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This techie holds the key to IBM's huge bet on the Watson AI platform

Sriram Raghavan, Vice President, IBM Research AI
While Google's Sundar Pichai and Microsoft's Satya Nadella have become the flag-bearers of Indian talent, there are many other techies who are also leading significant new initiatives of many technology majors. Sriram Raghavan is one such personality. He has recently been appointed as the vice president (VP) of IBM Research AI (artificial intelligence), in which he will lead the futuristic research efforts of this new technology globally. Raghavan led the IBM Research Lab in India and the Research Centre in Singapore prior to this elevation. At a time when the IT services industry is going through a great deal of disruption with digital technologies such as AI, machine learning and big data becoming focus areas, Raghavan's leading such efforts for a global technology major like IBM is significant in several ways.

A meritorious student all through, he graduated in computer science and engineering from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras in 1998. He went on to complete his Masters and PhD in computer science from Stanford University. In 2004, he joined IBM as a research staff member at the company's Almaden Research Centre in San Jose, California. In his over 15-year-long career with IBM so far, Raghavan has held many leadership roles in the technology major's research wings. But his most significant contributions were during his stint at India Research Lab, where a lot of path-breaking innovations in the field of blockchain technology, AI, machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT) were churned out of the facility.

Raghavan was the global leader for blockchain research based in India and was credited with development of that competence in-house. Under his stewardship, the first IBM blockchain platform for the trade finance consortium for India and the South Asian market was launched.

Several pioneering applications of technology in agriculture to improve crop productivity and farmers' income had been driven out of India Lab under his leadership. "The blockchain effort for preventing food wastage and in creating digital twins of farms was worked on by India Lab," he had said in a recent interaction with Business Standard. Many AI- and predictive analytics-based solutions in the field of agriculture that have been developed at IBM's India centre are currently in use in several Indian states. Niti Aayog had, in fact, roped in IBM last year to develop a crop yield prediction model using AI, through which real-time advisory to farmers would be given in aspirational districts.

Despite his accomplishments, both in academic and professional fields, people who have worked with Raghavan vouch for his simplicity and humility. "He is a very approachable and down-to-earth person. He has all the ingredients to be a successful leader," a person who worked closely with him told Business Standard. No wonder, his current transition to a bigger role has a lot of similarity with IBM's current head of Asia Pacific business, Harriet Green, who before leading this region, had successfully transformed IBM's Watson IoT (Internet of Things) platform from a start-up to a profitable business segment.

As IBM doubles down its Watson AI bet, it is critical to have leaders like Raghavan who can deliver value to customers though the development of multiple cognitive applications. According to IBM CEO, Ginny Rometty, the company is currently engaged with over 20,000 AI projects for varied organisations, and analysts are of the opinion that the company's growth prospects will largely depend on the success of its Watson platform, which will drive its digital revenue in the years to come.

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