How IBM used public cloud to help clients operate amid lockdown

LN Revathy Coimbatore | Updated on April 29, 2020 Published on April 29, 2020

Vikas Arora, Vice-President, Cloud and Cognitive Software and Services, IBM India & South Asia

Vikas Arora, Vice-President, Cloud and Cognitive Software and Services, IBM India & South Asia, shares the company’s experience

While remote working has been a reality at IBM for decades, the difference between the past and the present has been in embracing this approach at scale — not just among its workforce in India but across the globe, according to Vikas Arora, Vice-President, Cloud and Cognitive Software and Services, IBM India & South Asia. As a provider of cloud computing solutions, the company had an advantage in this space, he told BusinessLine in an interview. Excerpts:

How did you plan to help you customers during this lockdown period?

One of the first things we sought to do was help our customers with their business continuity plan. Security is critical — be it cyber, data or application security. With a majority of the workforce working from home, it became equally important to help put security postures in place.

A new scenario started to emerge — there were more phishing threats, cyber attacks. We came up with a set of offers — nine free cloud offers, spanning artificial intelligence (AI), data, security, remote learning and more — all via the IBM public cloud, to help our clients maintain business continuity. These are all SaaS-based offerings.

We started engaging with customers remotely to help them with file transfer solutions, video streaming solutions, AI solutions and so on, offering free storage for 90 days on our public cloud to enable them put their application or even spin up their machine on the cloud. One thing that became apparent in the process was (the need for) security and critical investments to ensure the same.

While the regulated industry took this seriously, it was a wake-up call for many in the unorganised sector. Their existing plans were not equipped to manage the situation such as the present, for when one conceptualises a business continuity plan, the first thing that comes to mind is back-up and disaster recovery. In a lockdown situation, it requires a different model.

Security as a scenario is evolving continuously, becoming more sophisticated. And a good number of organisations are transforming themselves digitally. This became visible soon after the announcement of lockdown. We saw some spurt in uptake of storage and cloud.

How prepared were you to take on the challenge?

IBM is in a unique position, for we not only provide products but services, too. We cannot at this juncture predict how soon or quickly businesses would bounce back, but when customers do calibrate or recalibrate their plans, look to make an accelerated journey, we will be in a position to help them take them faster and mitigate their risk as well.

There are a number of MSME players who look to service providers like you for support. How is the new customer acquisition happening in the MSME space?

There’s certainly a lot of interest. Mid-corporates in the digital world are today beginning to mirror large corporates. Thanks to cloud, it has helped provide a level-playing field.

Our focus on large corporates will continue to stay; our involvement has been most treasured and important. Large corporates’ IT spend is certainly huge, but when it comes to growth, mid-sized undertakings tend to grow faster; and the growth areas are generally around cloud, security and data. It is interesting to note that customers who had been reluctant to take to digital are today conducting virtual board meetings, taken to digital signature and so on. It is an evolution, not necessarily due to the pandemic situation, but because of the requirement.

We will continue to focus on our core strength, hone and improve our skills and reach out to customers and partners.

As a company, how have you managed since March 25?

Training and enablement of partners and customers has been our focus. In fact, we have been working harder during the lockdown period than other days, conducting online training programmes for the teams, imparting lessons on how to stay engaged with customers and getting fun activities going between teams.

We are running a bunch of webinars with our partners and doing digital events for the marketing team. We will continue to do such programmes as it helps to rejuvenate.

What about AI?

AI engagement came in high demand. But to have the right AI, one should have the right IA (information architecture). The trouble with AI is, it is not new, but people tend to use it in small projects. It has to be used at the right scale.

Last year we came up with a four-step AI Ladder to help customers understand that AI is not a point solution. We helped customers understand the crucial need for collection of data, organising the data (to build models on), analyse and finally have the AI on top (to evolve so it can answer questions). This helped us streamline a lot of customers asking for AI.

The journey to digital transformation is getting accelerated now.

Published on April 29, 2020
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