IBM focuses on building a ‘smarter’ Sri Lanka

Wednesday, 3 April 2013 00:36 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Spearheading IT initiatives in Sri Lanka for over 50 years, technology giant IBM in line its vision of being able to deliver a smarter planet, is now looking to implement its ‘smarter cities’ concept in the country. Having successfully launched such initiatives in several cities including New York, London and Singapore, the corporation feels that this is an appropriate time to work with the Sri Lankan Government and other stakeholders to execute such projects.

IBM India/South Asia Software Group Director Jason Mosakowski visited the country recently to coordinate discussions with local clients and Government institutions, and together with IBM Sri Lanka Country Manager Chrishan Fernando, spoke to the Daily FT regarding IBM’s plans in Sri Lanka, current trends and new software offerings and developments.

Following are excerpts from the interview:


By Cassandra Mascarenhas

Q: Could you tell me about IBM’s presence in Sri Lanka thus far and what’s in store for the near future?

We’ve been in Sri Lanka since 1962 and have worked with many businesses and the Government on almost all mission critical IT projects, whether it be insurance, banking, telecommunications or Government projects – IBM has been a leader in being able to deliver these solutions and projects. Now, with IBM’s vision of being able to deliver a smarter planet, we believe that it’s time to think of how that smarter planet vision can help Sri Lanka to become a smarter country.

There are three things that are basic to our thoughts – instrumentation, interconnectivity and intelligence. With instrumentation and the internet comes the ability to be intelligent, as in even predict things that will happen in the future. So based on the three principles of intelligence, interconnectivity and instrumentation, is built the vision of a smarter planet.

What is important to note is that we’ve worked with other governments in being able to deliver what we call the smarter cities concept. We feel that the vision of a smarter planet and a smarter Sri Lanka are coming together at an appropriate time.


Q: How did the smarter cities concept evolve?

Mosakowski: If you look at both a smarter planet and smarter cities, it’s all about the interconnectivity. If you look at the history of information technology, go back about 50 years – we’ve been in Sri Lanka for 51 years now – originally it was about automation and accounting. We worked with the Central Bank, were involved in the census, the electricity company. That was basic counting and tabulating. It then revolved around applications and processing.

Where we are going now could be seen as the next era in computing. All this historical data and processes are kind of locked up. Where technology has come and where it is going is towards this interconnectivity. If you look at the concept of a smarter city, a smarter bank or a smarter hospital, it’s about how we could take those processes and information and add intelligence to it. That is where value is being unleashed and being opened up. You can see that across sectors.

The work we are doing with a number of cities around the world revolves around how we bring together different agencies to have a consolidated view of what’s really happening with the services you are providing your citizens and to be able to use that information, whether it’s to provide emergency services or to better manage traffic.

We have done a lot of work with some major cities, including London and Singapore, around traffic management. It certainly is becoming a larger issue here and throughout all major cities in Asia. The number of vehicles being used has exploded and will continue to climb, so how do you manage traffic? We have capabilities that we are using to work with cities, states and countries to address that factor.

Water management is another one that is critical here as well – how do you manage that precious resource and the assets that are used to transport water? It’s about applying intelligence and predictive analytics in order to know what is really happening with this precious resource, what is happening with the infrastructure that we need to manage that resource and understand in a consolidated manner what’s going on and what we need to do proactively to prevent disaster and lower the costs of servicing, whether it is the water network or the electricity grid.

The concept addresses how information and data could be brought together and applies intelligence to it in a predictive way to see where we need to be putting our efforts to get the outcomes we need.

Q: Have you spoken to Government entities here about the smarter cities concept and if so, what do you plan on rolling out first?

I don’t think we can say we are rolling anything out first. The event held in March was one at which we showcased IBM’s capabilities to Government entities and other stakeholders and we hope that through that, we opened doors and expanded thinking to start some of the abovementioned projects in Sri Lanka.

Q: How successful has it been other countries?

Extremely successful. It’s one through which we have helped several major cities improve overall traffic management and traffic flow. IBM has received a lot of press worldwide with what we’ve done with New York and other cities around crime prevention.

When applying these concepts, we are talking about bringing in disparate information and applying intelligence and predictive analytics to it and having it available in a centralised manner so that the people who are responsible for providing these services – in this case it is the police – to be able to be much more effective in crime prevention which is ultimately where we want to be.

IBM has had a tremendous amount of success worldwide in taking this portfolio of capabilities and applying it to some of the harder challenges that cities and countries face. What we’ve seen here in Sri Lanka – I’ll take it to an enterprise level – is very similar to what we’ve seen with customers worldwide. These trends that we’ve talked about are megalevel ones that are happening worldwide to all our customers, be it public or private.

Q: Could you expand on current trends and your work with customers in Sri Lanka?

Customers we are working with here in Sri Lanka are focused on analytics and depending on the client, they are at a different stage in the journey. Some clients may be just starting out, asking how they can consolidate the data they have about the elements of their business, whether it is customer, product or channel – to pull that together to get a consolidated view and a major foundational building block. We are doing a lot of work with clients in that area.

On top of that, how do you start to apply analytics again, to bring intelligence to it? A lot of value is beginning to come from predictive analytics and clients want to be able to predict what is happening in their markets, what customers want and how they will behave and then want to use that information to improve the supply chain.

This whole idea of smarter analytics is a key area in which we are having a lot of conversations and work with clients here. Security is another area that is an issue worldwide. As IT continues to become more complex, interconnected and open, it certainly leaves an opening for people that want to harm and want to penetrate enterprises.

IBM is a leader in our security portfolio and there is no one in the market who has the end-to-end capabilities that IBM has in security. Where we are today and where are going is back to this thread of analytics. It’s about how we apply analytics at a deep level to really understand not only what is happening now from a security standpoint, but to predict possible exposure and to be able to proactively take action.

Another trend is social – whether it’s family, friends, connecting the business, business to consumer – it’s social and mobile that are rapidly emerging and clients are struggling with dealing with this, to create solutions that will meet the needs of customers and the business and to do it in a way that is secure, stable and provides the functionality needed. We are seeing a very rapid rise of social and mobile here in Sri Lanka and the interest and conversations that we are having with our clients show that.

Employees are also a huge aspect of social. It’s all about how you unleash the capabilities of your employee base and even beyond that. If you look at the capabilities that IBM has developed and acquired around social, it’s broader than the other players in the market.

We’ve been making acquisitions around talent management to help in the actual recruiting and management of talent and then plugging that capability into collaboration – that is our view of a social business. It’s about bringing these together to make the connections and using these technologies and capabilities that have rapidly emerged.

Over 40% of internet users here have Facebook accounts. Twitter is another one that has exploded in terms of the number of users. Our clients are starting to ask how they can have similar capabilities within an enterprise to do it in a way that is secure, that they can control, to provide capabilities that employees are already used to using outside of work. Basically how they can bring it into work to make it productive but still accomplish what they need to do to have a secure enterprise.

This is across industries irrespective of whether it is banking, telecom, or manufacturing. This whole area of social and collaboration – it’s opened up the era of the consumer. We have been conducting CEO studies since 2004 and in the one we did in 2012, CEOs were asked what primary factor was driving change in their industry. Technology is now at the top. It wasn’t before, although it was on the list.

In retail, studies we’ve done have shown that customers actually want more interaction with the provider – be it the retailer or the actual OEM that is providing the product. It’s about intelligent interaction. They are not necessarily looking for the retailer to just keep hitting them with offers. What customers are looking for is to tap into this collaborative aspect and to see what are people like them are buying and what they are saying about a particular product.

We are seeing organisations based around smarter commerce and marketing using such information and collaboration to better get in touch with what’s really happening with their customers and to engage in very different levels of dialogue with customers, to be able to know what’s the right offer to make at the right time, through the right channel, using collaboration and analytics together to get a much deeper understanding of individual customers, not just segments, to provide the right offer and ultimately, improve customer conversion.

Q: The SME sector is one that’s growing rapidly here – are there any specific initiatives in the works for this industry?

Whether it be SMEs or the large corporates, what is key is that technology is now going to different levels. CMOs, CROs and even CEOs now want technology to be able to connect with their customers and to be able to serve them better. How does technology help serve their customer better? It’s not limited to SMEs or enterprises – this is a pervasive concept right across all sectors.

Q: In terms of adoption of technology, SMEs may find it difficult in terms of start-up capital and taking the initial steps, whereas larger corporates have more ready access to it. What are you doing in term of implementation and raising awareness?

Cloud computing is very much a part of IBM’s 2015 vision and through the cloud computing model, we are able to offer services for SMEs as well which will help them leapfrog and be able to take advantage of the cloud to set up as well as run and maintain their businesses.

Mosakowski: We provide capabilities both from cloud services itself – IBM’s smart cloud enterprise offerings range from providing infrastructure as a service all the way up to software as a service. When IBM entered the market, we rapidly became one of the elite players in terms of cloud offerings.

Now, we also know that not every customer is ready for cloud and it doesn’t necessarily fit their business model so we also have capabilities across lines of business – software, hardware and services – to help clients get started, whether it is trying to determine what their strategy is and road map to get there.

We have services to help clients there, whether it is determining their architecture, whether it’s doing a private cloud or an internal cloud, using a public cloud, or using a hybrid cloud which is a combination of public and private. So we bring capabilities across IBM to help clients get there.

Q: What are your thoughts on being in Sri Lanka?

I am personally excited to be here. If you look at IBM, we’ve transformed our business as well, specifically our software business and we’ve done it both through organic as well as organic growth. We’ve had 27 acquisitions over the past four years to build our capabilities and many of these are clients may not be familiar with yet.

I’m excited about the opportunity here to really expose our clients to some incredible capabilities we have and to share our success stories that could be very applicable to the market here in Sri Lanka, whether it’s public sector or private sector, and to take our dialogue to the next level in terms of the value clients can realise through the capabilities we bring.

Q: What new product offerings have IBM introduced?

In terms of new offerings, one of the things we’ve talked about here is around a family of products we call peer systems. For IBM, this is a significant offering that we have released here in the past year. It’s about bringing in expert integrated systems, taking all the years of expertise IBM has across domains, applying our consulting knowledge base with the knowledge base and experience we have in hardware and software to fundamentally change how IT is run.

CIOs and CEOs are faced with the challenge of how to do more at a faster pace and do it while reducing costs. IT continues to become more and more complex. They want it simplified it so that they can reduce the amount of costs and resources to run the IT environment, to free up resources around innovation and to do it in a way at a faster cycle.

The peer application system is an offering that brings the hardware layer together in an integrated system, from storage to traditional server technology and networking, and we add software to that – so that everything is one consolidated, integrated, expert system from the factory. It offers the flexibility of a general purpose type of device, and provides the simplicity and power of an appliance type of device.

What’s different about this is the intelligence we have added to it. While some of our competitors have integrated systems, their approach tends to simply be consolidation. There are benefits to consolidation but what it doesn’t help you do is rapidly deploy and manage applications into your enterprise. With peer application systems, we have automated that process.

Typically, the deployment of a new application for an enterprise, on the fast end, takes three to four months all the way up to nine months. With the peer application system, everything is integrated so client can take the application that they have and IT can map the particular architecture they want to deploy it to – we ship it with very common deployment patterns that we have seen from our expertise. Say you have to deploy a new loan generation application in the market – IT can identify what needs to be done, check out that pattern from the library and deploy it within minutes.

It’s up and running and the system dynamically manages it automatically based on rules and policies that you set in the system. Then you get your team focused on working on the next project. It’s all about how we transform how IT is developed and delivered which is a profound change that we believe is happening in the marketplace and IBM is in a leading position with our expert integrated systems.

Q: How important the Sri Lankan market to IBM?

For IBM, Sri Lanka is considered to be an important and growing market and I think Jason’s visit signifies the commitment IBM has to this market. Jason and the IBM leadership team are fully committed to help Sri Lanka on its way to becoming a smarter country and we as IBM are committed to bring it through for the sake of the country as well.

Mosakowski: To me, it’s very important. Sri Lanka was the very first major office IBM had in the Asia Pacific region. It’s been a very important market for us for over 50 years. As we look at the growth trajectory that has been happening in the marketplace here over the past three years, the customer maturity – it’s the energy in the marketplace and the innovation that is happening – there is a tremendous amount of opportunity. We are excited about the marketplace here and we are certainly looking at how we can continue to expand our overall footprint in Sri Lanka

Pix by Sameera Wijesinghe