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IBMs Indian Lab to Lead Mobile Project (The Economic Times)

In a first, IBM, the world’s largest computer services company, has chosen its India Research Lab to lead a worldwide initiative to develop a new application to further expand the reach and use of mobile phones.

The India team, led by Dr Manish Gupta, director, IBM Research-India and chief technologist, South Asia, will be in charge of developing a new application that will help millions of illiterate and semi-literate Indians to use and handle mobile phones. The project is part of a worldwide series of Big Bets that the Armonk-based computing major is taking on critical technologies. For the first time in the history of IBM, a non-US lab was asked to lead a Big Bet, Dr Gupta, who has $100 million in hand and five years to build the technology, said.

The mobile platform is a huge focus area for IBM with 60-80 research projects underway globally. The Indian lab was chosen to lead this effort due to the size of the local market nearly 10 million users are added every month and the innovative research that has come from local centres.

We have a project on analytics that tracks call details and helps telecom companies identify potential customers they can acquire, key customers they should try to retain, and those they can offer value added services, Dr Gupta added. The Big Blue, which counts Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular among its top customers in India, said that since 60% of its revenues come from services, the innovations developed in the India lab will be used to enhance IT infrastructure services as well.

More such innovation will come from the open collaborative research (OCR) mode, where IBM labs will work with social scientists, designers and academicians from leading universities. IBM has 3,000 scientists all over the world and have filed the largest number of patents but we recognise that it is not enough, said Dr Gupta.

Earlier this week, the company announced a partnership with IIT, Bombay, to develop a mobile application that can be used both by the semi-literate or illiterate people. This is part of its strategy to tap opportunities in emerging economies as future growth for the computing major is expected to be driven by these markets. A similar OCR project between the Indian and IBM Tokyo Lab, National Institute of Design and Japanese Universities will create more intuitive mobile interfaces for Japans ageing population. We also have more futuristic works such as the spoken web on the mobile phone and telephone network which will take some years. We have done some pilots of this with farmers in India.

IBMs first OCR project in India with the Indian School of Business is developing a new academic discipline services science that will prepare industry-ready talent for the computer services business. This project has been expanded to a full fledged research collaboratory, where IBM researchers are housed within a university, government, or commercial partners premise to share skills, assets and resources.

Such partnerships, which are based on models such as setting up laboratories in universities, transfer of knowledge from academia to employees, consulting, sponsored and open research are also helping MNCs to hire good talent, said Harish Singh, director for global Consulting at management consulting company Zinnov.

Other global technology firms are also working with Indian universities. Internet major Yahoo! is collaborating with IISc, Bangalore in the area of machine learning. It is a branch of artificial intelligence (AI) in which a computer program analyses huge chunks of data and makes predictions about the future. Applications include understanding the behavior of users, providing advertisements with higher click probability, filtering pornographic images, determining fraudulent transactions and helping investors make investment decisions, said Dr Rajeev Rastogi, VP and Head, Yahoo! Labs, India.

Informatics for rural health management and disease prevention is another area where industry collaborations are taking place. SAP Research has collaborated with PES Institute of Technology (PESIT ) to develop a software platform to predict cardio-vascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes and anaemia. The system, which PESIT plans to commercialize in future will soon be commissioned in remote rural areas of Andhra Pradesh. We have developed a mobile application which can be used in remote rural schools. This system will be modified as a web-based application and be accessible from a mobile device, said Dr A Srinivas, dean, research & consultancy and professor of computer science, PESIT.

- The Economic Times
August 9, 2010