Leader Talk: Interview with Dr. Prashant Pradhan, CTO, IBM, India-South Asia


NASSCOM staff writer in conversation with Dr. Prashant Pradhan, CTO, IBM, India-South Asia. 

Speaking to a CTO is always tricky. They work with very complex ideas and there’s always the listener’s apprehension whether every idea will be comprehended in its entirety. The man himself was crystal clear in his thoughts and explained technology so lucidly, that our worries proved to be unfounded. 

1. On the importance of building a cloud strategy for data.

Cloud technology started off as “cheap compute on rent” and over time it may not have shed the tag entirely (though arguably). Needless to say, the technology has evolved way beyond, and he explained to us the significance of what is a “Cloud Native” architecture – vs. focusing on where the infrastructure sits (public/private).

  • Virtualized, “software defined” infrastructure – providing elasticity and agility
  • Microservices – enabling continuous development and delivery through loosely-coupled applications
  • Containers – to streamline dependency management, packaging and isolation
  • DevOps – to tightly integrated development and deployment/operations, deployment as more elements become programmable

A data strategy – built without a Cloud Native architecture – makes it very difficult to put data “in service of” the business, as the insights extracted from the data drive user journeys and business process flows.

Built on top of a Cloud Native base, is the rest of the Enterprise Architecture:

  • An agile data platform.
  • The Intelligence Layer (AI and analytics) which works on the data.
  • The engagement layer – typically digital engagement – which delivers “journeys” for various stakeholders such as customers, employees or partners.

The overall architecture is akin to an iceberg – with the engagement layer (what users see) being the “tip”, and the “heavy lifting” happening in the architectural foundation below the surface.

The data layer is in a “closed loop” with the rest of the architecture. For example, increased digital engagement with customers leads to additional data sets being captured – revealing newer insights. Based on these insights, the engagement becomes deeper, more personalized, scales to more offerings, and so on. Once the architecture is well-designed, the cycle-time from data to insight to action reduces drastically – from months to weeks.

Enterprises that miss this holistic outlook, often face a lot of friction in different stages of their journey. In fact, their choice of Cloud Service Provider should be shaped based on alignment to this architectural model.

Incumbents have the great advantage of having access to a treasure trove of data but their cycle time often gets in the way. Digital-native / “born on cloud” companies are often able to address that challenge because they have “designed” to this robust 4-layered framework – but again where they may lack, is access to substantial amount of data, or a large customer base.

The benefits of the two can be married with the right architecture –  where incumbents are equally well-positioned to deliver new-age tech via Cloud and agile processes – ultimately delivering great value to their business.

2. On why Enterprise CEOs need to look at Data Strategy.

CEOs realize the importance of data – which they are custodians of – and how it can be made to work. We see that most of our large Cloud projects discussions now start with the CEO – a clear departure from the past. They primarily look at the RoI – which can be in terms of reduced cost to serve, or revenue – influenced by deeper insights, and turned around quickly via the digital front office.

Data security and privacy are equally paramount CEO conversations now – and can no longer be an afterthought.

3. Leadership Mantra.

Interestingly, he has segregated the mantra into two parts: Customers & Internal Facing.

For the former (externally), it’s about shifting the narrative from “digital disruption” to “digital dominance”. The moment we say ‘disruption’ there’s a certain defensiveness which creeps in. In reality, we have to now move to a position where we can use cutting-edge technology to dominate in the marketplace.

This is particularly true for incumbents who are challenged by digital disruption. It cannot be about protecting their past anymore. Incumbents have access to a very large client base, wide distribution networks, data and strategic capital assets – how can all these be leveraged through digital technologies to help them dominate their industry? This is the future pivot. The role of the CIO has also changed, who now has the additional responsibility of being a business enabler as well.

Internally, the mantra is about skilling on a continuous basis, which is akin to “muscle memory” he says. You pick up where you left off previously. This is an imperative because the new-age skills have to be applied in the interest of the client.   

4 Re-skilling Initiative.

IBM’s Your Learning is a digital and cognitive platform.  Powered by Watson and Cloud, it provides employees across the enterprise with a personalized portal to access internal and external learning across various modalities – face to face, video, audio, text based, and a combination of these.  

It facilitates Discovery not only by its ability to respond to a learner’s search request but also, by proactively suggesting appropriate learning based on the learner’s profile, job function, and its cognitive learning from past searches.  Your Learning can pull out preferred modalities (be they video or books) for the learner to begin his or her Exploration. 

Exploration is further reinforced by smoothening the enrolment process in a formal workshop or in an informal mentoring or job shadowing program, guiding the learner through the process. It encourages Immersion by presenting search results of vetted programs with credible accredited award-winning organizations – expanding an already rich IBM portfolio of learning programs.  It also captures the hours spent as a metric the employee and his/her manager can track in the future. Finally, it supports Adoption and reinforces learning as a journey, which doesn’t end with the completion of a workshop but rather, is applied on the job through reminders and additional resources weeks / months after a class.    

Your Learning also leverages the power of social through its feedback mechanism.  It captures feedback from past learners offering them the opportunity to review the learning and to share its impact.  This is cited as among the most influential reasons for participants’ commitment to learning.  By leveraging technology, the power of social is magnified, so instead of depending on word of mouth, the feedback is captured for posterity in Your Learning.  Constructive feedback also enables a continuous improvement of the learning offerings out there.  A bonus is that it can sometimes help the organization identify potential facilitators among business leader participants.  When business leaders are brought in to teach, their own learning is further enhanced. The learning journey does not end with adoption; rather, it loops back to a higher level of Discovery with the added insight of learners who have been there, done that.  

For partners they have various program like IBM Partnerworld Program empowering Business Partners with the tools and resources to help transform clients into industry leaders. It also provides them with regular training in new age technologies like AI, IoT, Blockchain and access to our senior leaders and research labs to learn and co-create innovation.

Similarly, IBM Global Entrepreneur Program (GEP) offers startups various tools to build their business. 

Want to read the other interviews in the series? See them with leader talk

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