What we need is precision regulation to secure data: IBM CEO

There is some very interesting blockchain work in India. What blockchain will do, is take inefficiency out of supply chains.

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IBM CEO Ginni Rometty
India is a microcosm of IBM’s global operations and a market that is witnessing adoption in newer technologies such as AI and blockchain. India is a talent hub for the company and some of its best talent globally is from the country. “We have to remember that we are in 170 countries and that there is an old saying that an idea knows no borders,” IBM CEO Ginni Rometty told ET in an interview.

Edited excerpts:

Has it become easier for you to work in India compared to four to five years ago ? How do you rate India on a comparative scale with other large emerging markets ?
In my last visit, I did tell Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi that it has become easier. That's a fact. I do believe that has happened. There are a number of things that have been streamlined. I believe there’s much more that can be done, but I've definitely seen progress and reported that in certain areas to him. The two areas to focus on and those are well known, the amount of time things take to get done and the consistency of a position. Businesses want certainty.


Do you think India is moving in the right direction with its data protection policies?
There is an opportunity to move in the right direction. India is at a crossroads in this and, its decision will have a large impact on its role in the global economy. There are so many businesses here that depend on that. I’m sure they will make the right decision.

Consumer internet companies such as Facebook and WhatsApp also have B2B businesses? How should the data be distinguished?
They have got to be clear what applications they are running for what kind of population. We have to separate those things. The buyer has to be interested in it. If an enterprise is buying something, it must insist on that (separation)... We are very clear about three principles we live by: these new technologies ought to augment what we do; the second principle is that the data and its insights belong to the owner. And the third one is all these have to be explainable and free of bias. So those are the three principles: purpose, ownership and explainability. I have been a strong advocate of precision regulation. It is (like) precision medicine; you say to the doctor I want to treat my sour arm, (but) don’t kill my body. It is the same analogy we have to be careful on regulation of data. We could unintentionally kill the digital economy, when we are trying to address consumer privacy issues. Therefore, there should be liability for illegal information, for illegal business. There should be a statement about consumer data, about who owns, about what data you have, can it be deleted? That should be the regulation. In Europe with GDPR , they understand this because for years they had to work hard to have a single digital market because of the borders.

How big is your India business?
This is the only place that is a microcosm of everything. I mean, it is the only country that’s got research, it’s got development, it’s got global outsourcing and it’s got a domestic market. I do internal functions for IBM from here. So this like a mini IBM and it’s the only country that is that way, the only one.

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What are your investments in blockchain and artificial intelligence in India? Are clients ready to accept these technologies?
There is some very interesting blockchain work in India. What blockchain will do, is take inefficiency out of supply chains. We are working with clients and the India research lab works on both AI and blockchain. Every client I'm meeting on this trip has at least a proof of concept.

When will IBM be ranked alongside companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook?
I view them mostly as consumer companies. IBM is an enterprise company. We are the (company) that does the heavy-lifting mission critical work, processes most of the bank transactions in India and manages over 50% of telco transactions. That’s us. So it’s a different business. It’s not the consumer facing business.

The comparison was more in terms of the kind of market cap?
I would like a larger market cap. We’re working on that. That’s our job now to consistently perform. It certainly would help if the dollar wouldn’t keep strengthening like this. We are the most international company and only 30% of our revenues come from the United States.

India IT companies claim the US technology firms have influenced the American government to place visa restrictions. What is your view ?
We’ve been a big supporter of open immigration. We are in 170 countries and that there is an old saying that an idea knows no borders. My head of cloud and analytics was born in India. We have got some great colleagues on both sides of the ocean here and we really do believe that we need a good immigration policy.
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