The problem of innovation begins with nomenclature — there are as many views on what is and how it should be practised as there are thinkers and companies in the country. But as an industry survey recently revealed, there is inadequate evidence of sustainable and globally commercialised innovation in India, including in the IT industry. While our country abounds with creative ideas and brainwaves, a systematic process of building sustainable innovations is needed to make the innovation imperative a reality.
To understand the innovation imperative and its challenges and opportunities, we need to use the lens of sustainability and commercialisation. When the Indian IT industry first looked at innovation as the next frontier after lowest cost and highest quality, I had the privilege to lead the innovation movement in Nasscom for a few years.
The hypothesis we pursued was that innovation was needed not just in the creation of new products and services, but also in processes and business models. We also researched the work of two great
Harvard innovation gurus, Christiansen and Tushman, and looked at the contexts in which the Christiansen doctrine of spinning out disruptive innovation ideas into two new independent entities would rule over the ambidexterity model of Michael Tushman, where a climate of continuous innovation punctuated by a few breakthrough radical innovations would be the way to go.
Most companies in the IT industry have successfully innovated across processes with the result that the global delivery model used for offshoring critical technology development and business process management has enabled India to steadily extend its lead at the top of the outsourcing business for many years. Even input processes have been innovated with the “source and train” model adopted by companies to work with smart skills development companies and create a pool of off-campus talent at lower cost and predictable quality has been threatening the more traditional of hiring more people in campuses and training them at in-house facilities.
Companies like Global Talent Track which pioneered the Just-in-Time rather than Just-in-Case resourcing model today work with companies, universities and even governments on this model. In the core business itself, Zensar is one company which has demonstrated commercial success in a template-based rather than programmer-based global delivery platform business which deploys domain consultants and architects to model and deliver new systems at higher productivity levels and superior business outcomes.
And with most significant customer now embracing digital transformation with extensive use of cloud, social media, mobility and big data to extend their direct influence to customers and value chain partners, the success of innovation through the creation of new companies and the transformation of large incumbent service providers will increase for Indian IT in the years to come.
This is not to say that other industry segments do not innovate. The well-documented cases of Sankara Nethralaya and Aravind Eye Hospital and their success in slashing the cost of eye care and recent examples of innovation at Apollo and other healthcare providers demonstrate the alacrity with which sheer necessity is breeding innovation as well as invention in services sectors. Manufacturing companies like GE globally and CEAT Tyres in India have used innovative shop floor and marketing ideas to rapidly change their image from being traditional and stodgy manufacturing firm to new customer-focused innovation leaders in their respective industry segments.
The Tata Group has been cited as allowing innovation exchanges through several platforms, one being an innovation competition called Innovista with a special award category called “Dare to Try” that recognises ideas that were tried but failed.
The erstwhile problem where research departments and public sector and even some private companies had large hierarchical structures impacting agility though bureaucratic processes that hampered change and hence innovation is being addressed by more suitable organisation models.
Ramadorai of TCS – now India’s Skills Czar – has been quoted as saying that while innovation is important, sometimes its importance can be over-emphasised and “operational efficiency and effectiveness” discounted. “While efficiency and conservation may not be sufficient to save India from a catastrophe, they are essential while we identify the additional innovations, enablers and boosts that will.” There is no doubt that the will to change exists in all companies as they face increasing domestic and global competition, across sectors and geographies – it’s just a question of finding the right models of innovation globally and adapting them to the Indian context.
(Dr Ganesh Natarajan is vice-chairman & MD of Zensar Technologies and a member of Nasscom's chairmen’s council and CII’s national council)