“Every other Indian business leader is looking at tapping into the innovation that start-ups are bringing in”

The cloud narrative in India is inseparable from the start-up story. Cloud, combined with the new API-based ecosystem, has given a new-found power to the startups to create business solutions without bothering too much about basic. If access to technology, lower capital, faster time-to-market come with it, so does access to enterprise clients, though partnership with large tech players, such as IBM. In an interview with CIO&Leader, Seema Kumar, Country Leader, Developer Ecosystem and Start-ups India/SA for IBM, asserts that Indian enterprises are now definitely looking at working with start-ups

Large tech vendors have had developers programs for promoting their tools and technologies for long.  So, what’s new now?

With cloud, one of the key disruptions that has happened is that the access to technology is much easier. It is as good as going and signing up and it is as good as getting access to the entire BlueMix platform. It is no more that you need to have a software license, you have to download it, get approval…the entire cycle is taken away from a developer because the entire DevOps cycle is on the cloud. So, the BlueMix platform is literally a developer’s playgroud. You have access to a whole bunch of APIs—not just IBM APIs but a lot of third party APIs. So, while developing a mobile application, if a developer has to include a nice cognitive feature—that is cool, right—you have Watson cognitive API. You have all these available to mix and match. You just focus on your core problem and the rest of it is just custom-built for you.


Well, when you talk about start-up programs, this is one part—the building of the product. But a business is about making a sale. Is there any way you are helping them in go-to-market?

Yes, go-to-market is what they really need. We put a lot of effort to get them connected to the enterprise clients. We do an annual program, IBM SmartCamp, which is a startup challenge. It is a competition and the shortlisted ones get to pitch in front of VPs, CIOs and CXOs. They get a lot of exposure, visibility, feedback and of course, access to this audience.

The other part of the start-up program is called the Global Entrepreneur Program where we offer them access to our cloud. They get free credit for our cloud. We take them to clients; we make them referenceable...It is an ongoing exercise.


Traditionally, be it in services or products, Indian tech companies have always looked at global markets, often completely ignoring the local market. Is that changing?

It depends on the segment. It is true that earlier, they looked mostly at developed markets. Some still do look at global markets, but the shift is happening. There’s a lot of opportunity today in the domestic market, in terms of problem areas to solve. There’s the problem of scale; there is a lot of disruption happening in the financial sector; there’s a lot of push from the government in terms of digitization of services and you have the entire API economy that is becoming very, very vibrant.  So, there’s a lot of opportunity definitely. I won’t say everyone is looking at the Indian market but there’s a big shift.


Of course, for those who are working on core technology, it does not matter; it is the industry solutions that I was asking about…

Exactly.  We have created an additional focus of working with core industry-centric startups for specific industries.

Take our SmartCamp itself. In the year 2015, it was done as a generic event. Now, we put an industry focus. We ran one SmartCamp in Mumbai which was focused on Fintech. We did for Healthtech in Hyderabad. We did for smart cities in Delhi. Smart city roughly covers clean energy, traffic, smart grid, etc. We will do one on DeepTech…things like IoT, Big Data, Cognitive…(it has been completed since then).



But a lot of Indian CIOs do not work with start-ups yet…

(interrups) I would say it is definitely shifting. Every other business leader is looking at tapping into the innovation that is there in the ecosystem.

Why are they doing that? Because startups are very good at solving a niche problem in a unique way, in a very agile way and most probably, in a cost-effective way as well. And when you can tap into that talent, that capability, it definitely is a win-win, provided the start-ups are backed with the right partners and right technology.

A banking customer will probably be far more comfortable with working with a start-up that is working with us from a technology standpoint. I will definitely say many of our enterprise clients are looking at this opportunity. I will not say only CIOs but even other CXOs. You know Chief Digital Officers, Chief Innovation Officers…there are various new positions that are coming up in enterprises. A lot of that is aimed at bringing in new thinking, new innovation.

I can say there are a number of cases where large enterprises are in advanced stages of going for a start-up solution. They are in various stages.


How does India compare with other start-up countries…US, Israel, China?

The uniqueness about India is the availability of talent. You see a lot of start-ups in India are started by professionals, from the IT industry. The India market also offers some unique challenges where you are forced to innovate in a different way…in a cost-effective and frugal way. 

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