Thursday, September 15, 2005

R & D in IT

India should improve on innovation
The IT services mindset has to give way towards product development and innovation, feel industry veterans

Is Indian industry too services-oriented and culturally lack the spirit of innovation, or is it on its way to becoming a hub for innovation?

These were some of the thought-provoking issues that were discussed during a Nasscom's panel discussion on Innovation in R&D held on 14th September at Hotel Oberoi, Bangalore.

Out of the total Indian IT/ITES $22.2 billion export pie, R&D services including both captive and third party account for $2.7 billion and is growing at 35% every year. S Janakiraman, president & CEO - R&D services, Mindtree Consulting, said that India has an opportunity to do better in the area of innovation. “This needs out-of-the-box thinking and learning to look at problems as an opportunity.”

Talking about his experience as CEO, Philips Software in India, Bob Hoekstra said that the company's effort to put up a research division a few years ago failed. “But we will be doing it again now that we have the critical mass of skilled engineers from abroad.”

He also stressed the kind for companies to get under the skin of customers to create innovation. “We will be bringing out products (for villages) meant for the Indian market in a couple of years which is driven by our customer intimacy,” he said.

He also called for better academic infrastructure and research culture in universities, which is lacking now.

Touching on the cultural aspect of innovation, Harish Grama, who heads IBM Research, distinguished the concept of invention from innovation.

“Innovation is not a technology phenomenon but a social one.” Echoing Hoekstra's views, he said that academia had a huge role to play in fostering innovation and cited examples of successful companies like Google and Yahoo, which arose from PhD students in universities.

Milind Gandhe, GM, Strategic Planning, Sasken Communications, a company that is into both R &D services as well as products, said that it was important for companies to get an early start into the market and get aggressive by being part of standardization bodies to get an edge in filing patents.

Sharad Sharma, GM, Symantec India, said that India's innovation inflection point would happen when it turns from a component responsibility model to a product center. “It requires the marrying of engineering capability with meaningful customer insight,” he said.

All the panelists also agreed that the Indian IT professional's traditional risk averse mindset was more oriented towards services, and this had to change if India wants to be reckoned as a serious player for product innovation.

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