Ron Keren, IBM: Technology helps people make better decisions

Computers will never be able to replace people, but they can help them. Only people can see and make estimates, and technologies will be of great help in improving their decisions.

IBM Romania and BASS Systems, the US corporation’s partner in Moldova, hosted in Chisinau an event branded “IBM Innovate 2016”, dedicated to security solutions, business processes optimization, applications integration and data protection for bank representatives, large and medium-sized enterprises and the public sector in Moldova.

Mold-Street.com has discussed with Ron Keren, IBM Country Leader Romania & Moldova, about the importance of innovation and how technology is changing the world around us.

Mold-Street.com: Everybody was accustomed to the fact that International Business Machines (IBM) is a world leader in the production of hardware, but nowadays this corporation is more concerned with the development of software and services. How did it happen?

Ron Keren: We still manufacture equipment, but we only manufacture it for our products—our developments. We no longer apply labels to devices and sell them as original products from the manufacturer. The systems we develop are really efficient, and customers who decide to use the IBM’s approach—hardware and software as a package—have the opportunity to see the true value of our software. And if you look at our equipment which is truly high-quality, and you use it in your business, you’ll see that it runs best with certain specific applications. This equipment integrates organically with our software. That said, the software we develop is compatible with any kind of equipment or system.

Mold-Street.com: Do you sell IBM equipment in Moldova?

Ron Keren: Yes. However, hardware represents only 10% of our products portfolio and is delivered to markets where the demand for equipment solutions is higher than in Moldova. In your country, we focus more on promoting programs and solutions for business management, applications integration, and data protection.

How to sell a beer to someone who is looking for diapers?

Mold-Street.com: What are IBM’s expectations regarding the Moldovan market, which, as you know, is small and local companies have a relatively low purchasing power?

Ron Keren: I see a lot of opportunities. IBM is here to gain knowledge to reproduce its successes. We are here to assist your companies with analysis and data protection solutions. We do not intend to insist on replacing the products that already exist and work well—we offer personalized projects. What we offer is actually an upgrade of your systems and better data protection.

Companies have invested money in infrastructure or their own applications, so let’s try to integrate them into better, complex solutions. That is why we put an emphasis on integration, which is key to everything in the modern world.

Look at the global network, the Internet. It contains a lot of data from everywhere and the companies want to access this data, to analyze it and to identify the trends we should expect. Subsequently, companies can use that data for commercial purposes—to sell additional products or to better understand customers. As an example, I invite you to examine the famous association analysis method, when a father goes in the middle of the night to buy diapers and will most probably also buy a beer. That is what it is about.

Mold-Street.com: What are the main sectors you focused on when deciding to offer IBM services on the Moldovan market?

Ron Keren: Central Public Administration, Banks, Telecommunications, Insurance, Public Healthcare, Public Utilities, Oil and Gas Systems. We are true experts when it comes to these areas and we understand very well the needs of these organizations. At the same time, we are receiving an increasing amount of requests from the retail industry, although I cannot yet be certain that the given trend is also applicable in Moldova.

Mold-Street.com: And how does the retail industry benefit from IBM services?

Ron Keren: Companies in this sector will better understand customer needs, possibly will make additional sales, or will offer discounts on products that buyers are interested in, or will help buyers choose the best products, or will integrate their software into mobile phones and will provide advice: Hey, you bought this, this and this, maybe you are also interested in this, this or this?

Technologies imply transparency

Mold-Street.com: I’m curious if you’ve heard about the $1 billion fraud involving three commercial banks in Moldova. Or about the fact that the local banks have been the target for raider attacks or were involved in money-laundering operations. My question is the following: Won’t the data protection and security solutions you offer to banks help them better hide illegal transactions from the competent authorities?

Ron Keren: Regarding fraud, we do not write regulations. We deliver tools that help consumers protect their data, whether we are talking about banks, insurance companies or government structures, anything that would help them be more transparent and know exactly where the data is.

Data transparency is related to the way the information is managed internally within the organization. What you do with the data outside your organization depends on you, not on IBM. But speaking about regulatory authorities, they are laying down more and more demands on financial institutions. The banks are thus required to comply with the new regulatory standards and need to have access to data, in order to provide the requested information. Here is where we can really help.

The software will help people make better-informed decisions based on forecasts and analyses. Let me give you an example regarding healthcare. IBM has invested over one billion dollars in medical projects and even has a business unit in this sector, working on the Watson software. Patients usually go to one doctor, then visit another doctor, then look for a third expert; they run in all directions, they appear in different places.

The data they accumulate and the diversity of opinions obtained from different doctors must be always stored. Somewhere the X-ray results are needed, another time the CT scans must be reviewed—all the information is kept under a single name, the patient’s name, and can be accessed wherever he or she is. In addition, Watson will be able to present a detailed and exhaustive review, based on the data provided, data collected from the Internet, medical scientific papers, journals, and expert opinions of medical professionals.

People vs Computers

Mold-Street.com: Let’s talk about the technological progress… it seems that the programs developed by IBM—as well as by other IT corporations—perform automated operations and have the ability to learn. We can say that we are dealing with a form of artificial intelligence, which—for example, in the case of medical investigations—determines which doctors we should go to, what kind of workup is needed, what drugs do we have to take?

Ron Keren: I don’t think we are dealing with such a case. Computers will never be able to replace people, but they can help them. Let me rephrase it—not computers, but technologies will help people make better decisions. Only human beings—in this case, we have chosen to talk about doctors—can see and make estimates, and technologies will greatly help improve their decisions. And this is a good thing.

The same principle can be applied in the banking sector, in the energy sector, anywhere, because everything is reduced to data accumulation and analysis. There is so much data in the world that you and I could spend centuries processing the information, but if we have a great device that does this for us and helps us make a final analysis, then we can get an analysis of better quality, since we will be able to access even more data and make better decisions.

One example is the KPMG company, which has signed with IBM an agreement to use the Watson software for auditing tasks. This program allows them to do cognitive data processing. What do people usually do with the data? They analyze it by processing it from start to finish. The Watson software—which has cognitive features—allows us to make forecasts for the future. A totally different method of data management. But again, at the end is a human being signing and saying “yes” or “no”.

I will return to the KPMG example, the audit company. Its employees can do many things with the data, but if they feed their data to our software, they can create detailed sub-categories and the software will help them discover certain trends. We are exactly at the intersection of technologies and business. We use technologies to help companies and the economic sectors make better business. So, to answer your question, it’s not about artificial intelligence, but about how we can become more intelligent.

Mold-Street.com: It seems, however, that the technologies were not very helpful when the Wall Street collapse had to be prevented.

Ron Keren: What can I say?! At the end, they are still just humans, and someone makes decisions.

IBM profiles

International Business Machines (IBM) is a famous American corporation operating in the computer technology and innovation field. The most notorious innovations include the invention of hard-disk, magnetic stripe technology (used for cards), and the universal product barcode. In the 1980s the company created the IBM PC microcomputer, the ancestor of modern personal computers. In 2005, IBM sold its PC division to the Chinese manufacturer Lenovo, and later, in 2014, it also sold its x86 servers division.

IBM continues to focus on software applications, Power servers, and complex services. IBM shares are quoted on the US Dow Jones stock market index. Company’s turnover in 2015 was $81.7 billion, and it has 377.700 employees globally.

Watson is a technology platform that uses natural language processing and learns from experience in order to create perspectives based on a large amount of unstructured data.