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IBM eyes Indian big data, analytics startups

18/09/2014 by


In the American crime drama series Person of Interest, a machine predicts whether a person can be a victim or a perpetrator of a crime. Then it's up to a data scientist to find that person and prevent any violent acts. This may sound like science fiction but Thiruvananthapuram-based big data startup Senzit is trying to turn this into reality. Its digital recording solution captures and archives live events from crime scenes. It then mines hidden insights, patterns and unknown correlations from the vast amount of data that can be collated this way.

International Business Machines (IBM), the world's biggest computer-services provider, is taking a keen interest. Senzit is one among at least 100 startups in India that IBM is partnering with as it looks to tap cutting-edge innovations in areas such as big data analytics and Internet of Things — devices communicating with each other intelligently.

"There is a tectonic shift in the way IBM is looking at startups. It is no more about donating software, keeping them happy and feeling good that your conscience is clear," said Karthik Padmanabhan, ecosystem development leader for IBM in India and South Asia. "We are now working with them from a joint innovation perspective. Big data is the nerve centre and Indian startups are beginning to play a big role." Padmanabhan said after the Bay Area and New York in the US, the third biggest cluster for social, mobility, analytics and big data technologies is Bangalore, followed by London and Beijing.

Big Blue's Innovation Centre in Bangalore is partnering with 100 big data and Internet of Things startups across India. Experts said IBM started engaging with these startups five months back as these technologies are strategic for clients such as retailers Walmart, Tesco and banking and financial services firms Barclays and RBS.

Unlike peers, IBM is focused on enterprise startups and does not provide funding or take a stake. Instead, it offers mentoring, software, hardware, technical expertise, marketing and sales facilities. It also helps the startups connect with venture capital firms and accelerators across the country. In return, IBM benefits as their technology gets embedded in products and services offered by startups to enterprises.

"We are the plumbers and give tools," said Padmanabhan. "We have realised that we cannot solve these problems by ourselves. It is about coming out with innovative technologies very quickly, you can't take your own sweet time."

For instance, the product developed by Senzit runs on IBM's software to try and speed up the justice proc ess. The two-year-old firm captures all the events of a case from the beginning, which includes audio, text. This way it keeps track of any change of statement or verdict. "Earlier, we had to do everything on our own and we don't have the time," said Shibi Salim, chief executive of Senzit.

"We are now able to focus "We are now able to focus more on research and development."

Experts said IBM needs these partnerships to become part of the innovation cycle in order to sustain growth at the $100 billion firm (Rs 61,000 crore).

"Five years ago, IBM would have such partnerships to enhance existing products or services. Now you cannot push your products, you need to create new innovation," said Krishna Tanuku, executive director at Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. "IBM's internal team can't do all innovation, they are making strategies about how to tap these brilliant minds (startups) and have some control on their intellectual property and leverage it." Padmanabhan declined to reveal how much this initiative would contribute to global revenue.

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