Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Even a small grocery store should be able to experience IBM: Karan Bajwa

The new chief of IBM India, who took office in January, wants to offer end-to-end digital solutions to enterprises large and small, in a bid to become India's largest cloud and cognitive solutions company

Published: May 26, 2017 02:32:01 PM IST
Updated: May 27, 2017 12:46:38 AM IST

Even a small grocery store should be able to experience IBM: Karan BajwaKaran Bajwa, head of IBM in India
Image: Joshua Navalkar

Karan Bajwa, 50, who took over as the managing director of IBM India in January, has set himself a simple, yet ambitious, goal. He wants IBM India, under his watch, to become the number one cloud and cognitive solutions company for businesses in the country. His bosses in New York, where IBM India’s $80 billion-parent company is headquartered, will be more than happy if Bajwa can achieve this, considering the country has emerged as a bright spot for the global technology giant at a time when its global revenue has been declining.  

The former MD of Microsoft India, who succeeded Vanitha Narayanan (who was elevated as chairman of IBM India), wants to get there by positioning IBM India as a one-stop marketplace for all the technological needs of an enterprise, and not just as a products company. The strategy is to offer end-to-end solutions for enterprises, spanning across the entire customer lifecycle from consulting on the best solutions available, to devising the solutions through relevant products and services (even if they include third party products) and overseeing successful implementation. 

In an interview with Forbes India, Bajwa says that he wants even the smallest neighbourhood grocery store in India to experience IBM, even if indirectly as the platform on which applications targeted for use by them are built by the developer and startup community in its ecosystem. Speaking of the cyber security concerns that have emanated in India and globally following the WannaCry ransomware attack, Bajwa says that digital security occupies very high mindshare among Indian companies, but very little wallet share. He hopes that in wake of the recent attack, this will change.

Edited excerpts:

It has been close to six months since your appointment as IBM India’s MD. What according to you is the company’s greatest strength?
I was very clear on why I was taking up this role. It was to leverage the learnings of implementing digital transformation at enterprises on a much larger scale and in a much more complex environment. And that is what IBM is all about. If you think about IBM, it is four different organisations rolled into one. There is a hardware piece, a software organisation, a consulting practice and a digital infrastructure services component. The DNA of these verticals is very different and you have large individual companies in the market that focus on some of these verticals individually. Imagine the power of a company that can do all three on a large scale.

The second is to manage the ecosystem of developers.

What is the strategy that you are implementing to help IBM India play to its strengths?
If you see some of the work that we are doing for clients, it is about implementing an end-to-end digital transformation agenda by bringing in first party (IBM’s own) and third party capabilities together. If a customer had to do this by themselves, they would need to reach out to three or four different companies.

The three big architectural shifts in the digital world over the next two decades will be around cloud, data and artificial intelligence (AI), which has become more democratically accessible to users, even at an API (application programming interface, which is used to build apps) level.  Keeping this in mind we have devised what we call the ‘One India’ plan. This includes mainstreaming cloud offerings, SaaS (software as a service), and cognitive capabilities. We also want to build and manage an ecosystem of developers, startups, academia, and ISVs (independent software vendors). When they build a digital solution, IBM offerings like Bluemix (a cloud-based app development platform) should be the platform they should be thinking of.

By mainstreaming innovative offerings and embracing the ecosystem we want to expand the market. For instance, a small company in Chennai has Pace Automation has built a digital solution for small grocery stores that will need to go digital with GST (Goods and Services Tax). This has been built on the Bluemix platform. So a small grocery store, who would have never experienced IBM otherwise, will now do so in some form or fashion.

Enterprises at present are seriously concerned about cyber security. What sort of role can IBM play to allay these concerns? 
We want IBM to be the first partner that enterprises think of when it comes to security and blockchain. Nothing exemplifies the need for companies to protect themselves against digital threats better than what is happening in the world right now (the WannaCry ransomware attack). Security has a very high mindshare with customers but very poor wallet share. In a country like India, the surface area for cyberattacks to occur is progressively increasing with commercial transactions becoming digital. I personally believe that a lot of product vendors have done a disservice to customers by giving them a point of view from their vantage point to boost sales, rather than dealing with the problem in its entirety.  

We don’t offer security solutions to customers with the mindset of pushing our own products. We recently did a large security engagement with BSE and we integrated the entire ecosystem using a lot of third party products, along with our products.

We are also working actively on blockchain and have built a first use case with Mahindra Finance and another one with Yes Bank for supply chain finance.

At a time when revenue has been declining for IBM globally, India has been growing. Do you expect this trend to continue? 
If you look at IBM’s global earnings declared on April 19, India was called out as one of the strongest performing and highest growth regions for the company. And this has been the case for the last three to four quarters. We aspire to continue to grow in India, where the strong fundamentals of the economy present a great opportunity.

As far as global earnings is concerned, there is a shift happening with strategic imperative businesses (including new age digital services like cloud and cognitive) now accounting for 42 percent of overall turnover. So old revenue is getting replace with new revenue and that always takes time. 

There were reports of IBM laying off some of its workforce in India, which the company has denied. But what is your general view on potential job losses owing to these technological disruptions? 
My view is there will always be prioritization of skills and people will transition to new-age skills, which will take some time. We have publicly stated in the past that we will continue to reorient our workforce to newer technologies and newer customer imperatives.

Three years from now, what are the few key things that you would like IBM India to achieve under your leadership?
There is only one thing. I want IBM to be the number one cloud platform and cognitive solutions company for businesses in the country. That is my single aspiration. Everything else rolls into that.

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