Arvind Krishna, IBM chairman and CEO, has called out cybersecurity as the "risk of this decade". And while this comes as no surprise, nations need to think about whether they will put in the same kind of effort on cybersecurity as they do on physical security and monetary security, he said.

"When land was the thing, countries fought wars with each other. When money in bags became the issue, you had bank robbers, embezzlement, fraud, and so on. Now that we're moving to a economy based on technology... then cyber becomes the way that either you can have nation states conduct effectively cyber warfare on each other, or criminals are using cyber to steal effectively, because data is the currency now," he said at the 29th Nasscom Technology & Leadership Forum 2021, a virtual event.

The IBM CEO said while nations spend on defence and the police for physical security, and local companies spend on cameras and locks, the threat of cyber attacks also needed to be taken as seriously. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers and businesses seem to be more aware of cyber threats. A recent survey of consumers by cybersecurity firm McAfee said that 75% of those surveyed had adopted or purchased security solutions in 2020. And earlier this week, the annual Nasscom CEO Survey found that there had been a 4X increase in cybersecurity risk perception among respondents.

Cybersecurity wasn't the only thing on Krishna's mind. He said the world was at a unique moment. The health crisis had led to an economic crisis. And this was leading to an alignment of ecosystems. This provided India the opportunity to grow as a robust and vibrant IT services industry. But India needed to decide what role it wanted to play.

If India wanted to become a leading hub for innovation, there was a need for “regulations and policy, risk taking, and really massive upskilling in the relevant technologies, which I think are A.I. [artificial intelligence] and cloud for the next decade,” the IBM CEO pointed out.

On regulations and policy, Krishna said those related to issues such as data were important. He said while the underlying data standards were a hotly debated topic within India and the government was paying a lot of attention to it, one had to enable it in a way "that is not just good for the local economy, you have to do it in a way that allows export of services and software to happen. And that's a much more complicated and subtle topic than just doing it for the local economy."

While one needed the ability to innovate, there was also the need for a regulatory framework that nurtured innovation. This was because innovation involved risks and meant only one in three ideas was likely to succeed. Regulations and policy should allow for that failure to happen, he said. “Inside the culture of an enterprise or firm, you’ve got to allow teams to be able to fail sometimes, but fail early and fail smart. Don’t go on for a long time,” he said.

In terms of upskilling, Krishna said that if A.I was to contribute $16 trillion to the global economy by 2030 or 2035, tens of millions of people needed to be trained to use and deploy such new technologies. To be able to do that, one could use the moment to "also do digital education, not to displace or replace colleges and schools, but to augment them so that people come up with the right skills," he said.

Predicting growth for this year, Krishna argued that industry must relate to its end users. He said people in brick-and-mortar businesses were talking about deliveries and pickups, telemedicine had become immensely popular, and in telecom, networks and clouds were beginning to merge. "So the opportunity is massive, and technology and software underlies all this," he said.

The question businesses need to ask is how do you leverage this moment when your end users are willing to do new things, when you can deliver new things in a new way that you earlier thought was too risky? "The only thing is, you got to do it fast," Krishna said.

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