Q&A with Anil Bhasker, Cloud & Data platform Sales Leader, IBM Technology Sales

Q&A with Anil Bhasker, Cloud & Data platform Sales Leader, IBM Technology Sales

The pandemic has accelerated the rollout of AI in enterprises across industry verticals. In a conversation with BusinessLine, Anil Bhasker, Cloud & Data platform Sales Leader, IBM Technology Sales, IBM India/South Asia said, India is uniquely positioned to succeed in the AI economy.

How has the pandemic impacted the adoption of AI in Indian enterprises?

IBM’s Global AI Adoption Index 2021 found that while AI adoption was flat last year, we are poised for a major uptick in AI investments as companies continue to find ways to emerge from the pandemic. Many organizations in India lean on NLP (natural language processing) technologies and AI automation to help lower costs and get trusted information into the hands of their customers, partners and employees as they look for new ways to engage with them across a distributed work environment. We are witnessing clients moving to deploy AI at scale. As per the IBM CEO Study, in India, 45 per cent of CEOs expect AI machine learning to deliver results in 2-3 years. While the pandemic has accelerated the AI agenda more horizontally within many organizations, we have been witnessing many interesting use cases. For eg: Emerald Jewellery, one of India’s largest jewellery manufacturers, with their “Tej” mobile app, a first-of-its-kind AI enabled mobile application has been able to showcase their latest collection to over 200 dealers, enabling them to search through a growing catalogue of over 5 lakh jewellery designs quickly and navigate the complex ordering process easily. The Tej app played a key role in staying connected with their dealers last year seamlessly even during the peak lockdown.

Which are the top few industry verticals where you see faster adoption of AI ?

AI and automation are relevant across every industry in India. For ex: financial services (banks, insurances) are heavily investing in AI for automation of processes. For example, State Bank of India, which has one of the largest and most complex Enterprise Data Warehouse solutions, is now expanding their technology footprint by implementing a NextGen Data Warehouse & Big Data Lake solution, along with IBM Cloud Pak for Data – a fully-integrated data and AI platform, to modernize the collection, organization and analysis of data and infuse AI throughout their organization, hence transforming the customer banking experience. Telcos, which are witnessing heavy customer care volumes are looking at AI to auto-respond to voice calls. Industries where customer influx is high: Digitalization/Touch-less interaction with their customers is pushing them to look at ways to reduce manual intervention to a minimum, so as to enable employees to focus on higher value work.

How much does IBM’s AI portfolio contribute to its global and India revenue?

While we don’t share numbers as a policy, there are now more than 40,000 client engagements globally with Watson across 20 different industries. We have customers like Parle for whom IBM has built an intelligent AI-based supply chain, to help design a critical KPIs-based performance management framework using IBM Watson Studio. This allows them to measure and monitor the health of Parle’s business processes and their outcomes. Bestseller, the leading fashion company which owns brands such as Jack & Jones, Vero Moda and others, uses IBM Watson capability to predict the right merchandise for the consumer at the right time. With Watson mining deeply into big data, the retailer can determine the right assortment plan for each store, predict the next best product to incorporate into its mix, and improve the efficiency of its supply chain. They are working with IBM Watson to predict the next big trend and the most relevant styles, colours and size ratios.

What are some India specific challenges in the adoption of AI and skilling talent. What is IBM’s strategy to meet these gaps?

IBM’s annual survey found that a lack of AI skills and increasing data complexity are cited as top challenges to adoption. IBM is committed to lowering the barriers to entry and making AI more accessible to businesses by offering an architecture (AI Ladder) based on client insights that illustrates the four key areas clients must engage to successfully implement AI capabilities: Collect Data, Organize Data, Analyze Data and then Infuse AI. IBM Watson provides businesses with a range of AI software and services. This includes tools to help build AI and AI applications targeted at self-service, risk and compliance, and financial and IT operations that can run anywhere on the Cloud Pak for data. We are supplementing India’s skilling efforts through programs that can be delivered online and offline. We have several initiatives underway in collaboration with schools, governments and government agencies to drive this. For example, we are working with CBSE to develop a curriculum of Artificial Intelligence, to be introduced as an elective subject for class IX to XII. The pilot project was launched as part of the CBSE SEWA program last year with the aim of reaching 200 schools across 13 States in India. We have now covered 160 schools and over 12,000 students have benefited from the program.

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