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There is enough appetite for innovation: Craig Stires of Amazon Web Services

On the domestic opportunities front in India, there is a vast amount of information that people are creating and there is an opportunity to provide personalised experiences for customers, where earlier, there might not have been enough information about each customer.

Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Machine Learning (ML) are buzzwords in tech circles these days, but are CIOs in sync with these technologies? Especially in emerging economies such as India? “We see CIOs wanting to make investments that are going to fundamentally change the direction of their companies. Whether you hear Big Data, IoT, or AI/ML, there is some really interesting technology behind these and there are some really interesting methodologies that have come to the forefront,” Craig Stires, Head of Analytics, AI, Big Data at Amazon Web Services, Asia Pacific, tells Sudhir Chowdhary in an interview. Excerpts:

Are investments really happening in some of these niche technologies?

CIOs, today, aren’t just investing in Big Data to understand its underlying potential. They believe that connected devices have something really interesting in helping them listen to their customers’ needs. Previously, they may have had to spend extensively to get started on a project. With AWS, instead of having to lay out millions of dollars just to get started, they can simply pull in a month of connected device data on demand, test and see if they are on the right track and do something that’s fundamentally right for their business. The reality is that the information and the technical processes that are available to CIOs today may not have been available five years ago.

What is your vision for helping businesses on their digital transformation journey?

One of the things that we really encourage is that each customer’s starting point should be different. There is a methodology that we use at Amazon when we innovate. It’s called the ‘working backwards from the customer’ approach. Everything we do starts with our customers and works backwards from there. Roughly 90-95% of our road map is driven by what our customers tell us. We start with the specific customer outcome, working backwards to a minimal technology implementation to start with and then, only scaling it if it is delivering results. We are trying to build relationships with our customers that outlast us all.

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How is the data analytics market turning up in emerging markets such as India?

If we segment the Indian market based on domestic opportunities, and the ability to serve international markets, there are two different speeds that are running within India. On the domestic opportunities front, there is a vast amount of information that people are creating and there is an opportunity to provide personalised experiences for customers, where earlier, there might not have been enough information about each customer.

If you look at what Shaadi.com is doing in this space now—it is able to provide personalised match-making services, driven from the ability to observe not just the behaviours on the website but also looking at some larger group dynamics. Then, there are companies that service the global markets, like Punchh which competes with all the big players, using the most advanced machine learning algorithms and the most advanced fully-managed Hadoop services and Data Warehousing. Therefore, I believe that data analytics is relevant for the companies that are operating in the domestic market as well as for the Indian companies that are servicing global markets.

To what extent do you think businesses are adopting Big Data or IoT?

What tends to happen when enterprises adopt an emerging technology or methodology like Machine Learning, Big Data or IoT, is that there is going to be one part of the organisation that does really well. Let’s take the telcos, for example. They have been struggling to fully adopt these new technologies because sometimes, they look at it as trying to solve a million-dollar problem when they should be thinking about billion-dollar problems. So, these innovation projects have had a hard time flourishing in the industry. However, we are seeing faster adoption even though large organisations have traditionally not been able to implement these too quickly.

There is enough appetite for innovation. The digitally native or emerging enterprise customers tend to adopt the new technologies, faster.

Where is the demand for data analytics coming from?

I cannot find an industry that doesn’t have the appetite for it. For instance, retail organisations are completely driven by purchase behaviour, so they move faster. Banks have only been waiting on regulations to be updated. Now that more and more regulatory agencies are saying that they understand how to move safely to the cloud, banks have also started to move, quickly.

If you look at the National Australia Bank (NAB), they have built four Cloud Guilds so they don’t just have a few people who are building, they are now enabling the whole workforce to think and build. The adoption is even expanding across other industries, like the construction industry, which has always been manually driven. They have all realised that in order to evolve they have to start adopting new technologies. So we see adoption across all industries, especially the ones that are consumer driven.

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