View from India: Institutionalise mindsets to innovate

Innovation needs to yield commercial results; investments need to be pushed into solutions – that’s when investments will pour in.

There is potential to innovate and create traditional as well as new-age products. The challenge is to institutionalise innovation and build business cases to secure it. India has the capacity to produce at scale; still, we can probably do much more in the innovation space when it comes to designing products in the engineering domain. Companies need to drive innovation and build solutions for it, and bring in accelerators to descend their tomorrow faster.

Here are some examples of organisations that are encouraging innovation and making it work for the Indian market. “We work on five themes for customers, of which software-defined systems is a key element. Our early innovation in this direction is a software-defined radio. Equipped with fully programmable information, the radio is being used for military communication. It is particularly handy in difficult terrains,” said Rajaneesh Kini, chief technology officer, Cyient, speaking virtually at the recent NASSCOM ER&D Quarterly Immersive Series.

Besides military applications, these software-defined radios have found their way into vehicles. All said and done, automobiles are software-driven. In the medical industry, the radios serve the purpose of converting information into software-defined solutions. In short, the software-defined radio is a turning point. Its diverse applications and the R&D that went into its making shed light on the software-defined network. “The traction it gained helped in saving at least 30 per cent time while making products and go-to-market with them. However, software-defined network can be executed through specific skills such as high-performance computing,” observed Kini.

Going ahead, it’s important to scale innovation from proof of concept to fully fledged solutions to create scalable new-age products. Of course, all this may work with support from internal teams in the workplace. For instance, Cyient decided to tackle this by organising a tech council every month with the participation of diverse teams like sales, delivery, marketing, innovation, finance and HR. All ideas are discussed during the session before taking them further. A prior guideline for innovation has already been put in place – the five-pronged strategy for innovation is that it should be software defined, offer next-gen connectivity i.e. 5G, support autonomous systems, digital platforms and solutions, and be sustainable as it facilitates the transition to green energy.

Companies need to define what innovation is, whether it is product related or process related. If the product is being introduced for the first time in the industry, could it be disruptive? Or if the product has been around for some time, is it incremental? These thoughts need to be defined to get innovation rolling. “There’s a lot of scope for bringing the innovation culture and design thinking into work. How to institutionalise a mindset required for innovation itself is an opportunity,” explained Sai Prasad, Unit CTO for IoT and Digital Engineering, TCS.

Often the problem statement leads to innovative solutions or products that align with customer needs. In most cases, the innovative solutions or products are workable for the next six to 24 months and not for a long timeframe, or else it loses its essence. “In our company, innovation has happened in areas like industrial manufacturing, medical devices and electric (EVs) and autonomous vehicles (AVs). A push for EVs-AVs, software-defined vehicles and EVs for sustainability has changed the electronics and electrical architecture of vehicles,” added Prasad. Hence it’s a need-based platform which has been built and incorporated the requirements vertically.

In the case of AVs, TCS is moving from level 2 to level 3, for which prototyping has been demonstrated. The prototype would be tweaked depending on the terrain of the country. In the Indian scenario, infrastructure challenges need to be addressed for the smooth running of the AVs. In India it’s important to use cases and then try to build on it through virtual validation. Experiments with bumper-to-design for Indian roads are on. The company has tested its cloud-based self-driven platform while also working on ADAS, or Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, for a long time and engaging with JLR and Japanese original equipment manufacturers.

My final thoughts. It’s important to institutionalise mindsets to innovate, and at an early stage. Preferably, organisations collaborate with academia and nurture students, throw open the floor for ideas, incubate them and test the waters before they groom into entrepreneurs. That’s probably fine as far as students are concerned, but what do we do with the employees in an organisation or, rather, how do we make technologists get an entrepreneurial frame of mind? Train them, give them the necessary orientation, and make them think about business models and revenue growth. Maybe a part of the workforce could create allied products required for the clients.  

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