American technology company IBM, unlike most other multinationals, runs four parallel research organisations. These include IBM Software Labs, IBM Research Labs, IBM Global Technology Services Labs and IBM Hardware Labs. All the four are present in Bengaluru.

The most recent is The Global Technology Services research lab, which was set up in November 2016. The division is headed by Gopal Pingali, who moved to India in late 2009 after realising that the next wave of big IT problems to solve would be in India. Within nine months of its formation the lab, which includes 1,000 researchers spread across 20 countries and all reporting to Pingali, has filed for 150 patents and launched 10 products for global markets.

“GTS Labs is a worldwide lab with centre of gravity in India, which is the services delivery capital of the world. We also have the largest developer (programmer) ecosystem in the world. Therefore, especially for services, it makes sense driving GTS labs from here,” Pingali said.

India’s massive services industry, created with the help of IT companies such as Infosys, TCS and Wipro, has now trained enough programmers to create the one of the biggest developer ecosystems in the world, allowing companies like IBM to tap into the talent.

Some of the biggest technology bets for IBM, such as Watson — a cognitive software platform that can mimic human brain and help solve problems which the traditional computers have so far been unable to — are being driven out of India.

Watson is a huge leap in technology. Traditional computers work well with structured data, but that’s only about 20 per cent of all existing information. Watson can work on these vast amounts of data from disparate sources and create hypotheses to come out with accurate results. So, right from suggesting what new dish to cook based on your taste preferences and ingredients available, to finding cure for cancer based on existing research, Watson mimics human cognitive senses to come out with answers that typical computers can’t comprehend.

“Our labs in India have been at the forefront in developing solutions like IoT for agriculture, cognitive fashion which are being leveraged not only by local but global clients as well. In India, we have created a pool of innovations that can be applied both globally and in the domestic market,” says Vanitha Narayanan, Chairman, IBM India Private Limited.

The Watson product

Another of its R&D organisation is The IBM India Software Labs. It has developed the Watson Data Platform, the first enterprise data platform built from the ground up to enable machine learning. It enables data scientists to work in a simpler way to find new and unexpected insights that deliver business-changing results.

Blockchain, the technology behind digital currency bitcoin, is also something IBM is heavily betting on. Scientists from IBM’s research lab in India were part of a core team that did the early ground work on Blockchain for enterprises and business networks. India continues to be a key global centre of excellence in this space within the company.

The tides are clearly shifting. From developing a global product and then tweaking it for India, IBM is now developing for India and then taking the solutions to other markets. “In the past, 80 per cent of our work was about solving global problems. But now more than 40 per cent of it is focused around solving problems in India and then taking the solution to global markets,” says Sriram Raghavan, Director, India Research Labs.