Navigating AI and Ecosystem Partnerships in South Africa

With the surge in artificial intelligence (AI) platforms and applications there’s been very little discussion around the usecases for AI in businesses in South Africa. 

I recently spoke to David Stokes, General Manager, Partner Ecosystem at IBM, about how the company is working with its partners in South Africa to help them utilise AI in responsible, meaningful ways.

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Brendon Petersen (BP): David, when it comes to the work that IBM is doing in South Africa and across the continent, there’s a lot to discuss. Let’s start with ecosystem partnerships. What’s been happening with IBM’s ecosystem partnerships in South Africa from a broad overview perspective?

David Stokes (DS): Thanks, Brendon. All through my career, I’ve believed in the power of ecosystems, especially in the tech world. No single company can do it all. Our strategy focuses on hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence. These are the guiding stars for IBM today. We’re seeing that really play out in the marketplace in terms of certainly hybrid cloud, first and foremost where we see a partner, where we see really the market moving to a multi-cloud environment. But more than multi-cloud, you know it’s about how do you bring the best of infrastructure and applications whether they’re sitting on cloud environments, whether that’s from IBM or from AWS, Microsoft and so on. Whether that’s private cloud environments or whether that’s on-premise and being able to bring that all together into one environment where you can manage it, secure it, and develop one time, right. And that really leading the charge there for us was the acquisition we made of Red Hat and certainly that its success we’re having in the marketplace that went with Red Hat OpenShift. And then you see with the announcement this year of WatsonX, really building a format around in which our partners and our clients can develop artificial and intelligent applications and make sure that you’ve got the right data with the right data governance and not a complete governance environment around it. All of that said, you think about that, that really makes the IBM company today more of a platform company than we’ve ever been, a platform for hybrid cloud and a platform for artificial intelligence. For any platform to be successful, it’s only as successful as the number of partners and clients that adopt your technology. So it’s really that strategy that’s driving growth in our ecosystem, investment in our ecosystem, and a number of the changes we’ve made over the last few years in terms of our programs.

BP: Moving on to artificial intelligence, how is IBM approaching AI in the context of partnerships and ecosystems, especially in upskilling partners?

DS: Skills are crucial, and we revamped our partner programs under Partner Plus through which we’ve managed to bring together a consistent program around all of our technology where we’ve harmonised our go-to market along also with our incentives for our partners as well as the benefits that our partners can get from accessing our technology. It’s all about giving our partners access to the right skills when they need it and making sure that it’s the same training that we give to our own sales teams at the same time.The heart of Partner Plus is skills. 

AI has been around for a long time, but it’s only now that I think the potential of AI as a tool to help productivity and innovation in business is coming to the fore. We believe in AI augmenting human intelligence, not replacing it. We’re investing in upskilling partners through consistent training programs, providing the right skills needed for AI adoption.

BP: Governance in AI is a critical aspect. How is IBM addressing the ethical and responsible use of AI in its partnerships?

DS: We believe in transparency and explainability in AI usage. AI is there to augment human intelligence, and data ownership belongs to the creator. Wrapping around governance not as an afterthought, but right from the very moment of of thinking through the use case, I think is absolutely essential to the success of artificial intelligence in the business environment. We’ve integrated governance into our platform, emphasising the responsible use of AI from the very beginning.

BP: Lastly, how are you working with partners to navigate the complexities of AI adoption, especially in addressing concerns and ensuring responsible AI use?

DS: The key is a collaborative and experiential approach. We’re working closely with partners, demonstrating the impact of AI through proof of concepts and minimum viable products. It’s about showing, not just telling, and doing so in a way that protects governance, transparency, and explainability. partners here want to be seen to be carrying forth AI in a responsible way. I think it starts with, that’s just talking to them about our beliefs, our principles when it comes to AI. First and foremost it is that AI is there to augment human intelligence, it’s not there to replace human intelligence.

We’ve always believed that technology is there complement human skills, human innovation, to progress the economy. 

I think second is that when you think about some of the data issues and the outcomes that come from AI, we believe that they belong to the creator. So whoever created the data, whoever created the insights, owns that. I think that’s really important. 

And then third, we talk about the principle where the AI must be used in a transparent right and explainable way. It starts with that conversation. That resonates with all partners that I’ve spoken to.

BP: David, thank you for sharing these insights into IBM’s approach to AI and ecosystem partnerships in South Africa. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

DS: Thank you, Brendon. I’m excited about the potential for AI in South Africa and the opportunity to showcase its positive impact on businesses and growth.

Listen to the full interview on Spotify.

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