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India is a great growth opportunity for IBM: Paul Burton- GM Asia Pacific, IBM

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Paul Burton is a man of multiple talents. Besides being General Manager, IBM Asia Pacific, where he is responsible for overall business results and client success in a diverse and dynamic economic region, he is also an avid Pilot and a cave diver in his spare time. In an interview with Express Computer, Paul Burton, shares with us his perspectives on India’s growing relevance to IBM, and explains why he sees huge growth for technology solutions related to AI, Security and Business Continuity.

Some edited excerpts:

Globally, there is a recessionary environment. In this context how do you see India’s relevance from an IBM point of view for leading growth?

So, obviously India is a unique nation in several respects. One, it’s probably the most populous nation in the world, but the significance of that is there’s a lot of people that have an impact on GDP, which means it’s a big market.
It’s a very healthy demographic, in terms of young talent. It’s an increasingly educated and sophisticated society, as you know. And the market for technology, which is currently, I would believe it is something less than 1% of GDP (approximately) and it is growing. And to give you an idea, advanced markets like the United States, or perhaps Singapore, in the region, are 3% – 3.5% of GDP. So if India is one, maybe a little bit less, that tells me that there’s a lot of headroom in India, for technology, so it’s a great opportunity. Just looking strictly at numbers, there’s a lot of headroom and there’s a great growth opportunity that dovetails nicely with the large population, the young population, the increasing consumer society.

All the indicators for India are actually quite strong. So, strong growth, strong demographic, strong consumer class, increasingly educated, growing percentage of GDP going to technology, it’s a huge opportunity for IBM. And it probably stands out as the top one or two opportunities for IBM in Asia Pacific. And quite frankly, it probably stands out among the top opportunities in the world, period. So it’s a great opportunity for IBM.

India has also been a leader specifically in deployment of advanced technologies. How do you see IBM using some of the advanced cutting-edge solutions in India, from the potential and market point of view?

As India continues to develop and continues to digitize like everyone else, it is going to consume a lot of the advanced technologies. So I think the areas that are rich for technology adoption are rich for technology deployment. Automation would be a key area. And of course, automation consumes a lot of subordinate or supporting technologies like artificial intelligence and data technologies, because automation has to consume and act on a tremendous amount of data. So I think automation, artificial intelligence, and a strong data fabric, these are all things that are pretty important to organizations going forward. And I would expect them to consume that.

From an IBM point of view, you’ve been a leader and innovator for a lot of years. From the patents point of view, almost every year, there have been a record number of patents which have been filed from IBM. How do you see its relevance with respect to India?

Well, I don’t want to talk about that in the context of patents. In terms of use cases, I think we’re up there. I think we’re on record publicly with discussion about quantum computing and its usefulness. And material science specifically. In terms of, chemistry and chemical research, in terms of finding new compounds. So, I think pharmaceuticals would be an interesting use case, which I think is big in India. And I think those areas are particularly prominent and suitable for what quantum computing brings to the table. I would expect those use cases to be available in India and hopefully be taken advantage of.

Would you like to mention specifically on some of the initiatives that you are taking from the Indian market point of view?

Well, from a strategy point of view, we are very interested in solving perennial problems. If I were to point out the perennial problems of CEOs as an example, you know, business velocity of companies who want to move faster. CEOs need to move faster to stay in front of the market, stay in front of the trends and be able to satisfy their clients. So, business velocity is a big issue.

Cost reductions is a big issue. It’s a tricky environment right now from a macro perspective as interest rates are up, inflation is up, labour rates are up, costs are up. So basically, costs are up generally. So all CEOs need to control costs and they need to reduce costs, especially over time, everything needs to get cheaper over time. And so anything that results in cost reduction is a good thing.

And then business continuity or resilience is actually a huge issue. We learned during the pandemic that business continuity can’t be taken for granted. You got to be able to execute your business model under any circumstances right? And so common to all of these things, is this idea of using technology to automate, to increase business velocity, automate to reduce costs, because you’re taking on labour cost out as you automate things and turn things over to algorithms and AI.

I think there’s some perennial problems out there surrounding cost, velocity and resilience but there’s also risk and compliance issues as well, especially in what over time, is increasingly a regulated international environment, especially from a financial services perspective.

So, I think the idea of being able to be more compliant in an increasingly complex and regulated environment is important. We can’t necessarily rely on people to do it. One it’s expensive and two it’s imperfect when you’re relying only on people. It is a good use case for automation and artificial intelligence, to ensure compliance with international regulations or international norms.

Would you like to mention any of your solutions for which you see huge potential in India?
The market is wide open for our Cloud Pak solutions around data fabric, Cloud Pak for automation and Watson AIOps for automation. We bake artificial intelligence into all of these products. We haven’t talked about cybersecurity, but cybersecurity is a huge issue. Asia is the most attacked region in the world, from a cybersecurity perspective. You know, just out of curiosity, how many times does India get attacked each year from a cybersecurity perspective? Any idea? You got a guess?

Well, you know, I’d venture to say it’s in the billions, right. I got some data here that says that over 310,000 cybersecurity incidents were reported in 2019 alone, according to an agency in India, but that was like four years ago. What we know about cybersecurity incidents is that it is going up exponentially. Let’s just say as an example, that India gets attacked a billion times, and that’s probably a conservative number by the way. If you do the math on that, that’s 2000 times a minute, every minute of the year. What is the success rate of a cyber-attack? You’re getting hit 2000 times a minute, how many? How many will succeed on average in your mind?

Let’s pick a number and say that one in 10,000 succeed. Well, if you’re getting attacked, and one in 10,000 succeed, you’re going to be breached every three to five minutes. And if you’re going to be breached every three to five minutes, then you certainly got to put up security protocols and you got to try not to be breached but you have to assume that you will be breached, which means you need a great threat management capability. You need to know that you’ve been breached and you need to be able to find where they are and you need to be able to get them out.

And so that issue is not going to go away. And it’s a big issue in Asia because Asia has been attacked more than anyone else in the world. Asia, generally speaking I’m not referring to a specific country here, but generally speaking, in many respects, is less mature than, say the US or Western Europe in terms of security protocols and incident management.

So how does it dovetail into opportunities for your partners in India? Please highlight the relevance of the recently launched IBM Partner Plus programme
Partner Plus is a complete redo or it’s a completely new programme and it replaces PartnerWorld. And the idea with Partner Plus is its streamlined. And in three respects, one we’ve created a simpler incentive stack in terms of allowing partners to understand how they can interact with IBM and earn incentives based on their business activity.

Second, we’ve given partners in many, if not all cases, identical access to IBM training materials and capabilities that IBMers have. We’re training partners on the same level playing field with IBMers. So there’s less differentiation between a partner and an IBMer at this point if you want to look at it that way. And then finally, we’re providing more support across the major motions- Build, Sell and Service- so that partners can be successful. And there’s other benefits that are not new, but enhanced, like the marketing that we do with partners, communication strategies, marketing strategies, demand generation strategies, things of that nature. But long story short, I think Partner Plus is a complete redo of the old partner programme. It is streamlined, it is more efficient. And we’re getting very positive reactions so far from partners.

Purely from a partner point of view, what do you think are some of the major opportunities for partners in India? Would you like to elaborate on some areas where you see huge potential for your partners in India?
Cyber security, automation, data fabric, data and AI and hybrid cloud platforms are some of the major opportunities. We are closely affiliated with Red Hat and OpenShift is becoming increasingly important in multi cloud and hybrid cloud environments. Clients will not necessarily put all of their assets in a public cloud. They’ll have environments that are public clouds, private clouds and on premise. And the trick is, from a cost and complexity perspective, how do you manage across all of those environments in a way that makes sense and is cost effective? So we think a hybrid cloud platform that allows you to do that is of course very important. And we spend a lot of time helping clients with exactly that problem.

Cybersecurity, for the reasons talked about it’s a big issue and opportunity. Hence, cybersecurity, Data Fabric and hybrid cloud are three big opportunities in India, but generally speaking, I think they’re big opportunities elsewhere too. But India is of special importance in this regard, because of the size of the economy and it’s also growing very fast. India is maturing rapidly technologically which presents opportunities across the three dimensions that I just described.

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