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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

This blog is authored by Piyush Chowhan, VP and CIO, Arvind Lifestyle Brands. He is a speaker at the Nasscom Big Data and Analytics Summit


Even as AI technologies move into common use, many enterprise decision makers remain baffled about what the different technologies actually do and how they can be integrated into their businesses. AI is real and the early implementers are already tasting success but the adoption has predominantly been seen success in the digital native companies while other large organizations are still just doing POC’s to understand the use cases. There are inherent challenges which any large organizations will face while democratizing AI and it’s important that a clear cut strategy is drawn which can help them adopt it to get the full benefit. This article will help put a very simple high level construct to evolve a Framework / Roadmap for adoption of AI in your organization.


Identify the opportunity for AI – It’s quite common for CXO to get lost in the noise around AI to identify the correct use cases. A simple framework can help identify clear use cases around AI are:


  • Identify - Is this task for application data driven? – AI problems will work only when task are data driven. If you would like to find out how customers will perceive a new product launch.
  • Assess - Is the data available? – It’s no fun applying AI to problems for which data is not readily available. For e.g. If the data is not available in a data lake / WH then it would not make sense to apply AI since the results may not be effective. Also use of IOT bases solutions should be good use cases for AI application.
  • Measure - Is problem to be solved at scale? – The application of AI will be relevant if the scale of problem is big. For e.g. if a small team of 4-5 analysts are looking a sales data and creating forecast it may not be very effective to apply AI to solve the problem. The idea would be get the use of that forecast and solve that problem.


A simple 3-point assessment as mentioned above will help in identification of appropriate use case for application of AI by the business.


Build vs Buy – This is a question which organizations are always wondering and this is quite relevant for AI. There might not be a straight answer either side and hence it must be a middle path which needs to be adopted. AI solutions have three core elements i.e. sensing, Analyzing, and Proposing. Sensing is all about creating large IOT / Big Data Platform which curates and stores large amount of relevant data. This data needs to be analyzed at scale and in real time in most of the real life AI solutions. These may require large scale implementation of Speech / NLP / Vision recognition technologies which would be easier to buy rather to build as these maybe platform services in the days to come. The real differentiation would be in the proposing where the use case needs to be enterprise specific. The use of the sensing and analyzing of this large data would be where the real benefits for the org lie hence it would be wise for enterprises to work on building in-house capability to identify those competencies to apply these data to the correct AI use-case. Use freely available open source software to quickly develop solutions. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Yahoo have all released open source machine learning or deep learning algorithm libraries.



Pre-requisites for starting AI – It would be essential that you are looking at application of AI only after proper modernization of necessary Technology landscape. A few pointers for the same are:

  1. There should be a Service Based Architecture available for easy access the various data elements to be used by AI engine.
  2. The data should be clean and accessible in Data lake / non-relational database.
  3. The organization should have built basic capability in IT / Business Team to understand AI / Machine Learning algorithm.
  4. Build necessary highly scalable infrastructure on-prem or cloud for application of AI solutions. Look at GPU / TPU infra structure on cloud for the best use case.
  5. Ensure that Data Security and Protection is covered before you venture into large scale AI. It would disastrous to control large scale solutions once basic security policies are not in place.
  6. The organization should have adopted agile ways of working and there is enough appreciation of design thinking and modern ways of working in the organization.
  7. The enterprise should also be working on small agile projects which are not very duration for assessing early success and / or failure of implementation to course correct.


There is no perfect algorithm available but it needs to be built for each enterprise and its use case. Hence don’t look at perfect solution on day one. Being the AI journey and take small steps to evolve your AI solution to reap the real benefits.


In the coming years, artificial intelligence will change the way we interact with our colleagues, family and the world around us. We will expand our capabilities and understanding of the way we interact with others. AI will drive growth for the companies that embrace this new change. In this new AI era, we will be able to automate processes that will allow our associates to embrace new challenges while freeing them from time-consuming repeatable tasks. By bringing together AI and the world of digital, we can connect and expand the capabilities of entire industries to push human knowledge to previously unknown heights.


Happy AI – Piyush Chowhan


The Nasscom Big Data and Analytics Summit will touch on all the above and much more in detail.


About the Author


Piyush Chowhan

VP and CIO, Arvind Lifestyle Brands

As the CIO for Arvind Brands, he is responsible for IT strategy and execution of technology for all its brands business.

He possesses a strong domain knowledge in retail, e-commerce and supply chain management while working for global retailers like WalmartTargetCircuit CityTescoBest Buy etc. He has set up and managed competency centers/ teams for retail and supply chain as shared service or captive units.

Piyush Chowhan has strong expertise in Data Analytics, Business Intelligence, Customer Relationship Management and IT business strategy. With various publications under his name, Piyush is also proficient in Program Management, P&L Management, Business Consulting, PMO setup, ERP Implementation.


He has been featuring in many IT related events and published his views in many magazines like ETCIO, AIM

Piyush Kumar Chowhan has an MBA in Finance and Operations from Xavier Institute of Management (XIMB), Bhubaneswar.