There’s been a big shift to more user-friendly software: IBM’s Mezjan Dallas

There has been a significant transition in the software industry in the last decade and a half, according to an IBM India executive. “The last 15 years have seen huge changes in the software ecosystem. We have transitioned from being focussed on big companies and enterprise-specific platforms to a far more wide-ranging set of clients,” says Mezjan Dallas, Country Head, University Relations, IBM India.

In a significant shift, the industry has moved from licensing models such as on-premise licensing to software as a service (SaaS) and from customised packages to accessible, easy-to-consume software available on the cloud, says Dallas.

He says such democratisation is great, not just for the IT sector, but for anyone wanting to start a business, especially mobile software development.

As head of University Relations at IBM, Dallas is enthusiastic about his company’s work with campuses across the country, its popular hackathons and the hands-on tech workshops it conducts.


“Perfecting the hackathon format down to a quick weekend contest has worked well for our immensely talented millennials (student community),” says Dallas, “as they get just about 36 hours to solve a problem we pose.”

He is amazed at the speed with which the hacks are arrived at, with participants often coming up with workable solutions in just two days. At BITS Pilani, students developed an app in just 12 hours! IBM has conducted several contests on its cloud platform Bluemix across campuses including IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore, IIT Hyderabad and BITS Pilani.

Dallas says, “The workshops IBM conducts are fun. We encourage the students to be prepared before tackling the hackathons, and even conduct a few preparatory tutorials in the run-up to the event.”

Dallas explains that the students’ goal is to develop pure working software. IBM conducted a drone hackathon in IIT Hyderabad where, using IBM’s cloud platform and IoT, students had to program the drone to carry out tasks such as flying across industrial areas and pin-pointing polluting units, or operating inside a factory to detect gas leaks. The winners, who completed the task in six hours, got to take home the drone. The participants win prizes and stand a chance of having their resumes reviewed by IBM India’s recruitment team for potential placement interviews and internships.

Projects at IIMs

IBM has a tie-up with IIM Ahmedabad’s entrepreneurship cell and organises contests among the student entrepreneurs several times a year.

Dallas explains, “We have a separate track called Watson, for start-ups interested in using IBM’s cognitive solutions. We let them know what’s available to them from IBM on the cognitive side and what they can quickly leverage. Simple things like, say, a voice or tone

recognition API (application programming interface) that can assess if a person is angry or sad, and so on.

“These Watson APIs are our business differentiators. Our job is to make start-up enthusiasts aware of technology options from IBM. If they know about these advancements, they are more likely to launch start-ups around such ideas. At IIM Ahmedabad, it was a business model project. Entrepreneurs had to present business ideas, telling us how they would use cognitive as a differentiator in their start-up.”

At IIM Bangalore, students had to present a business plan and, like in IIM Ahmedabad, the response was very good.

The project threw open the playing field on how they would leverage the Bluemix platform, on which IoT or Watson are available. At this event, IBM tied up with Kalaari Capital. “It was a good combination as a technology partner and VC were both present to listen to and help entrepreneurs,” says Dallas.

Dallas says, “We want start-ups to understand how quick and simple it is to access these platforms and the difference between developing software the traditional way versus using Bluemix. IIT Kharagpur’s entrepreneurship cell holds a competition called Empresario across several cities, and we encouraged participants to leverage Bluemix.”

App development, too, is now a transformed activity. Last year, IBM had projects on campuses that resulted in working apps.

Using platforms such as Bluemix has shrunk the development time dramatically. An interesting feature offered with Bluemix is the PaaS (programming as a service) platform. Using this, one can also work on numerous languages. The services are charged on a ‘pay as you go’ model, depending on the number and extent of services used.

Connect with clients

Asked how IBM helps start-ups become viable and sustainable, Dallas says, “The core of what we provide is tech-related. But there are other ways we can help, chiefly with our connect to enterprise clients. Often, entrepreneurs want validation, or access to large customers, and we can provide that across various fields. We are a channel to connect them with our bigger clients.”

IBM’s Global Entrepreneur Programme is designed to help start-ups. Start-ups that get through certain filtering criteria have access to Bluemix for free for a while. The company also hosts IBM Smart Camp, a global pitch competition for early-stage start-ups; those that get to the finals can present their pitch to venture capitalists.