Infosys eyeing tie-ups for AI, data analytics

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Infosys is looking to partner with companies such as IBM for artificial intelligence and data analytics, but has no plans to abandon its own Nia platform. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Infosys is looking to partner with companies such as IBM for artificial intelligence and data analytics, but has no plans to abandon its own Nia platform. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Bengaluru: Infosys Ltd is looking to partner with companies that offer data analytics or artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, including International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), but has no plans to abandon its own Nia platform.

Infosys, India’s second largest software services firm, is seeking to use these platforms to help it win more business from its own customers.

Infosys wants to scale up the business model that allows it to sell a cognitive platform that will help its Fortune 500 clients run their businesses more efficiently. For this reason, the Bengaluru-based firm wants to sell solutions like IBM Watson along with its service offering, according to an executive with direct knowledge of the development.

Infosys, under chief executive officer Vishal Sikka, who stepped down in August, had earlier made its own proprietary AI platform, Nia (formerly called Mana), the cornerstone of its strategy of transforming itself into a new-age services company. Although the company said it remains committed to its own platform too, Infosys is in discussions with IBM and other companies that have cognitive platforms which would allow Infosys “to have a more differentiated offering as we seek to win more contracts,” the first executive cited above said on condition of anonymity.

Infosys did not answer a question on the company’s plan of partnering with IBM, saying: “A thriving alliance and innovation ecosystem is integral to this strategy to deliver compelling business outcomes for our customers leveraging an integrated portfolio of solutions”

An email sent to IBM seeking comment went unanswered.

Sikka, three years after taking over as the company’s first non-founder CEO, resigned on 18 August, after long-running criticism by Infosys’s founder N.R. Narayana Murthy. Co-founder Nandan Nilekani then returned as non-executive chairman. Infosys appointed U.B. Pravin Rao as interim CEO even as a search continues for a successor to Sikka.

Some experts gave the thumbs-up to Infosys’s change of heart in seeking partnerships with other companies.

“It is a smart move,” said Phil Fersht, chief executive of US-based HfS Research, an outsourcing-research firm. “Infosys has very strong analytics capabilities, so partnering with Watson makes sense. I expect Infosys to be working across multiple analytics/cognitive platforms based on client requirements.”

India’s largest software exporters, including Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, which offers Ignio, and Wipro Ltd, which sells Holmes, are investing heavily in building intelligent platforms aimed at helping their clients cut operational costs and avoid human intervention in repetitive, basic tasks.

“At the last Confluence (Infosys’s annual sales event in May 2017), the number of Nia’s PoC’s (proof of concept) were in the hundreds. Infosys learned that the AI projects require a lot of data work, data governance, and integration to be successful. For Nia to work, Infosys had to move it from a services play to a cloud solution,” said Ray Wang, founder of Constellation Research, a technology research and advisory firm.

“The backing for this movement came from Vishal. However, with Vishal gone and a good number of who have left redeployed, the effort to productize the solution has not accelerated as fast as it should have. The solution has made some strides but requires a strong partnership for compute power and for distribution in order to get to the next level,” said Wang.

Infosys for now said that it remains committed to its earlier strategy and the firm does not have any plans to discontinue Nia, thereby assuaging concerns of a few in the company who questioned the road ahead for Nia after the departure of Sikka’s two former SAP colleagues, Navin Budhiraja and Abdul Razack, who were credited with developing the platform.

“We are completely committed to our software + services strategy. Not only is this strategy on track, we are also looking at a strong integration between the two and categorically deny that there has been any defocusing of leadership of the Nia organization. On the contrary, and as communicated previously regarding the strategy refresh exercise, services enabled by software are a key differentiator of our value proposition and we continue to invest and build out our software platform components including Nia & the Edge range of products. Infosys is bringing these platforms together to create a complete range of automation and machine learning capabilities for our customers,” said a spokesperson.

Infosys has already implemented Nia for a few of its clients, including Microsoft and Kraft Foods.

Some experts like Wang and Fersht also do not believe that Infosys will discontinue Nia.

“I do not think they will discontinue Nia. The company will deploy it with some clients and partner with third-party platforms, such as Watson, DeepMind or Blue Prism where it makes sense for clients,” said Fersht.

Nia, which was first launched under the name Mana in April last year, had a chequered start. In June 2016, SAP SE, which has an analytics solution called Hana, told Infosys’s then management that the German software firm believed “Hana and Mana had more than just the phonetic similarity, as there was potential overlap in services offered, and this could cause confusion among clients,” according to a second Infosys executive familiar with the development. Subsequently, in August, SAP managed to get a district court in Frankfurt to issue a European Union-wide injunction limiting Infosys from selling Mana in Europe. Still, Infosys continued selling Mana in the US, forcing SAP to file a case against the company in that country earlier this year. The issue was settled out of court after Infosys changed the name to Nia.

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