waste. Each of these areas we picked one or two things that will actually make that city a smarter and a better city.