Face to Face with Ghazanfar Ali – Country General Manager IBM Pakistan
1: How do you see Technology is changing our Lives
Ans: We are at an interesting intersection as human race. We have seen an exponential rise of tech integration in our lives in last two decades that has set a baseline of even bigger disruption ahead. Fields like AI, Quantum computing, Bio- Tech advancements are getting ready for next cycle. Large players have found the way to address the scalability problems and working aggressively to expand their scope to every aspect of human life. Technology interventions will be more disruptive ranging from healthcare, professions, industries etc. challenging the basic concepts that bind us as society and force us to adopt to new realities quickly. We must prepare ourselves to adapt to changes coming ahead of us as future belongs to most adaptive among us.
2: How can we become a digital country?
Ans: Our fundamentals are right for a digital economy. Young population, National Databases, connectivity and so many other factors that had kept us ahead of others earlier. However we lost momentum due to lack of investment and friction created by disintegrated approach of regulators/enablers. Everyone talks digital but very little investment is made, we see forced conversion to digital in COVID but unfortunately we don’t see it exciting people to build plans beyond compulsion. Its high time we provide the right enabling environment by removing frictions in our systems and bring right investment in the tech industry like other industries. It will spur an Innovation drive that will propel the country towards a digital future. We need to value our digital potential, find national use cases impacting large populations, create a collaborative model (tech and financial) and remove hurdles, rest will happen. The changing nature of Tech business over prescription of any model is more dangerous as evolution is fast and every country can chalk out its own unique path to success.
3: What was your strategy during Covid-19?
Ans: First thing we need to understand COVID challenge to business is similar in nature to challenge it poses to humans. It exposes the weakness of business models, organizational cultures and creates an environment that helps fittest to survive. Organizational front first and most important thing was to treat the human side with utmost priority in letter and spirit by making sure every IBMer in the country is well protected health wise and from a job security perspective. Our business model was well positioned entering into covid crisis and helped us in creating partnerships with thought leaders in different industries that were innovative and agile to capitalize on Digital transformation. We also had in our portfolio a long history of handling pandemics and ensuring continuity of our client’s businesses. Together with these strengths and engaged workforce we were able to respond better and come out stronger as we are moving from one phase to next in this overall challenge.
4: What is the future of Cloud Computing in Pakistan?
Ans: Cloud is not an option. It’s a fundamental building block as a new operational and business model of the digital economy. It is the nucleus of innovation in the platform economy. We simply can’t go digital without having appropriate cloud adoption and unfortunately we are struggling on this front. It’s facing the same challenge of friction by regulators and lack of investment. There is a realization and as more global players showing interest in the Pakistan economy I am confident that we will see a momentum. It’s a matter of when not if but every day we are delaying it we will regret it due to missing. I am not worried about whether cloud will be pervasive in Pakistan or not as it will be and gaining traction already. My worry is on the timing of it and losses we are already incurring by not adopting it right now.
5: What is the importance of Data for businesses?
Ans: Data has become the most critical asset in the new economy. New economy is built on insights and needs no further convincing looking at the market cap of data companies. Its importance is universally applicable to all industries and a key differentiator between success and failure. Data has to be repositioned as a core component of the business model and that’s where most of the companies are struggling right now. Successful businesses are pivoting their business models on data and outperforming traditional players as traditional players are still using data in old ways.
6: How to use data & information for growth & better performance?
Ans: First thing first! Data is not a tech initiative. It should be owned by businesses with a razor sharp focus on driving use cases of business value whether in aggressive areas like revenue growth or defensive areas like cost savings. If business is not owning data initiatives, it will take a longer path to implement and almost an impossible path to get business value. Secondly data journey should be multidimensional (structured/non structured and use of cognitive) with infusion of intelligence in processes and engagement channels to operationalize use cases at a fast pace. IBM for this reason calls AI, Augmented intelligence vs Artificial Intelligence. Also equally important piece is data governance to ensure accuracy. Once you have quality data, curated to build the right industry specific data models then good skills and AI platforms can do wonders in keeping you ahead in the game. Remember tech companies and talent can provide capability to create models but success depends on who is training models based on business experience and what data is being fed to it.
7: Why is our new talent not aligned with the current job scenario?
Ans: Disruption has brought new dynamics to workplaces. Focus has shifted from productivity to new outcomes. This has created a high demand of skills and competitiveness has left little space for on the job learning. Future will be more tilted towards skills vs degree and academia has to adjust to this reality. Our talent is becoming victim of this misalignment between market demand and output of educational institutes. We need to improve engagement between industry, academia and talent to evolve the environment. This means providing more awareness to talent, opening up skills platforms for both individuals and institutions and transparent hiring access from corporate world and massive realignment on academia side. IBM p-tech model has given the world new model to address this challenge and being adopted globally.
8: How can we make Pakistan a better Country?
Ans: To start with, shift the focus on what can be built from here on. We have wasted too much time and energy in debating negatives. Individually and collectively we need to imagine our future and focus all our energies on building it. Second important thing is diversity, tolerance and equality in all dimensions, our people are the most important resource we have, an inclusive population with our demographics can be a game changer if we channel it in the right direction. Lastly and most importantly we have to create a business climate that fosters value creation through innovation so that overall productivity of the country goes up, it will take a lot of courage to unlearn old ways but we won’t be able to achieve a better future unless we go through this process individually and collectively.