When Standard Chartered faced a complex and tedious challenge in its trade document screening processes, IBM’s artificial intelligence (AI) solutions stepped in to help. The result saw not only a tremendous improvement in screening efficiency, but also increased accuracy and affordability. This is just one of the many ways IBM has helped businesses transform digitally, thanks to its expertise in information technology (IT) and AI.

Martin Chee, managing director of IBM Singapore, shares why the technology services provider’s initiatives stand out from the crowd, and why the future will be driven by AI and cloud solutions.

Managing director of IBM Singapore, Martin Chee.
Managing director of IBM Singapore, Martin Chee.

What makes IBM’s digital transformation initiatives unique?
IBM is probably the only technology services provider with end-to-end solutions and implementation capabilities. We bring the whole of IBM to our engagements with clients from the start to finish — from providing leading edge technology and solution design, to project implementation and delivery and follow-up support.

IBM has been a significant player in every stage of the evolution of IT over 100 years since it first formed. In Singapore, we have been supporting our clients in their transformation journeys for many years. The focus on AI and digital transformation is yet another example of how IBM has always strived to embrace and lead in new areas of technology.

Digital transformation is being implemented rapidly in every industry to cope with changing demands. What are IBM’s strategies for developing methods to help companies in their transformations?
Any transformation journey starts with the question on what is the core of a business. Once that is identified, you can work on architecting a data-driven platform to support your core business objectives. The platform design needs to be agile, secured against cyberthreats and infuse intelligent workflows. Most importantly, the teams who are relying on the platform to do the work must keep abreast with changes through regular training.

We recommend seven key steps that companies can take to transform their businesses – both internally within their operations, and externally with stakeholders: identify core business platforms and scale; use data analytics to your advantage; architect your business for change; humanise workflows around AI; get agile and adapt fast; ignite talent; and enhance trust and security.

For IBM’s work with SCB, how challenging was it to develop and implement optical character recognition and natural language processing in the trade document scanning process?
The bank’s leaders and decision makers recognised the value of applying smart technology for business success. The engagement at SCB began with identifying how AI and blockchain can help them manage mission critical data in a safe, secure and cost efficient manner.

The view from the IBM Singapore office.
The view from the IBM Singapore office.

To tackle the challenge of sifting through millions of paper documents and converting them into a machine readable format, our teams co-developed the Trade AI Engine using IBM Watson technologies that combined natural language processing, text analytics, and machine learning to automatically identify, classify and extract content from the documents.

Today, the bank has significantly automated its trade documents to offer seamless trade processing experience for its clients.

What is IBM’s plan for the future and what are your thoughts about the increasing prevalence of AI in our lives?
At IBM, our goal is to lead the way by building AI, blockchain and cloud solutions to support our clients’ vision. We aim to help our clients become cognitive enterprises – agile organisations that are fuelled by data, guided by AI insight and built for change on a hybrid cloud platform.

Our chief executive officer Arvind Krishna declared at IBM’s flagship event THINK 2020 that every company will be an AI company because AI is the only way to scale expertise. What we are increasingly seeing elsewhere and here in Singapore is a greater demand by enterprises to leverage AI and cloud solutions to support efforts to be more agile and be better able to navigate current challenges and transform business. The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a major role in the acceleration of this change and the rate of adoption of these technologies.