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

The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of AI in companies across industries. Speaking to BusinessLine, Anil Bhasker, Cloud & Data Platform Sales Leader, IBM Technology Sales, IBM India / South Asia, said India is uniquely positioned to be successful in the AI economy.

How has the pandemic affected the adoption of AI in Indian companies?

IBM’s Global AI Adoption Index 2021 found that while AI adoption was flat last year, we are prepared for a significant surge in AI investment as companies continue to find ways to get out of the pandemic. Many companies in India are turning to Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies and AI automation to cut costs and provide trustworthy information to their customers, partners and employees as they look for new ways to interact with them in a distributed work environment to interact. We’re seeing customers transition to deploying AI on a large scale. According to the IBM CEO Study, 45 percent of CEOs in India expect AI machine learning to deliver results in 2-3 years. While the pandemic has accelerated the AI agenda more horizontally in many organizations, we have seen many interesting use cases. For example: Emerald Jewelery, one of the largest jewelry manufacturers in India, was able to present its latest collection to over 200 dealers with its mobile app “Tej”, a unique AI-enabled mobile application of its kind, and enable them to search through a growing catalog of over 5 lakh jewelry designs quickly and easily navigate through the complex ordering process. The Tej app played a key role over the past year in staying seamlessly connected with their dealers even during the peak lockout.

What are the few industries where you are seeing AI adoption faster?

AI and automation are relevant to every industry in India. For example: Financial service providers (banks, insurance companies) invest heavily in AI to automate processes. For example, State Bank of India, which has one of the largest and most complex Enterprise Data Warehouse solutions, is expanding its technology presence by implementing a NextGen Data Warehouse and Big Data Lake solution together with IBM Cloud Pak for Data – a complete one. Integrated data and AI platform to modernize the collection, organization and analysis of data and bring AI to the entire company to transform the customer banking experience. Telecommunications companies that are experiencing strong customer care volumes are turning to AI to automatically respond to voice calls. Industries with a high flow of customers: Digitization / contactless interaction with their customers forces them to look for ways to reduce manual intervention to a minimum so that employees can concentrate on higher-quality work.

How much does IBM’s AI portfolio contribute to its global and Indian sales?

While we don’t give any figures as a guideline, there are now more than 40,000 customer contacts with Watson in 20 different industries worldwide. We have clients like Parle for whom IBM developed an intelligent AI-based supply chain to develop a KPIs-based performance management framework with IBM Watson Studio. In this way, they can measure and monitor the state of Parle’s business processes and their results. Bestseller, the leading fashion company owning brands like Jack & Jones, Vero Moda and others, leverages the capabilities of IBM Watson to predict the right goods for the consumer at the right time. With Watson Mining deep into big data, the retailer can determine the right assortment plan for each store, predict the next best product for their mix, and improve their supply chain efficiency. They work with IBM Watson to predict the next big trend and the most relevant styles, colors and proportions.

What are some India-specific challenges in AI adoption and talent qualification? What is IBM’s strategy to fill these gaps?

The annual IBM survey found that a lack of AI skills and increasing data complexity are cited as the greatest challenges in the implementation. IBM is committed to lowering barriers to entry and making AI more accessible to businesses by providing an architecture (AI ladder) based on customer insights that illustrates the four key areas that customers need to successfully implement AI capabilities need: collect data, organize data, analyze data and then infuse AI. IBM Watson provides a variety of AI software and services to businesses. This includes tools for building AI and AI applications that are self-service, risk and compliance, finance and IT operations-focused and can run anywhere in the Cloud Pak for data. We complement India’s qualification efforts with programs that can be offered online and offline. We have several initiatives underway in partnership with schools, governments and government agencies to move this forward. For example, we are working with CBSE on the development of a curriculum for artificial intelligence, which will be introduced as an elective for grades IX to XII. The pilot project started last year as part of the CBSE SEWA program with the aim of reaching 200 schools in 13 Indian states. We have now covered 160 schools and over 12,000 students have benefited from the program.