Interview News

We’re looking at building ISV ecosystems and enabling service providers.

In terms of skilling and building capabilities, it is important to look at the journey you are going to build. Therefore, investing in building your team’s skillset and looking at building new service models to meet the new demands of the clients is essential because the focus is going to be on delivery capabilities.”

Lata Singh, Director – partner Ecosystems, IBM India/South Asia

to understand the market sentiments and channel activities, SME Channels had a series of conversation with market leaders. We talked to Lata Singh, Director – Partner Ecosystem, IBM India/South Asia about the different aspects of market growth, partner businesses and tech side of it.

What is your understanding of the market sentiment?

Looking at the sense of the market, I would say for all organizations and all businesses, the sentiment is to focus on employee’s health, safety and wellbeing. And this is across organizations, not just a statement of IBM. I would say it is a statement of every organization. Our unilateral focus is on ensuring that our employees and their families are safe. Therefore, we have put together a very comprehensive support plan, which includes vaccination camps, a 24×7 medical helpline, additional insurance coverage, along with oxygen concentrators, supervised quarantine facilities and emergency transport facilities. As IBM is a key part of the global task force on pandemic responses, which was launched by the US Chamber of commerce to support India and other COVID 19 hotspots we have mobilized strategy forums to bring critical aid to India, but the key focus remains to mobilize the collective power of our talent, and our resiliency to drive impact by saving lives. We also have our volunteers, who came forward with humanity at its core, to take service requests, match them with resources daily. And as you know multiple challenges from oxygen cylinders to medicines to ICU beds. The volunteers across multiple cities signed up for this initiative and ensured that they were able to make the request through the IBM support system and assist them through multiple connections that each of the volunteers had in the larger ecosystem. One of the other key initiatives that IBM launched was the partnership with Samarth, a leading organization that supports the elderly by creating a covid case system. This initiative helps elderly people deal with the pandemic by providing 24×7 emergency assistance, home care, doctor telecommunications, food service especially since a lot of the city’s senior citizens are alone while the kids are at job, not only in other cities in India but also outside of India.

In addition, we also have partnered with United Way of India where employees can donate financially to the NGO, who in turn, is working with several partners on the ground level to provide critically and emergency care for the community. In addition to this, IBMers are also volunteering to become the first responders of Covid19 helplines through collaboration with NGOs like Project StepOne and Jeeva Raksha Trust. Being an IT company, we are leveraging the power of technology to drive impact. We have launched our own IBM Covid Assist, a Watson assistant Powered bot to channelize the request around critical resources, such as ambulance, oxygen and others in an efficient manner.

We all know IBM is known for cognitive technologies, AI and Watson. These 3 things help in medical science to a greater deal. Are you also seeing within the organization that these technologies being used in this time of stress?

Absolutely. Like I mentioned the IBM India team has come together to leverage the AI-powered, IBM Watson Assistant to build an assist solution called IBM Covid Assist that connects IBMers in need with the volunteers for critical resources and provides a unified dashboard to the India COVID Taskforce to enable seamless support for IBMers.

In addition, we have leveraged IBM Blockchain technology to build a solution, called ‘Digital Health Pass’.  The solution is designed to enable organizations to verify health credentials for employees, customers and visitors entering their site based on criteria specified by the organization. It can allow an individual to manage their information through an encrypted digital wallet on their smartphone and maintain control of what they share, with whom and for what purpose. It’s one solution in our Watson Works suite of workplace solutions.

Which of the industry sectors you think are driving your business?

Amidst pandemic, organizations across sectors focussed on technology as the unifying force. They are focused on increasing agility, ensuring business continuity, enhancing the productivity of their remote workforce, bringing efficiency in the supply chain, and leveraging automation and AI for intelligent workflows. If I look at which sectors are driving momentum, it is financial services. Post the amalgamation that has happened in the banking industry, banks are increasingly focused on improving customer experience across online and offline channels. They are looking at the larger IT ecosystem, to embrace open hybrid multi-cloud environments, which offers rapid innovation, speed to market with strict security and compliance requirements which are essential for customers in a regulated industry. So, we are looking at a lot of platform-based initiatives that the banks are driving. Globally, IBM has collaborated with Bank of America with the availability of the IBM Cloud Policy Framework for Financial Services which establishes a new generation of the cloud for enterprises with common operational criteria and streamlined compliance controls framework specifically for the financial services industry, allowing IBM’s growing financial services ecosystem to transact with confidence.

BNP Paribas has leveraged high-end applications of IBM Public Cloud to accelerate its digitization journey and drive benefits for its customers. In India, we are working very closely with SBI for the creation of their secure mobile platform YONO for their 18 million customers. The way we are doing banking is so different now. We are not only banking, but we are also shopping, ordering food, and doing so much more through the application. In addition, we’ve created a digital marketplace for infrastructure equipment with iQuippo. It has become India’s first, digital platform to digitize the core lending programs of banks and NBFCs.

Another sector is manufacturing, where organizations are fast-tracking their industrial automation journey.  We are seeing a movement to build end-to-end visibility, get real insights, and to be able to predict issues related to the supply chain. To give you examples, AMUL, one of the biggest FMCG companies in India, is leveraging Intelligent Automation and AI to build resiliency in its supply chain. Shree Cement one of the top 3 cement producers in India, is leveraging AIX and Red Hat on IBM Power Systems to run their database and core business application. Another example is Parle, the world’s largest selling biscuit brand which is leveraging IBM’s hybrid cloud and AI capabilities, and IBM’s Security Operations Center to enhance its security posture.

Last year, retail was changing the way customers were buying, with the whole online shopping experience. We have examples of Emerald Jewellers, which launched the first-of-its-kind AI-enabled mobile application ‘Tej’ powered by IBM Cloud and AI. Another client,  Bestseller launched Fabric.ai, the fashion industry’s first AI project aimed to increase sell-through rate, and reduce unsold inventory. That was important and as we see the market open up again, we’re seeing E-commerce picking up.

In the public sector, the digitization of government services has happened at a very fast space. We have received a full cloud service provider empanelment with the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), which means Public Sector companies and government agencies can access the industry’s most secure and open cloud platform to drive innovation and growth. In addition, we’ve also worked with the Ministry of Education and NITI Aayog, on samSiksha. We are also driving STEM initiatives with 10 States in India and in 2021 we’ve reached 180,000 students through 1200 schools across 11 states. In addition, previously we did talk about how farmers in Karnataka are leveraging the Watson Decision Platform for agriculture for tomato farming.

Increasingly people are organized and are adopting multi-cloud, hybrid cloud, and Watson capabilities. So, my question here is from a tech perspective, which are technologies that are creating a demand for your cloud. Cloud and AI are there, but would you please take me a little further?

IBM is all-in on hybrid cloud, and we know that as businesses are looking at modernizing their mission-critical systems, they do need a clear and credible path, and hence the entire piece of Data and AI becomes key. The announcements that we made during THINK 2021, are aligned to our hybrid cloud and AI strategy, which is further strengthened by the fact that we are helping thousands of clients and we have shared examples of organizations across industries, transforming their business with the power of the hybrid cloud and AI. At Think 2021, we announced AutoSQL (Structured Query Language) which automates how customers access, integrate and manage data without ever having to move it, regardless of where the data resides or how it is stored. The new intelligent data fabric automates complex data management tasks by using AI to discover, understand, access, and protect distributed data across multiple environments.

The second is the Watson Orchestrate, which provides a new interactive AI-powered automation capability, to help people reclaim a significant amount of their time to focus on most strategic tasks. Developed by IBM Research, Watson Orchestrate can connect to popular business applications, like Salesforce, SAP, Workday, and work in a very collaborative manner with Slack and email, in natural language.

The third is the IBM Maximo Mobile which is easy to deploy mobile platform and at the core of it is the leading Maximo Asset Management solution. AI cannot help humans with complex tasks, like repairing remote assets, if technicians can’t bring AI to the assets with them. So, our key step to facilitating this is the adoption of advanced automation and industry 4.0 is not only applying AI and machine learning to solve difficult problems but also ensuring that you can run your AI anyways. So, Maximo Mobile bridges the gap by helping technicians easily access and use the most advanced tools and technologies every day. So, it’s bringing the power of AI to the person right in the field who is working on it.

Another important announcement that we did is IBM Research is releasing project CodeNet. This is a large-scale open-source data set, comprising 14 million code samples. Project CodeNet specifically can drive algorithmic innovation to extract this context from sequence to sequence model. So, it is aimed at teaching AI to code.

IBM is also introducing Mono to Micro a new capability in WebSphere Hybrid Edition. This helps enterprises to optimize and modernize their application and workloads to run in hybrid cloud environments on Red Hat OpenShift.  This is a very important one because a number of our clients and our services companies are using WebSphere hybrid edition and this is bringing IBM suite of AI powered products and services that can make it faster to migrate to the cloud. Mono to Micro is something that a number of our ecosystem partners would be looking at adopting.

Recently, we also announced our engagement and tie-up with India’s premier academic and research institutions including Indian Institute of Science Education & Research (IISER) – Pune, IISER – Thiruvananthapuram, Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) – Jodhpur, IIT – Kanpur, IIT – Kharagpur, IIT – Madras, Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) Kolkata, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Delhi, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) Mumbai and the University of Calcutta which will be able to access IBM quantum systems, quantum learning resources and, quantum tools over IBM Cloud for education purposes.

The idea is to go further in quantum computing education and research and looking at building, not only skillsets across quantum but also the use cases to further the entire journey towards quantum as we progress forward.

Finally, scheduled to be launched during the second half of 2021 is IBM Spectrum Fusion, a fully containerized version of IBM storage and data protection software. This is designed to provide a streamlined way to discover data across the enterprise.  So these solutions will help our ecosystem partners, as our clients further their journey in the digital transformation.

What about the channel sentiment?

The year 2021 has been very critical for our partners. The major focus area for all of them has been their employees. The challenges include ensuring that their employees are getting the right support and more importantly keeping the business running at the same time taking care of their employees. So, this has been a focus area over the last 2 months. Early this year, when the market had opened, we organized key skilling initiatives on new technology areas and hence the entire focus was on skilling and building capability.

Another important aspect is a collaboration between industry, ecosystem and technology providers. Everyone is looking at not only the skillset that they have, but also how they are partnering, or collaborating with others in the industry to deliver much more to the client. It is a journey of much more collaboration, not only with the OEMs but also, amongst themselves. And I think that is the key to where the mood of our sentiment of the channel partners is.

What about ensuring that they are not in trouble at least from the IBM side? Any assurance that IBM is giving to them, which happened in the first lockdown in 2020. Is it continuing?

As you know IBM Global Financing, (IGF) helps our partners as well as our clients to adopt the hybrid cloud and AI journey, by funding the investments. In addition, the Cloud Engagement Fund, established as a part of the $1 billion investment in the ecosystem, provides partners with significant technical resources and cloud credits to move their workloads to hybrid cloud environments. In addition, we have the Hybrid Cloud Build team comprising of technical experts who are aligned with our partners because the impact of a financially secure ecosystem is not just through financial assistance that is provided but also with the technical capability and support to help them build additional solutions while ensuring that they are constantly skilling themselves to meet the market demands and that’s our focus. We have also simplified our coverage and are aligning our IBM sellers to work with our partners. In addition, our model focuses on not just resell but building assets with our partners and taking them to market.

So now there is a shift in workload also, so there is a channel that you are engaged with to address this. They might be requiring a lot of training and handholding.

There are 3 things here:

First, as everyone is working remotely, we have identified new ways of enabling not just sales and presales, but also deployment skill set. Last year one of the things that worked well is that while we were looking at onsite training for deployment, we were able to do it equally well remotely. Skills are important, not just for our ecosystem, but IBMers as well. Our partners as well as IBMers are building their capabilities using the Seismic zones for sales, presales and even looking at deep dive solutioning.

Second is the entire competency framework to enable our partners to demonstrate their expertise, technical validation and sales success because that is what the clients need, which is delivery of IBM solutions in a manner they require for their projects. Hence we are looking at helping our partners build competency on various product portfolios. For example, Tata Consultancy Services has achieved competencies and expanded its engagement with different customers to modernize its applications across hybrid cloud environments. Third, we have introduced new benefits such as co-creation client centers, proof of concept incentives and more.

As we currently look many of your competitors are looking at tapping into the new channel ecosystem, but they have added a new strategy of tapping into the ISVs, so I believe IBM is also taking is taking that same route. What are you looking at and what is your goal?

ISVs have always been an integral part of our partner ecosystem and the key is how our partners are adopting IBM technology in their solution because scaling can happen when you’re looking at the force multiplier of the ecosystem. Customers are increasingly looking for solutions that deliver their expected outcomes. They are also looking for solutions with a technology roadmap, and a technology that they know will not fail. Hence, ISVs become important not just for IBM but the entire ecosystem because they’re able to provide a solution built on technology that addresses the needs of their client.

How do you see the partner business growing for IBM?

The shift we are witnessing is ecosystem partners are not just reselling, but also building their capabilities as well as their service models using IBM technology. We have reselling partners who have built solutions and are looking at taking these solutions to the market. We are working with partners to embed our technology in an ISV model or looked at data center service providers, adopting our technology to deliver services to ISVs or end clients. Hence, we are looking at building ISV ecosystems and enabling service providers. From a product portfolio, Automation, Data and AI, Security, and the Cloud are at the core. We have a strong base of clients running on our power infrastructure, for example, we are powering 10 out of 10 world’s largest banks. We have 11 out of 13, public sector banks, running their mission-critical workloads on IBM power systems. However, as mentioned clients are looking at a solution-centric approach and not a product-based approach and therefore we are working very closely with our partners to ensure that they are building capability across IBM technology to deliver the solutions that the clients need.

If you have any messaging for the partners.

All I would like to say is, that the most important thing is to take care of yourself, and your loved ones and I do want to ensure that we are there for each other. So, reach out, if you need any help at any point in time, or for any support that you need. I know that all of you are going through tough times. In terms of skilling and building capabilities, it is important to look at the journey you are going to build. Therefore, investing in building your team’s skillset and looking at building new service models to meet the new demands of the clients is essential because the focus is going to be on delivery capabilities. Finally, I’ll say do stay safe and healthy and I look forward to meeting each of you when we are out, and the locked down is lifted but more importantly when it is safe to connect.

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