IoT India Congress 2016: Interview with Sanjay Bramhawar

By | 14 minute read | September 2, 2016

Graphic representing the Internet of Things (IoT)

Sanjay Bramhawar is IBM’s Global Head & Managing Partner Strategic Business Development, IBM Watson Internet of Things. He’ll be speaking at IoT India Congress, held on 6th – 8th September 2016.

Question: In the digitally disruptive world, where would you place Watson IoT?

Sanjay: Let’s start first with the Internet of Things, and then talk about IBM’s approach: Watson IoT. The Internet of Things is one of the top technologies affecting business, individuals, and society as a whole. By 2020, there will be a projected 30 billion connected ‘things’ and 40% of all data generated will come from connected sensors. (Source: IDC)

Most CxOs believe IoT is one of the top three most important technologies in the next three to five years. The top three are IoT, cloud, and mobile, which rely on and strengthen one another. (Source: IBM Global C-suite Study, 2015)

The Internet of Things is fundamentally changing the way businesses create value, how companies compete and partner, and how consumers experience the world. Companies are not just digitizing transactions and interactions, but also much of our physical world.

Businesses are using IoT to achieve five key outcomes:

  1.      boost operational performance
  2.      enhance customer experience
  3.      lead industry transformation
  4.      advance environmental sustainability
  5.      scale institutional expertise

From a consumer standpoint, electronics have already changed the way we live. Look no further than that phone in your pocket for evidence of that. We have extraordinarily personal relationships with these devices. They connect us to information, services, and each other in ways we never could have imagined just ten or 15 years ago. Imagine what the power of connecting and the coordinating of billions of devices will be. Not just phones, but all of the ‘things’ that connect us to the physical world: our cars, appliances, home security systems. All sharing information about their condition. All learning and improving through use. This is the promise of the Internet of Things: To help us design products that adapt to us, rather than the other way around. To orchestrate the many ‘things’ we already rely on in this life, and make them more useful to us.

Now, let’s turn to IBM’s approach. To sum it up, IBM believes that by knowing the physical world and acting on that knowledge, anything is possible. The IoT is generating a massive amount of data about the connected world. Cognitive systems, and Watson in particular, have the ability to transform vast amounts of complex, ambiguous information into insight. Watson IoT allows us to act on that insight—reduce our energy usage, manage complex systems more efficiently, and change our lives for the better.

Question: Is IBM Watson IoT the Transformer or the Game-changer for faster IoT adoption?

Sanjay: IBM Watson IoT is indeed a transformer and game changer. Industry disruption will accelerate as connected objects become active participants in our economy. IoT adoption will spur new business models, turning more companies into technology and services companies.

We are seeing this play out with many clients in many industries. Organizations are moving from exploration to transformation. As the IoT matures, strategies to capitalize on it are becoming clear. Leaders are using early successes to create solid roadmaps for integrated IoT solutions that will improve operations, and customer engagement and potentially transform their industries.

Here are just a few examples:

Transforming connected appliances

Transforming smart buildings

Transforming auto industry

Transforming manufacturing

Question: If data is the new currency in 21st century, how does IBM Watson IoT plan to mint it?

Sanjay: More and more, our clients are recognizing that insight from new forms of data is the key to competitive differentiation. Businesses must effectively and creatively use the influx of IoT data, correlated with other forms of data (for example, social, weather, and enterprise data), to transform core functions and customer relationships.

There is a challenge, though. Despite a widespread proliferation of sensors, the majority of IoT data collected is never used. Consider the fact that only 1% of data from an oil rig with 30,000 sensors is examined. (Source: McKinsey 2015, “The Internet of Things: Mapping the value beyond the hype.”) Many existing platform solutions are prohibitively slow, expensive and inefficient—making analyzing and acting on the data extremely difficult. Companies must use nontraditional analytics approaches — like cognitive and edge computing — to fully extract the value of this data.

Getting the most out of new data

IBM can help clients solve business problems based on insights from new data. We offer software and services tailored to specific industries and business needs.

IBM can help line of business leaders in engineering speed time to market with truly responsive products that understand and share data about actual customer usage using Watson IoT applications. It can help line of business leaders in operations and real estate get better performance and utilization out of assets, and run energy- and cost-efficient facilities.

IBM can support better decision-making across industries. For example, electronics manufacturers can use device data to predict failures before they occur. Retailers can track the movement of customers through their stores to optimize merchandising. Insurance companies can use sensor data to better assess risk.

A three-pronged approach: Build, Solve, Transform

Truly ‘minting’ the currency of IoT data requires a three-pronged approach. We refer to the prongs as Build, Solve, and Transform. ‘Solve’ is the set of capabilities described above: solving business problems based on insights from new data.

‘Build’ refers to applying a platform strategy to IoT to drive innovation and meet customer demands.

IBM can help software engineers, developers, and data scientists to easily and securely connect devices, create apps that bring together more data, and perform analytics that yield new insights using the Watson IoT Platform.

The platform makes it easy to take advantage of Watson APIs including machine learning and image, video, and text analytics to build more advanced apps and create products that adapt and evolve over time to meet changing demands.

For example, developers can integrate new data sources such as weather data to enrich analytics insights.

‘Transform’ means transforming your business with a cognitive IoT strategy.

IBM can help C-suite executives expand their business potential by generating revenue in new ways, adding more value to offerings, and improving customer engagement and employee productivity using Watson IoT solutions.

IBM helps companies navigate, and participate in vital ecosystems that enable data-sharing alliances and create new ways to monetize the IoT. It provides guidance and technology to help businesses apply cognitive capabilities to understand, reason, and learn from any interaction with the physical and digital worlds.

Question: How is IBM Watson IoT creating a new partner and developer eco-system?

Sanjay: First and foremost, we recognize that the Internet of Things is an ecosystem play.  Success in many of the IoT settings we see – be it the home, the factory, the workplace, in transportation, in retail – revolves not just around designing smart connected products, but in making those products actually work with all sorts of other products, business processes and the people that use them.  Under the covers it’s a huge, messy, interoperability challenge.

So we need a broad set of partners at every level – from chip to cloud to corporate business transformation – to help us help our clients.  And to deliver the value we need developers – lots of them!

The importance of collaboration

We’ve already got relationships with chip-designers like ARM, board developers like Arrow, and the distributor Avnet.  Of course in India we have close collaborations with the major system integrators and we have an important agreement around engineering services with Persistent Systems.  At the business transformation level we’ve turned our collaboration with Siemens Building Technologies from a straightforward IBM to client relationship into a partnership around bringing IoT to life in digital buildings.  And we’re working with leaders like Deloitte around facilities management and accounting.

As you might expect we have dedicated teams for this and they’re out every day in all cities around the world.  For example just in the last three months in India we’ve run more than a dozen hackathons, meetups and workshops at universities right across the country.  We’re helping academics understand how to make IoT development and analytics part of their curriculum and giving thousands of students hands on experiences with the Watson IoT platform. It has been wonderful to meet some of the bright minds of the future and to see absolutely packed rooms and auditoriums in every city we’ve visited.

Question: How is Watson IoT placed in the new era of Cognitive Computing? Which black boxes will Watson IoT decode for businesses?

Sanjay: We believe the Internet of Things and the era of Cognitive Computing were made for each other.

First, the complexity inherent in the Internet of Things calls out for systems that will learn and that do not depend on traditional programming.  As the number of connected things scales into the billions, and all of those connected things gather data and work with different people in different settings, it becomes very hard to build traditional software programs that can understand that kind of variability on such a large scale.  So having the system learn itself over time – as cognitive systems do – is actually essential if we’re to make sense of the Internet of Things.

Another aspect of Cognitive Computing that is vital to the Internet of Things is how it changes the way we interact with connected objects.  Through cognitive techniques like natural language support or image recognition we can allow people to work with things in ways that are straightforward and natural.  For example as part of our collaboration with Local Motors we’ve installed Watson in the world’s first self- driving cognitive vehicle – called Olli.  This means passengers can ask Olli questions about their journey, or their destination, or the weather, or points of interest… just by talking. And Olli will talk back with the answer.

IoT can facilitate smoother operations

In terms of the black box… well, we’re definitely seeing our clients get value in a few key, repeatable areas.  First and most important is operational performance – making business operations work more efficiently and better than the competition. For example, CSX, a pioneer in the use of IoT on rail systems, saves over $2m a year using sensor data to monitor the health of their 4,000 locomotives.  But this is about more than just saving on operational costs.  It’s about delivering better operational outcomes.  Trains are more reliable.  They run on time.  So goods and services are developed and delivered faster, and at lower cost.  That benefits all of us.

Another example of superior operational performance is Port of Cartegena.  They are using a new hybrid model of cognitive IoT to manage the millions of tons of cargo that move through Colombia’s largest shipping terminal each year.  Because some IoT data needs to be acted on immediately, Cartagena is performing analytics at the edge of their network, built into the routers and gateways that support their local communications, delivering instant IoT insight directly to the people on site that can act on it.  Meanwhile the data is also stored on the cloud where it can be accessed and analyzed to support longer term decision making.

Another huge area is client experience.  The example I gave a moment ago about Olli is a good one – as organizations start combining cognitive computing and the Internet of Things to change the kind of experience they offer end consumers.

Cognitive computing and employee expertise

Finally, a really interesting area for the use of cognitive computing in the Internet of Things is around scaling the institutional expertise of employees. Imagine a reliability engineer who has worked in the same factory or plant for a number of years.  These engineers know, almost instinctively, whether the equipment in the factory is performing well – they can detect changes in how machines sound, how they look.  Well, using Watson we can emulate that experience that otherwise takes years and years to accumulate – we can listen to machines and report on variances, we can watch machines and spot things like oil leaks before problems show up in the data.  We’re using cognitive to augment the human and give everyone all the tools possible to help them do their jobs as well as they can.

Question: How is IBM Watson IoT poised to provide a competitive edge to India Inc. in the global arena?

Sanjay: We can help Indian companies compete on the international stage.  In a way we provide the stage – at least the technology one!  For example, Watson IoT leverages IBM’s extensive cloud infrastructure of Bluemix services running on SoftLayer.  This service is available globally, in more than 45 locations.  We take care of the resiliency, availability, security, local laws and regulations on important things like data privacy and retention.

So as well as bringing all the powerful new cognitive analytics we’ve talked about, incredibly strong industry knowledge and the extensive partner and developer network around the world, we are able to deliver on the raw computing horse-power needed to make the Internet of Things work, just about anywhere around the world.

We’re excited to help Indian companies succeed in India and scale with them as they broaden into other geographies and markets.

Question: Are you looking at developing API’s based on use-cases specific to Indian market? If so, how?

Sanjay: Our Watson IoT APIs and our industry offerings and applications are global and customizable, almost irrespective of the region. We support standards, for example our IoT Connect service that supports pretty much any device using the widely accepted MQTT and HTTP/HTTPS protocols.

Having said that, we are developing accelerators/solutions which are more specific to India as a region. One such example is IoT for Agriculture, which is very relevant, the Indian economy being dominated by Agriculture. Through our agriculture solutions we’re able to help farmers create the best conditions for growing crops, for example ensuring the right amount of water is applied at the right place in the field.  We are participating in some state government initiatives around Smarter Villages, which are expanding our focus to smarter water management and energy management also.

We are also striking multiple partnerships with local IoT startups and device manufacturers to ensure our solutions are relevant for India as a region.

Question: What will be IBM Watson IoT’s role in government-led programs like Make In India, Digital India and Start-Up India?

Sanjay: IBM Watson IoT can play a huge role in each of the three important government programs. I’ve talked about the areas where Watson IoT is helping clients – like boosting operational performance and transforming customer experience – and these are critical areas of focus for the Indian government and the programs they’re driving.

And I’ve mentioned that we are working with several initiatives like Smart Cities, Smart Villages, Precision Agriculture, and Smarter Grid to help making sense of IoT data and create value for the Indian economy.  In many of these programs using IoT data in combination with other data sources such as weather, social, other unstructured and enterprise data is the key to unlocking new insight and value….and this is a key aspect of the overall Digital India initiative.

We are also working with NASSCOM through their 10,000 Start Up initiatives.  We are a founding member of the NASSCOM IoT Centre of Excellence, collaborating with IoT Start Up Regional groups in Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, and elsewhere.

And of course our commitment to building the base of IoT developers, as I mentioned earlier, is directly relevant to growing a vibrant digital start up culture in India.

Question: What is the most exciting part of IBM’s decision to be a presenting sponsor of IoT India Congress?

Sanjay: We are delighted to be a part of this incredible event.

As a completely integrated platform conference, bringing all IoT stakeholders under one roof – from C-levels to start-up founders; from IoT developers to government; from large to medium enterprises; from manufacturing industries to retailers – this conference will have a huge impact on Indian enterprises that are on a journey to IoT. That is what is most exciting to me – the ability in one event to actually move the Indian IoT market forward.

We’re dedicated to IoT, and we’re dedicated to India and we’re looking forward to bringing both together in Bengaluru/Bangalore this September.