‘IBM is focussed on fostering the growth of startups in the country’

Nipun Mehrotra, Chief Digital Officer, IBM India & South Asia


IBM is transforming itself to become more agile and digitally aligned. As part of this digital transformation, it has appointed Nipun Mehrotra as the Chief Digital Officer (India & South Asia) in April this year. In order to strengthen the digital ecosystem, the company has been extensively working with startups and enterprises not only as a technology enabler around cloud and cognitive but also as a mentor and consultant. It is working with the startup ecosystem to accelerate growth of new-age technologies, upskilling, and helping startups grow. In an exclusive interview with The Startup Observer, Mehrotra talks about his top priorities and how IBM is working towards nurturing the startup ecosystem. All this and more in the interview below. Excerpts:

Q. IBM’s Chief Digital Officer’s role is the first of its kind. What are your top 3 priorities and what is your digital roadmap?                                                             At IBM, we are at the forefront of leading the next phase of digital transformation, revolutionising the way in which businesses work and interact. Taking an outside-in approach, we are transforming ourselves as well to become more agile and digitally aligned. Continuing with our focus on strengthening the ecosystem, we will further look at co-creating and co-innovating with startups, academia and developers.
We have already witnessed startups deploying deep technology for competitive advantage. We will continue to focus on developers as they are the potential change makers in emerging technology adoption. Academia will play a key role in terms of upskilling aspect and we will in tandem to help India bridge the skill gap in the new cognitive era.
We will be strengthening our ecosystem programs in 2018 to focus on our key stakeholders. For the coming year, we have three specific focus areas: 

  • Co-create: We want to build capabilities that allow us to co-create assets with our customers and start-up partners
  • Build with: We are committed to help startups realise their goals on their own terms and in the shortest amount of time. We want to continue to provide technical expertise which would help these companies grow and scale
  • Co-educate: We are working with a lot of academic institutions, students, universities and women entrepreneurs. With increasing technology awareness and adoption amongst businesses, it is important for these stakeholders to have access to right expertise and be aware of the latest advancements, which will help in bridging the skill gap

Q. How is IBM furthering its Global Entrepreneur program in India to further boost the startup ecosystem?                                                                                    At IBM, re-inventing ourselves is a way of life, and we are excited about the future of technology.  We are committed to help technology startups realise their goals on their own terms and in the shortest amount of time through the Global Entrepreneur Program (GEP). The recently designed program is created to provide startups access to up to $120,000 of technology usage credits, leading experts and enterprise-grade Cloud, Data, IoT, Blockchain and AI technologies to help solve real problems and ultimately help get their innovative products to market faster. The program has three levels- startup, builder and premium which is designed to support companies on their technology and business roadmaps. Each level provides startups access to free technology, developer tools, educational resources, technical support, to build and deploy cloud, mobile, analytics, artificial intelligence and other next-generation projects.

We are committed to be an enabler for next generation startups across sectors helping them develop innovative solutions to solve the most complex problems in the country. Partnering with the start-up ecosystem along with VCs, developers and academia, we are co-creating and co-innovating to nurture an entrepreneurial culture in the country.

Q. Which category of startups is IBM mostly working with? Data Science, AI & other cognitive technologies? Please name some of the startups.                        IBM is focused on fostering the growth of startups in the country and we are working with startups across healthcare, retail, FinTech, smart cities, logistics etc.  This year, we witnessed businesses across sectors realising the importance of investing in emerging technologies to scale up and expand. AI and Cognitive technologies have moved beyond the buzz cycle and are witnessing more mainstream adoption. Today, data has emerged as the new oil and is transforming industries and companies. We believe that start-ups with innovative monetisation models will be at an advantage in the future.
Startups are leveraging IBM Cloud and IBM Watson APIs to expand and scale their reach and to make better decisions. With the depth and breadth of IBM’s core technology differentiators around Cognitive solutions and a scalable Cloud platform, startups can infuse cognitive capability into their apps and solutions to differentiate in the market and deliver high value to clients and customers. Some of the start-ups doing innovative work include:

  • TrackMyBeat – TrackMyBeat is a cloud based health and wellness management system to monitor and manage users’ health. TrackMyBeat collects detailed patient health records including interventions and health outcomes. TMB solution requires specific services to analyse population health, including complex data correlations as well as refine the health alert rules engine. They leverage IBM Cloud and Watson analytics capabilities for seamless processing of collected health data to monitor patient’s data
  • Sigtuple – SigTuple is an AI startup in the healthcare space that analyses medical images, scans and videos, which generates information and data to help diagnosis. IBM is helping the company in deploying its home grown continuous learning platform called Manthana by providing infrastructure powered by IBM Cloud, helping them to accelerate its solution development.
  • MikeLegal: Mike is an artificially intelligent legal researcher that allows lawyers to ask legal questions in natural language and see highly relevant passages of law.  The company is using Watson Knowledge studio, Watson RnR and Watson Discovery, which allows the company to provide lawyers relevant answers to complex questions within seconds

Q. How is IBM ensuring its employees stay relevant and skilled at a time when technology innovation is changing rapidly than ever before?                                  In the fast-evolving technology landscape, skills are the new currency and upskilling/reskilling become key imperatives across businesses and professions. With technology becoming an integral part across industries and businesses, we will see the emergence of a new set of jobs known as the ‘new collar jobs’ – jobs that combine technical skills in areas such as cloud, cognitive, security, data science etc. with a knowledge base rooted in higher education.

IBM is committed to provide a world class performance-based culture that values intelligence and innovation – and thereby provides opportunities to its employees. As a part of this evolution, IBM is focused on what we call, “rethink and reimagine”. We encourage entrepreneurial thinking and our constant endeavor has been to create profit owners within the organisation. We trust and enable IBMers to be agile and think like profit owners within the organisation. The inclusive work culture that IBM offers to its employees encourages them to be innovative and continually push for transformational excellence. Employees are taken through a learning module where they are encouraged to ideate, build and get investment from the business for their own mini-business idea. We also conduct hackathons and encourage developers to build innovative applications and come up with new ideas usually based on a theme. Initiatives such as THINK40 to target a minimum of 40 hours on self-development for all IBMers with THINK ACADEMY as the core platform for Massive Open Online Courses allow employees time to invest in themselves at their own pace and time. Some of the other specific initiatives to engage the millennials at IBM include job shadowing, mentoring and reverse mentoring.

Q. IBM has recently signed an agreement with Salesforce to offer joint AI solutions – Watson with Einstein. Do you see India playing a role here?       Together with Salesforce, IBM has designed and developed joint solutions that will enable an entirely new level of intelligent customer engagement across sales, service, marketing, commerce and more. It allows customers to directly connect to on-premises and cloud data sources within Salesforce by creating powerful integration flows in minutes. IBM is also strategically investing in its Global Business Services capabilities for Salesforce with a new practice to help clients rapidly deploy the combined IBM Watson and Salesforce Einstein capabilities. All our global strategic partnerships have a very similar play in India and it is too early to talk about our specific role, however, this has already been set up in India. India will play a key role in creating world-class solutions leveraging the power of Salesforce — producing memorable customer, prospects, and employee experiences in the future.

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Ayushman Baruah
Ayushman Baruah is the founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Startup Observer. With 10+ years of rich experience in journalism spanning across newspaper, magazine, and news wire, Ayushman takes a conscious effort to stay away from the rat's race and the noise of breaking news. The Startup Observer is a noble initiative to serve the readers with ideas that go beyond news. In 2013, Ayushman won the prestigious 15th Annual PoleStar Award in jury's category for excellence in technology journalism. He loves writing, public speaking, observing, travelling, aquariums, and anything that makes him think. He believes in keeping his feet on the ground but eyes on the stars.